Categories: Alexei Spindell, SD Press Club Award winner, THE BUZZ

THE BUZZ: Militarized Desert: Life and Death in the Mojave

Written by Alexei Spindell

March 3, 2022

Photo by Jenny Armer, Mesa College Art Gallery

To many of us, the Mojave desert has a simple meaning – it’s a place of natural beauty and spiritual retreat. On a longer stay, however, it is difficult to ignore the looming presence of 29 Palms – the largest marine base in the country. Desert residents Ana Stump and Ben Alanoff give some attention to this in Militarized Desert: Life and Death in the Mojave, exploring the complexity of existence in this environment. Working primarily with scavenged materials, Stump and Alanoff embrace all the effects of the desert elements – natural and artificial – while paying homage to the rich artistic heritage of this region.

Stump paints over scrap metal – rusted and bullet ridden – with tiny homesteads standing starkly against delirious landscapes of desert colors, miragelike attack helicopters, and giant serpents with no visible end. Cropped religious images and enigmatic diagrams pepper her work – they are the benefit of a 1930’s encyclopedia she found buried in the sand.

“Long Crescent Wrench” by Anna Stump, photo by Jenny Armer

Alanoff fashions sculptures out of gathered items to profound transformative effect – mechanical gears are stacked to become Buddhist stupas, and unidentifiable trinkets become ancient glyphs. In contrast to the power and dread of Stump’s desert, Alanoff relays a more whimsical and mysterious side of the Mojave, inviting the audience to interact with and even rearrange some of the works.

The artists come together in a collaborative series of calligraphic paintings nodding to Franz Klein, using Allanoff’s signature rusted canvases. One of these canvases has been partially eaten by a rat – taken as a participation on nature’s behalf, the rat is playfully credited as a collaborator.

Photo by Jenny Armer, Mesa College Art Gallery

Gallery director Alessandra Moctezuma carries the dynamic spirit a step further in deciding against some of the usual conventions of gallery arrangement, favoring a more varied and organic arrangement sensitive to the content of each work.

The exhibition may be viewed at the San Diego Mesa College Art Gallery, at 7250 Mesa College Dr, FA 103, San Diego, CA 92111. The gallery is open from Tuesday to Thursday, from 11:00 a.m. to 4 p.m, and the exhibition will continue until April 7th.

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