Walking in the middle of Joshua Tree, California, you are in the spot where the massive Mojave and Colorado deserts meet. The landscape can appear to be barren at first, until you slow down and start to notice the bluish-tinged mountains in the distance, the greens of the creosote bushes, the white sand, and the blue of the sky. If you walk far enough, you might come across a strange shack that seems like a mirage from a traveler’s imagination.
No, you’re not just dreaming. This is Lucid Stead, the creation of artist Phillip K. Smith III, known for his beautiful installations that highlight light and space in interesting locations such as Laguna Beach, Palm Desert, the world-famous Coachella Music Festival, and Miami Beach. And yes, this is a cabin, but not just your everyday kind.
It started when Smith, a native of Coachella Valley, went back to his roots to live and work in the desert. On his property in Joshua Tree, he discovered an abandoned homesteader’s cabin that fired his imagination. In his video description of the project, Smith explains Lucid Stead as “a collaboration with a 70 year old existing homesteader shack.”
The wooden studs underneath were intact, but some of the walls had dried up in the desert sun and blown away in the winds. This left holes through which he could see the incredible landscape surrounding the tiny outpost. The windows and doors were missing, adding to the strange perspective.
Rather than repairing the cabin, Smith wanted to pay homage to it. By adding mirrored panels where the wood siding was and a projector inside, the cabin now looks like a strange kind of desert lighthouse. As Smith described it in his video, “by day, it’s a mirrored structure that reflects the desert, by night it’s a projected light installation, where LED lighting creates fields of color that are slowly moving through the color wheel.”
By inserting mirrored glass where the windows and doors were, along with the sidings, Smith manages to get the visitor to look at the desert around them. As he describes in the project video, “the project really is about slowing down, coming to the desert, and tapping into that pace of change, and about stopping and being quiet so you can truly listen.”
At different times of the day, the sunlight and shadows will create radically different reflections from the cabin. The mirrors reflect “the desert around it, using the desert as material and medium by placing it on to the side of the shack.”
In the evening, it’s even more surreal, reflecting the orange and purple light of the sunset. Gradually, a projector inside the cabin lights its up from inside. The color of each window and door changes subtly as the projector goes through the color spectrum. “You might see red, blue, and yellow, and look down, move ten feet and realize it’s purple, orange, and green,” Smith explains in the video.
While Smith has since dismantled the project and is using the wood he removed for other works on the same site, the video below will take you deep into the heart of one of America’s most iconic landscapes. “When you slow down and align yourself with the desert, the project begins to unfold before you. It reveals that it is about light and shadow, reflected light, projected light, and change.”