Bombay Beach Bienalle – Year 0

This past weekend I disappeared into an alternate universe.

First I have to explain Bombay Beach. It’s on the Salton Sea, and was created by an accidental runoff from the Colorado River. In the ’60s and ’70s it became a flourishing oasis in the desert. Then, because of the lack of flow from the sea and the toxicity of agricultural chemicals used back in the day, all the fish and wildlife died and washed up on the shores. Today it is a town of modern ruins with few residents scattered in between.

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Now for the event — this weekend it hosted the first “Bombay Beach Bienalle,” a name paying homage to large scale European art exhibitions. Art installations were in between the ruins and the homes, there was a lecture by philosopher Robert Pippin and amazing food and drink was given away as donations.

I arrived knowing literally nothing about what was happening — all I had was the text saying “come, it’s going to be weird and amazing.” To be honest I can’t really describe it better than that. So here’s what I saw. Note: the images are best accompanied with eerie operatic tones or a violin solo, as was playing from various abandoned houses in the town.

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A photographer took and hung photos of the locals outside their properties.

A photographer took and hung photos of the locals outside their properties.

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Poetry reading on the beach

Poetry reading on the beach

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Close up of the beach

Close up of the beach

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The amazing jalapeño apple something drink

The amazing jalapeño apple something drink

A crowd watching a sunset Opera performance

A crowd watching a sunset Opera performance

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Art by Greg Haberny

Art by Greg Haberny

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Dinner with a dancer and a band with an incredible violinist

Dinner with a dancer and a band with an incredible violinist

Locals watching the magic

Locals watching the magic

A drive-in installation filled with destroyed cars and other vehicles screening films like Fellini’s 8 1/2

A drive-in installation filled with destroyed cars and other vehicles screening films like Fellini’s 8 1/2

Me on a truck

Me on a truck

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The party continued all night

The party continued all night

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After a nap in my car I got up to enjoy the sunrise

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This truck appeared bearing coffee

This truck appeared bearing coffee

Madison Paige playing some sunrise campfire jams

Madison Paige playing some sunrise campfire jams

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And with that I headed back to reality.

Molly Adams is an LA-based photographer. You can find documenting life from Afghanistan to Standing Rock to the LA queer nightlife. You can also find her on Instagram.

Molly has written 68 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. I started folllowing Christa B. Allen on Snapchat recently and she’s been documenting the process of setting this place up and I didn’t know what the heck was going on for a while. I thought maybe they were building a commune or she had joined a cult, or something.

    But then finally, a day or so ago, I realized it was an art installation. Pretty cool! Wish I could have been there. And as always, excellent photos, Molly!

  2. Your article reminded me of ruin porn:
    “‘Ruin porn’ is based purely on aesthetics and is almost always devoid of people. Employing the mismatched spoils of history, ruin porn ignores and overwrites the voices of those who still call Detroit home. When its ruins are fetishised as art, these injustices are, at best, ignored, and, at worst, mimicked. They ignore the humanity of residents’ current struggles, while replicating the history that created them.”

    from: http://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2016/feb/15/ruin-porn-detroit-photography-city-homes

    • Yeah, this bugged me too. I enjoyed the photography and it’s cool that a bunch of artists came together to create something. What bothers me is that the tragedy and lives of the people who lived in this town is reduced to being an edgy alt prop by this art event: “locals taking in the magic” personally I would have been much more interested in actually talking with the locals and finding out what they had to say about the Salton Sea as their home, than the art event. It’s like the hipster version of using sexy ladies to sell cars, in my opinion; both are objectification. Maybe I’m way off base and the local inhabitants were much more collaborative in this event.

    • It’s really funny that you assume that locals were not involved in this. The residents of Bombay Beach were not some prop that artists worked around. Many of the people like the isolation and the derelict nature of the town. It serves them for many reasons I won’t mention online. It’s not a small poor town in America people were born in and lived all their lives. Manmade mistakes and nature brought them there, just like how the Salton Sea was made (Between 1905-1907 a 600ft rift was cut through an irrigation canal which lead the Colorado River to rush into an old ancient lake at 1/2 inch per day… hence the sea) It’s really sort of dehumanizing to write of them as if they are victims and helpless without inquiring about it. Every person I spoke to there had a profound reason for being there .

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