Keep It Dirty

While we’ve been exploring the many ways we live with water, dryness is also a reality for many. Samuel Ray Jacobson shares his ongoing project, which started as a response to the drought in California.

The future site of Keep It Dirty, Volume 2, in Joshua Tree, California. All images courtesy the author.

For the bundle of projects that constitute Keep It Dirty, there are precedents: Hans Ulrich Obrist in the kitchen, exercising critical exhaustion with something small, domestic, and achievable; Donald Judd in Marfa, exercising critical exhaustion with something open and uncolonized, beautiful and conspicuously disconnected. In the same vein, Keep It Dirty is, in all its various parts, a sympathetic, empathetic nod to our ecologically decrepit present, willing uncertain and repulsive valences into something productive.

In October 2014, in response to the ongoing California drought, I declared every dirty car in my then home city of Los Angeles a work of art. The idea was that the inevitable accumulation of dust on vehicles could serve as an index of personal solidarity with the earth in a time of worsening drought. The conceit was to use this gesture as the initiation of an advocacy program, to get people to save water by not washing their cars, by capitalizing on local superficiality and making what would otherwise be seen as sloven laziness (a dirty car) seem like an act of environmental chic. In conservation, there is the possibility that there can be nothing that you can do for the environment and that you should do as much of that as possible. What this demonstrated is that coaction does not have to be humorless to be serious, and politics does not have to be hard to be effective. What I wanted to say was, everything you’re doing is fine.

A friend and I wrote a manifesto, which turned into a web magazine, which begot a plan for a house and 12 or so site-specific interventions to happen, maybe, next year. There is also a related academic journal. The undiscriminating multimedia framework used by Keep It Dirty—which is currently edited by Christian Hite, Eileen A. Joy, and myself—has fostered a uniquely vibrant discourse, able to interrogate the consequential interactions of everyone involved or affiliated—with each other and with the ecologies that we are inevitably situated within—seriously, but also often with a superficial ease.

A rendering of Keep It Dirty, Volume 2.

Expanding on its free-associative approach to content production, the platform has lately shifted from a solely virtual publication to include a second “real life” volume, to be executed in parallel with its existing online presence. To differentiate this IRL venue from its counterpart, it has been designated Volume 2 (i.e., “volume, too”). Though initially planned for a rehabbed jackrabbit cabin 50 miles farther east, the idea soon morphed into a new construction project in the less remote environs of Joshua Tree, to be designed pro bono in exchange for free use of the space for exhibits. Eventually, Volume 2 settled into a conventionally financed, purpose-built, low-cost, multi-use structure for installations and happenings, located down the street from the Noah Purifoy site, wherein the activities sponsored by Keep It Dirty will be subsidized by Airbnb revenues.

Such quixotic wanderings make apparent the narcissistic paradox, so pervasive locally, and which despite its prickliness we’re trying to build on: The desert gives and the desert takes, everything floating above the sand in a mirage of dreams, desolation, and the ecstatic possibilities that come from a place made fundamentally of dryness and not enough. There, everything at any time can, sometimes does, and often doesn’t materialize. It is like these creosote plains harbor America’s ultimate, scruffy blank canvas, being just the sort of nothing that could be anything. Witness how sand dunes transmogrify to golf courses overnight, and where people once hand-dug wells only feet deep, the ever-emptying Colorado River feeds now emerald fields from 200 miles away. Meanwhile, for every person with credit, there is the promise of a palace of wood, paint, and asphalt, electrically cooled, humming loudly in a heat that exceeds imagination and gets hotter every year. The government writes off the interest and the planned neighborhoods gradually become grittier as the degradations of ultraviolet light and time slowly return them to the sand beneath. Responding to this situation of decadent flux, we will build a house, which isn’t really a house but is really a journal or maybe a magazine.

Technically, the editorial framework for the volume is limited to its sanctioning power regarding the execution of a select body of work. Within this framework, “publication” as a paradigm has been expanded to include any undertaking, material or abstract, whose manifest and consumable presence has been facilitated by editorial activity. Such expansion follows local cues. In a vaunted town where the namesake trees are dying off, the landscape becomes like a series of one liners without any jokes; we accept that designation can be meaningful even in the face of paucity, and that emptiness (volume) and evacuation (such as moving activities from an urban center to the fringe), can provide some seductive grist, the means for new and unprecedented activity.

A rendering of Keep It Dirty, Volume 2.

Amid a landscape of ruined homesteads, tripping hipsters, and Confederate flags all making themselves the more meaningful by juxtaposition to a city farther disconnected than the borders of some nations (Los Angeles, 150 miles distant), a millions-yearly tourist flow traverses the Inland Empire’s cul-de-sac’d-over orange groves to witness the subtle gradient of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts meeting under a sky full of ever-dimmer stars. Extinguishing the very thing they seek to enjoy, the tourists and the traffic, the smog and shrinking habitats ask hauntingly about the politics of one thing after another, of movement, change, and meanings’ echoing reverberations as somehow outplayed by the realities of time and space.

Concomitantly, as it amplifies Keep It Dirty’s to-date virtual framework for a vibrant multimedia discourse and basic, iterative publishing style, by giving its purview a crucial third dimension, Keep It Dirty, Volume 2, incites engagement with such animating tropes as transit, procession, and locality, as generative modalities for the production of new literatures, commentary, discourses, or experiences. To this end, and in addition to Keep It Dirty’s already instigated solidarities of people, media, and material, orchestrated by a shared interest in soil, water, filth, and cleanliness as conceptual venues for new content or critique, Volume 2 also seeks the elicitation of novel paradigms for the consideration of place, community, commodities, and their phenomenological inscriptions within landscapes, as experienced by an open, hopefully expansive body of potential participant-observers.

If it ever happens, that is; I’m pretty sure it will, but it is hard to tell. The serpentine path all follows the assignation of dust as the earth’s sovereign artistic medium—a situation wherein all that is outside of control and consideration can and should become our strict but playful communion with the grounds, figural and literal, which we as humans have for so long and so often simultaneously exploited, wrecked, ignored, and adored. So, you know, we’ll see; I’m cool with that.