East of Ajo

In the spring of 2017 I went on a camping trip to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acreage nestled in between the town of Ajo, Arizona and the Tohono O’Odham Nation. In my eyes the terrain didn’t appear to be under any government supervision, but a space where people littered their weekends away shooting guns and drinking cans of beer. A space for natural gas infrastructure, a space for people who have inhabited this area before European intrusion, a space where the struggle of the US/Mexico border is played out by those who travel for a better life or illicit profits. Federal land control is such an inherent part of the American West in it’s history and modern day structure. In Arizona alone the federal government has 40% of the state under their jurisdiction.

This project started as an exploration of the idea of infusing a sense of importance and authority to an otherwise overlooked piece of BLM land. I installed routed wooden signs of my own design that emulated those of the National Forestry with satirical messages asking politely to forgo certain activities in the space. The subject matter for these installations ranged from the serious to the inane with the hope that the viewer would come to question the message and authority to find their own perspective on this tract of land. What purpose does it serve? Who actually traverses and maintains this land?

 

This initial plan was to leave the signs up for a year then deinstall. However, this all changed when I returned to the area to rephotograph. I was surprised to find that some of the signpost had been completely removed. But not all of them. The more humorous signs ‘Please Don’t Shoot the Sign’ and ‘Please Don’t Photograph’ were the ones removed, while the more somber sign of ‘Please Don’t Disrespect the Dead’ remained. I took this as a critique of my work on the terrain by those inhabitants to create signs that are more pointed and the issues that are affecting the Sonoran Desert.

This spring I responded on the issue of border patrol agents damaging water drops left out for migrants by humanitarian groups, creating and maintaining my own drops under the protectorate of my signage. Upon returning a few weeks later, I was surprised to find that someone had placed an egg carton and a rock over the water cache. I take this as a further critique by those who call the Sonoran desert home, to continue examining and creating artwork specific to the landscape.

 

Joshua Haunschild

About Joshua Haunschild

Joshua Haunschild was born in Seattle, Washington, 1990. He received his BFA in Photography & Imaging from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in 2012. He is a MFA candidate at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.

Website: http://www.haunschildphotography.com/