"When a light bulb comes on, it is accompanied by accelerated heart beats, which push me to go there, do it. A life force that doesn't leave much choice."
A few years back, we were on a bit of a soul-searching road trip (as they often go) and by some twist of fate, arrived in the small Northern Mojave town of Olancha, CA (pop. 192). You'll find a gas station, a trippy yellow adobe house, some solar fields, and some incredibly stunning backdrops (see below). If you keep your eyes open, you'll also see one of the most fascinating (free) art installations in California.
We recently had the pleasure of visiting the artist Jael Hoffmann last week. Thank you so much Jael for taking the time to show us around, and for the rad insights into "real life" in one of the harshest climates in the state.
You lived in Los Angeles before moving up to the desert. Was there any particular moment when you realized it was time to get out?
Timing to move to the desert was a matter of coincidence. Some funds became available, so we bought 10 affordable acres of desert land, built a home, and had a well drilled. Even though I've been a city dweller my whole life, first Berlin, then L.A., one eye was always veering towards less inhabited, untouched spaces, so the transition was seamless.
You mentioned a pretty staggering figure during our visit - that only around 2% of the land in Inyo County is private?
The majority of land in Inyo County is owned by DWP and BLM. It is mainly used for recreation, but there are cattle, alfalfa fields, and diversions of water ways to L.A.
Author's note: stop by the Visitor Center in Lone Pine for a full history on this stuff. As we continue to live with years of drought and see federal land management issues pop up in the news - it might be worth your time!
"Most of my work points inward, to what's going on in those forgotten corners of self, holding information that can give you a pinch in the stomach. Just looking there can offer relief, as noticing is the first step to healing."
Let’s chat about the green “Ego” monster. What is the story behind that one?
It's titled 'Greed', and is a protest sculpture, shedding light on the 20 acre solar facility across from it, or rather on the unethical practices of the corporation (Allco), which ran over our town, installing it there. There are thousands of acres of disturbed land available in California for solar energy installation, so the idea of slamming it in the middle of our town, adjacent to scenic 395, destroying pristine desert land, just didn't make any sense. Allco did have a choice to at least build the facility about a mile east from town, where transmission lines exist as well, where they own 160 acres of land, but refused to even consider the option. I needed to build 'Greed' so as to keep from imploding.
The “Give/Take” box was pretty significant for us, dating back to a very special encounter in 2013. Any favorite items you’ve discovered in the “give” box over the years?
Well, there was this diary in 2013... I much enjoy the notes people leave, poetry, books, artwork, funky things (a penis straw amongst them), just too many to list.
Author's note: yes, the diary was ours from four years back. Can't say the same about the penis straw.
No doubt that you live in a harsh/unforgiving environment. Could you describe some of the realities of daily life in the desert?
Maybe the most important reality living off-grid, in an environment that can whirl you and your house around some, is to be highly attuned to sounds, and fix lose/noisy things, before they hit you in the head, or stop functioning.
"Rodents and insects that can bring deadly disease or anaphylactic shock, next to rattle snakes, scorpions, and horrendous winds, all want their time of day. Despite it all, there's an effortlessness in enjoying the abundance of expanse and piercing beauty."
The large statue in the middle (woman with briefcase). Is that you?
Hehe, to some degree. The Hitchhiker symbolizes all those who come from somewhere, going somewhere, like on the 395, carrying their bag of shit, but she is also a symbol of strong femininity, self-sustained and fearless.
Around your property, there are heaps of scrap metal (and other found objects) that it appears you’ve been collecting for years. Where do you find most of this stuff? Any favorite “finds” over the years which have made their way into your property or art?
I have dear friends, who live in deserted mining towns, who will give me forged items you can't find in a store. An old gas tank I found in the desert was reworked into a suitcase for The Hitchhiker, and a large water heater became the body of the sculpture 'Cleaning House'. There are many examples of such items appearing in my work.
What advice would you give now to your 20 year old self? 30 year old self?
The answers will come in due time. Wisdom is a worthy exchange for youth, so it's alright to be ignorant and suffer in youth; it makes for a strong foundation for change.
If you could recommend 1 book, what would it be and why?
That's a hard one, as every book tickles me differently. The last book I could not put down was Haruki Murakami's 1Q84. Something about unseen dimensions, and the overall balance of the universe, but above all, love wins the day. Dialogues are riveting, sending the mind into reflection mode.
Thank you again so much, Jael! We love your work and are totally honored to share these stories.
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