Another meeting of sand and water (can you tell I’m landlocked?), though this time self-consciously so. Last month, Austrian artist Alfredo Barsuglia planted Social Pool in the Mojave desert of Southern California, a nod to other land art installations in remote Western regions: Walter de Maria’s The Lighting Field in New Mexico; Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty outside Salt Lake City, UT.
The 11-by-5-feet invitation is open to anybody willing to trek into the desert, sans signs. In a scavenger hunt-meets-art scene mashup, access is granted to small groups by stopping by the pool’s presenter, the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in West Hollywood, which supplies the GPS coordinates and keys to open the cover (this is a no-reservations affair; only four keys exist, checked out for 24-hour stints). After driving several hours outside LA, visitors must park and search by foot. With no markers leading the way, Barsuglia challenges people’s desire for secluded personal enjoyment. The piece, Barsuglia told the LA Times, “is about the effort people make to reach a luxury good,” an apt description of this splashy picture of a recent pool party. Pools, signifiers of wealth, often languish in backyards, reflecting their owners’ nonchalance to water privation (particularly acute in parched California). In Barsuglia’s lexicon, water becomes a participatory element: each party is asked to pack in a gallon of water to replenish the pool (a solar-panel-fueled filter and chlorine system maintains cleanliness). Water is also listed on the packing list, alongside food and sun protection (for the latter, I would sport these mirrored Ray-Bans, a flashiness in keeping with the bling bent of the work).
With a month under its belt and two more to go, Social Pool is stirring varied reviews. Some visitors seem to be having the proverbial journey-trumps-destination experience. Lukas Mandrake, a NASA scientist, was drawn to “the idea that it was hard to find… something to earn, not merely see,” he emailed LA Times culture reporter Carolina A. Miranda. “A pool that all can go to but almost all won’t go to implied a sense of exclusivity not based on money but personal interest.” Mandrake described the dubious trek – along poorly maintained dirt roads, in the scorching heat – and then the arrival at such an incongruous site, a minimalist wood structure out of place in the brush, a strange “cross between some alien planet and someone’s backyard DIY gone very odd.” Replete with an “absurdist purple octopus thermometer.” Ultimately, the pool’s improbability made the day worthwhile for Mandrake and crew. “It was a whimsical creation of pure enjoyment and beauty put in a place where it cannot possibly survive – a cut flower on a dinner table.”