They went, they saw, they sat in a tiny, white pool in the middle of the Mojave. The first visitors to "Social Pool," artist Alfredo Barsuglia's mini-pool/social experiment/piece of conceptual sculpture, have returned from their desert journeys with stories of adventure, trepidation, whimsy, beauty and concern for the environment. They've shared photos too.
Among the visitors: Lukas Mandrake and Steven J. Lewis, a pair of marrieds who also work as scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, and Chris Rusak, an L.A.-based artist who creates paintings that play with ideas of depth and translucency.
To get to the pool, as I explained in an earlier story about Barsuglia, travelers must secure the key that unlocks it from the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in West Hollywood. Only when visitors have the key are they given the GPS coordinates to the pool's secret location (somewhere in the southern Mojave).
Mandrake told me via email that he and Lewis undertook the trip because they were intrigued by what it would mean to see the pool.
"The idea that it was hard to find ... something to earn, not merely see," he explains. "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."
And there was the excitement of getting there: "Once the roads turned to dirt, and then to very poorly maintained dirt, we began to wonder if this had been a bit too adventurous," he recalls. "Images of popped tires in 95 degree heat without cellphone coverage quieted us during this phase."
When they finally found it (after a short walk), they were struck by how out of place Barsuglia's pool seemed in its desert environment, "a crisply painted white wooden structure with unfancy locks and a sliding top felt more like we were opening a cross between an ultra-modern space-like installation on some alien planet and someone's backyard DIY gone very odd. And then there it was, complete with absurdist purple octopus thermometer and a rather clever solar water filter."
Rusak, the artist, says he had conflicted views about the piece, and it had everything to do with questions of landscape and the environment.
"I talked with Barsuglia about the work through email, and he continually asserts that the location was chosen for aesthetic value," he states via email. "I feel like the pool is really irrelevant here, and he wants participants to focus on solitude and resource privation."
Rusak says it was his journey that was the most interesting part of the piece.
"We went on a day when there was an earthquake, desert rain, thunderstorms and flash-flood warnings," he says. "Nature dealt us a unique day to make the journey. Beautiful and a little unsettling — but, one doesn't need a drive to a desert pool to experience that."
Lewis, one half of the scientist/engineer couple, says that he did consider the environmental questions as he soaked in the water.
"My first assumption on seeing the picture was that it was roughly 'standard' size for a backyard pool," he stated via email. "In reality, it's about the size of your typical hot tub. Not enough for laps, but more than enough for two people to enjoy some cool water. And you could comfortably fit at least two more adults. That made me really consider not just how many people have their own seldom-used-pools, but also just how BIG those pools are."
Mandrake adds that it is the pool's very improbability that makes it worthwhile: "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."