For one weekend in March 2022, hundreds of people of all stripes descend on the town of Bombay Beach, California. The town is a half-abandoned remnant of the Salton Sea's glory days as a tourist destination, which now exists as a strange blend of post-apocalytic squalor and steampunk artistry. Life here proceeds in the eery midst of ongoing environmental disaster; the isolated Sea is steadily evaporating away. The agricultural runoff that once fed the sea has dwindled, leaving years of accumulated agrochemicals to concentrate as the water bakes off in the desert heat. Combined with naturally occurring salinity and selenium, the resulting lake water is now a toxic slurry that few animals can survive. Algae mats and a crust of fish bones line the shore. When the wind blows across the exposed lakebed, it whips up clouds of fine sediments laden with chemicals. It is a place of despair mixed with the eery beauty.
And yet, a strange and unique community cohabitates with this desolation. In the state of collapse and abandonment, some see freedom. A mile south of town, a resident group of artists, nomads, and wayward individuals have constructed Mars College— a semi-permanent commune built of plywood and pallet racks. The resident Martians have spent the last three months test-running a vision of self-sufficient digital nomadism.
On festival weekend, the town transforms. Residents and newcomers alike modify buildings and install art at every turn. Burned-out shacks become jazz concert venues, abandoned lots become sculpture gardens. For Mars College, the Biennale marks the end of their annual experiment, when they display their art projects and DJ sets before breaking it all down until next year.
These photos cover 24 hours at the Bombay Beach Biennale.