Diane Best: SHACK

Wonder Valley, CA is not another Disney branded utopian vision of a perfect life. It’s not even a valley as such. It’s a dry, open vastness stretching from the outskirts of 29 Palms, CA towards the far reaches of Las Vegas, NV. And Wonder Valley is the place dreams were once conjured, then made real, then fell into chronic disrepair.

In 1938, the US Government granted people $99 annual leases for 5 acre parcels of land in the Mojave Desert on the condition that they erect a structure on the plot. Such basics as water and power were not required. And so, dozens of US citizens acquired land in the desert for “home, cabin, health and recreational” purposes. The cabins that they erected were flimsy, many built from prefabricated kits available in catalogs of the time.

Today, Diane Best presents an exhibition of large-scale black and white images that capture the decayed state of these cabins and poses timely questions around home ownership, Government policy and the process of decay. SHACK envelopes the viewer in the stark, yet warm, atmosphere of the California desert and transports them to a place of free and open contemplation.

Shack 21 stands proud and largely intact. The open doorway beckons as a portal to the magnificent and painterly mountains in the distance. The stuff dreams are made of. In contrast, Shack 55 presents a pockmarked face, riddled with bullet holes left by those who value the right to arms over the notion of private property. And Shack 22 has been plundered, it’s boards removed to reveal a skeletal structure still capable of supporting a sheltering roof. What need stripped this one of its weathered skin?

Some of the images are downright spooky. Shack 43, a sturdy number built of concrete block, has a ghostly intruder standing at its window. Shack 48, under heavy skies, implores us “Do Not Disturb” and assures us “You Suck” while its contents have been dragged to the ground outside. Shack 75 and Shack 17 have fallen altogether, unable to bear the indignity or loneliness any more.

SHACK confronts us with the mystery of human intent and the apparent folly of bureaucratic policies. How did Government officials believe people would survive in these structures without water and power? How did they expect them to develop the area without financing the necessary infrastructure? And why was it necessary for this land to be given away rather than conserved as a resource for future generations?

At a time when the right to home ownership and the role of Government in determining real state values are being questioned, SHACK poses questions surrounding of the responsibilities of ownership and of respect for the property of others. The exhibition also reminds us of the beauty and power of natural forces and the process of reclamation that is the ultimate fate of all structures, as well as of organisms.

For more information on the artist, click here.