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Arts and Entertainment

We Found That Little Pool Hidden In The Desert

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Last week, we reported that there was a little pool hidden in the desert as part of an art installation by Austrian artist Alfredo Barsuglia. Some of us found it to be 'obnoxious,' but some of us (me) couldn't wait to find it.

Barsuglia's statement about the pool and why it's surreptitiously set in such a remote area is meant to reflect on the lengths humans would go to in the pursuit of luxury—in this case, driving a few hours and hiking through barren desert just to find a small pool. But if you enjoy poking around in the desert, the pool becomes the icing on the sand cake.

To begin the journey to Social Pool, you must first go to the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in West Hollywood where Barsuglia was in residence in '06 and ask for one of the four keys to the pool. My two companions and I got to the MAK Center on Sunday morning, right when it was supposed to open, but no one was there. We then waited for several minutes. Two women who had found the pool the day before showed up with their key and we waited longer, eyeing their shiny key anxiously. Maybe this was part of the art. How long would we wait? Or, would we demand the women hand over the key and reveal the pool's secret location? Turns out, we're pretty polite people so we will wait sans violence for at least 15 minutes.

Another woman eventually arrived and let us in, apologizing for being late. The two women dropped off the key, and we signed it back out. We were provided with a piece of paper that contained the coordinates and some ground rules. The agreement was that we would not copy the key, we'd bring it back within 24 hours, and it'd be super nice of us to bring a gallon of fresh water to dump into the pool after we were done with it.

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Using the coordinates, anyone with a smart phone should be able to track the location down. It's about 2.5 hours via car away from the museum and you can expect to travel through a lot of open desert. There are plenty of places along the way to stop for provisions, and you will definitely want to get some water, snacks, and a full tank of gas. You won't ever be so far away from civilization that you should be particularly afraid, but it's always good to be prepared.

You can expect to do a little driving on unpaved roads, and you can expect to do a little hiking in the desert. You may encounter snakes, lizards, hares and other desert creatures along your way, but probably few humans. You shouldn't drive all the way to the pool because you might get stuck in the sand and also, it isn't nice to run over plants. The pool is small but it is also a glaring white, so you should be able to spot it from a distance if your coordinates are accurate and you are observant.

The pool has two locks—both opened by the single key—and then you and a buddy should be able to pull the cover off without a problem. Once you have opened the pool, you're looking at a very smart installation. The water is clean (assuming your predecessors have followed the rules) and cool compared to the hot desert wind. A cute octopus thermometer bobs on the surface, detailing the precise temperature of the water. There is a solar powered filter, plus a net to skim the pool.

Because it's so hot, you might want to get into the water quickly. It's not deep and you can comfortably fit about four people. Later, you can lounge on the cover on a towel and be totally dry in ten minutes in the arid desert. There will be mountains in the background and lots and lots of sand in every direction. There will be very little else.

There is something distinctly and uniquely pleasant about this pool. Maybe it's that you're entirely alone with just a couple close friends. There's no one to hear you and nothing to overhear. There's also an element of danger. The path to the pool is littered with abandoned trailers and RVs reminiscent of Breaking Bad or The Hills Have Eyes. It feels decidedly lawless this far out into the open desert. You're not supposed to drink on Venice Beach or run around naked, but nobody really seemed to be policing Social Pool.

After our excursion, I asked Barsuglia what we were supposed to learn from our search for and time at the pool.

"I don't expect anything," he said. "If you make a public art project, your influence stops after the opening reception. In advance, you cannot know how people will react on it. If they like it, or hate it, or even if there is anybody who takes the effort to visit the site. The participants give the project a meaning. And if nobody participates, then that's a meaning, too."

During the time we spent at Social Pool, there were no other key holders in sight. I checked Instagram and Twitter for #socialpool, and only found the women we had met in the morning at MAK. It's possible we are the only two groups of people who have encountered the pool since its installation.

As it got to be later in the day, we skimmed the pool, dumped in the fresh gallon of water and locked it back up. We had made a lot of jokes about how you could be a jerk about the pool—how you could copy the key, not lock it back up, reveal the location or somehow either ruin the project or the pool. While damaging the pool in any way was not a thing we ever would have done, I wondered about its possibility and asked Barsuglia why he trusted participants to be kind to his work. He said that because the pool is in such a remote location, he believes no one would ever stumble upon it by chance.

"That means all official visitors of the pool will be involved in the secret of its location and this secret binds, I guess," he said. "I don't think that someone takes the effort to visit the pool to destroy it. Yes, I trust the participants, but as I mentioned before, if someone comes to destroy the work, it's sad but part of the project—of letting the project develop by itself, without my or anybody's influence. To sit in the pool and watch the scenery is outstanding. I think it's so nice that nobody would conceive the idea to damage it, but to prevent it for the next visitor. But you never know… we will see."

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He asked me why I followed the rules, and to be honest, not following wasn't something I'd ever seriously considered. It's like people who barge onto the Metro without letting other people off first—what kind of monster does that?

On our way back to L.A., we stopped at a 'saloon' not too far from the pool, which the bartender identified as the one non-members only bar in town. She asked us what we were doing out in the middle of nowhere and we said we had been looking for a hidden art installation. They were not aware of Social Pool's existence, and we did not clue them in as to where it was.

Next for Barsuglia is a three-month residency in Rome paid for by the federal government of Austria. His next project in the U.S. is interesting, too—he plans to build a boat and then sail it from Chicago to Detroit.

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