Bringing Back The Little Pool Hidden In The Middle Of The Mojave Desert

A rendering of the proposed Social Pool 2.0. (Courtesy Randall Baker)

It seemed like a fever dream — a pool, out in the middle of the desert, only accessible through a treasure hunt and a lone key. The Social Pool was an experiential art project created in the Mojave Desert in 2014, but it closed to the public after a few months.

There were some initial efforts to revive it, but when the pool was destroyed by visitors in 2016, those plans went dormant. Now a man named Randall Baker is trying again to bring it back, though he has yet to raise more than a few hundred dollars in that attempt.

Watch renderings of his grand dream for a new Social Pool here:

WHAT THE NEW POOL COULD LOOK LIKE

Baker said he didn't find out about Social Pool until it had closed in 2014, and he was upset that he never got to use it.

But he found a Facebook group devoted to keeping the project alive that was started by the original artist, Alfredo Barsuglia. Baker now wants to bring the pool back even stronger, making it roomier and even more of a social experience.

As seen in the video, he plans for the new structure to be built out of steel and concrete, have a waterproof speaker to play music, variable mood lighting, and more.

THE JOURNEY, NOT THE OBJECT

For Barsuglia, the pool itself was never the actual art — the art was in the way the pool was found and how people would come together to reach it.

"I mean, it's not a real swimming pool — it's actually only a symbol of a pool, I think," Barsuglia said.

It was created when California was in drought, and Barsuglia wanted to give people something unique to find and explore.

"It was an art project which was about luxury goods and social values," Barsuglia said. "People would take the effort to reach a luxury good, and water is for sure something very special, especially in the desert."

Getting there required traveling by car for hours and then hiking out through the sand. Some people got stuck in the sand, and there were more natural elements — and creatures, like rattlesnakes — to contend with.

"There was always a chance that you would not be able to find it," Barsuglia said.

A SPLINTER REVIVAL

Barsuglia sees the efforts to revive the pool as a second phase to the art. When the original installation was destroyed, with the only Joshua tree on the property burned and left inside the empty pool, he thought even that second phase was over. But then Baker created a new Facebook group, a splinter of the original.

"He thought the first [Facebook group], with its almost 700 members, were not willing or strong enough to deal with it," Barsuglia said.

Baker worked really hard to get people together and build support for a new Social Pool, which was fascinating, given that there's nothing even there anymore, he said.

"This is really nice to have an artwork which kind of has a legacy," Barsuglia said. "But online, it exists in some way, because people are talking about it."

HOW MUCH A PERMANENT POOL WOULD COST

Baker estimates that he needs to raise $12,000 to make it a reality. So far, he's raised a few hundred dollars via GoFundMe, T-shirt sales, and PayPal.

It's a slow start, considering the GoFundMe first started nine months ago, but Baker believes he can make it happen.

"I think so. I've gotten more activity recently," Baker said.

For his part, Barsuglia supports Baker's efforts.

"If you would keep it really easy, it can be done, and it's not so difficult," he said.

Still, he's not sure it will become a reality, and he expressed some skepticism over the new designs.

"I mean, I think the Social Pool which he wants to build is, in my opinion, a little bit too big," Barsuglia said. "I think the first version was nice, and clear, and sufficient — but this is not part of me. For me now, the second phase of the project is not how it looks, but that someone is doing it."

There's no hard timeline for bringing Social Pool back — that's dependent on actually raising the money — but Baker plans to work with Barsuglia to build the new one.

He also hopes to move it to a new location, since the original location has become public knowledge. Baker said he wants to bring back the "hide-and-seek aspect" of Social Pool, as knowing where it is "takes away the magic."

But Barsuglia isn't so sure about that.

"In my opinion, if people are really interested in it, then it should become a public site," Barsuglia said. "I don't want to exclude anyone anymore. The more people talk about it, and the more people are involved, the better I feel for myself."

One of the reasons the old Social Pool initially closed to the public was the lack of resources for taking care of it, but Baker said he plans to have people who live nearby care for it and make sure it isn't being vandalized.

Baker's Facebook group has more than 200 people in it, a resource he hopes to be able to tap.

"I'm going to get everybody together, and we can all pick days to go out there and build parts of it — work together," Baker said.

The Social Pool lives on in one way or another. Barsuglia was even invited recently to have the project featured in a Vienna museum show. For that show, it's not about the Social Pool itself, but about the Facebook and online conversation around reconstructing it.

"It's still here — although there's nothing there," Barsuglia said.