History of East Jesus
Charles Russell is the man behind this folk art of the desert named East Jesus. He left his job in the tech industry in early 2007 and packed all his belongings into a shipping container destined for a trash-strewn field in Slab City, California. Once arriving, he began to surround his two art cars with the sculptures that would become the foundation work of East Jesus.
It has been an experimental, habitable, extensible artwork in progress since then. The inhabitants of East Jesus and off-site members provide a refuge for artists, musicians, survivalists, writers, scientists and laymen. They’re dedicated to providing a working model of an improvised community. Completely self-contained and run entirely on solar power, East Jesus attempts to use and recycle every bit of consumable trash. They are unique in the Slabs in that they have human manure composting, in order to reduce and improve the impact on the local desert environment.
In Russell’s own words, he mentioned…
“Wedged between the Chocolate Mountain Gunnery Range and the Salton Sea in southern California’s exotic Imperial Valley, East Jesus is an experimental, comprehensive habitat and artwork comprising vernacular architecture, technophilia, common-sense environmentalism, desert survival and sculpture/assemblage using predominantly recycled, re-purposed or discarded materials, sublimating the unwanted and ugly into the purposefully beautiful.
The main structure is built around a 27-foot fiberglass shipping container, extended by walls composed of junk (lockers, computers, refrigerators, microwave ovens, bookshelves, tool chests, shipping crates, TVs and other electronics) and recycled, re-used lumber and steel. A contiguous shade structure connects the main container to a two-level, 24-foot trailer (found abandoned and stripped) through a row of desert ironwood trees, which themselves serve as structural elements.
The main habitat continues to grow and evolve. Adjoining the habitat is a sculpture garden, whose constituents are made exclusively of junk from the immediate area and are also growing and evolving. The large, open shaded area has also become home to a surprising variety of wildlife: lizards, rabbits, quail, hummingbirds, woodpeckers and other avian species call East Jesus home.”
The entry to East Jesus is made from discarded material that has been reused, recycled or re-purposed. East Jesus encourages visitors to imagine a world without waste in which every action is an opportunity for self-expression.
First off, this is in Slab City (just google Slab City, California, for more information). That alone adds to the intrigue and mystery of East Jesus, which Charles Russell calls the “last free place on Earth.”
Unlike the rest of Slab City, the very first thing we noticed is how organized East Jesus is. The carpets on the ground leads to the arched entrance, and the art is placed spaciously apart so that visitors can easily view it. The artwork is made of “trash,” but each piece reflects the talent of its artist.
A tour guide approached us and ask if we wanted her to show us around, but she could clearly see we had two small kids who were not going to sit still for any sort of tour; it took everything we had to not let them tear the place down.
I just loved this place with its wonderful, funky trash art, which was both beautiful and nightmarish (it must be seen to be appreciated). I admired the sustainable living quarters, which were actually made to be part of the art garden, and simply enjoyed hearing the twittering of birds break the silence. I even loved the dirty carpets.
During my visit, one question popped in my mind: if the apocalypse were to happen, would this be the group we would turn to for survival help? I wish I could have spent more time to take it all in, but there were so many circumstances that were preventing us from staying very long. Yet, I believe this place has a place in modern art, and it will one day be appreciated by art lovers the world over.
The Adventure of Getting There:
Slab City and I learned as much as I could about Slab City before we went and found myself completely obsessed with it. Then to add to the fact that there is a small colony of artists, who aren’t just living but living sustainably in the middle of this harsh desert, just makes this place even greater. But that’s me. I sort of become one with the place I’m visiting, trying not just to see a place but feel it as well. It’s the drama queen in me.
We had a hard time locating it, relying on single source to find it: word of mouth. The place has neither maps, nor real directions nor marked roads. You have to go, drive around and hope you’re going in the right direction. It’s almost hidden off the beaten path with a small sign indicating East Jesus. When we arrived, there was no question we had finally made it; although we didn’t know where to park and did so randomly.
Due to the art everywhere, the “homesteads” and the carpets on the ground, we wondered if we should stay or go. However, we had come this far just to see this art and decided not to leave. Obviously, we weren’t disappointed in the end.
Before you go, click on the following link and read the information carefully. It’s very interesting, but it will creep you out a little. Avoid going there if you can’t handle the rules, or you may get into trouble.
Video of East Jesus
East Jesus website / Slab City website