Abandoned or Art? Bombay Beach
By Lauren Wong
Bombay Beach fell to desolation, as Salton Sea continued to grow toxic. Just like the rest of Salton Sea, this area was once a sought out luxury getaway (even for celebrities). That is, until its rising salinity and contamination from fertilizer runoff put an end to that.
As the majority of the area surrounding Salton Sea turned into the ghost town it is today, Bombay Beach took a slightly different route. In 2018, a few people began moving to the area. According to the annual census, in 2000 the population of Bombay was 366, in 2010 it was 295, and in 2020 it has grown to 415.
There still isn’t much to do in this area, the water is still toxic, and residents mainly drive around in golf carts since the nearest gas station is 20 miles away. The only restaurant and bar in the area is the Ski Inn. Overall, the town has two stores, one being their everyday convenience store. The nearest hospital is a 45 minute drive away.
In a way, I’d say the town is honoring its past. The abandoned look and feel of the town has given it its character. A variety of art pieces and installations scatter throughout the town and beach front, making it into almost a hippie playing field. Its rugged past being the motivation of creating this unique art experience.
Starting in 2015, the community annually hosts the Bombay Beach Biennale. Tao Ruspoli, Lily Johnson White, and Stefan Ashkenazy co-founded this event that’s a celebration of art, music, and philosophy. Everyone from artists, to academics, writers, and film-makers are invited to the event to showcase and create beautiful work by transforming abandoned housing, vacant lots, and decaying shoreline into works of art. You can also expect to see stage happenings, and get the chance to sit in on lectures given by the creators from all walks of life, who’ve come to share their knowledge, inspiration, and talent at the event.
They’ve created this art movement, using the resources available to build their pieces.
On the Bombay Beach Biennale’s official website, there’s quotes from each of the co-founders, which I found to be striking. I’ve decided to pull out a bit from each individual’s write up that I found intriguing and really describes the atmosphere of this California hidden gem.
“From the moment I first set foot in Bombay Beach, I was taken with the authenticity of its people and their resilience in the face of environmental hardship, and the amount of pride and love they’ve infused into their immediate surroundings.”
He’s beyond grateful to have a profession that gives him the time “bending reality into experiential and immersive art.”
“Imperial County is the poorest in California, and this town, on some levels the most godforsaken in California, had nothing to show for all this work… so the idea was to flip it all upside down: to get great artists, known and unknown, to come and make art specifically for the town, inspired by the strange magic and history of the place, and to honor its citizenry with the cultural richness it deserves… Finally, we wanted, and want to bring attention to the environmental catastrophe that is unfolding at the Salton Sea, and in doing so we hope that in a humble and creative way, we can start to solve the ecological crisis here.”
Lily Johnson White:
“Bombay Beach is a wildly strange and mesmerizing place. Decades of artists and filmmakers making their pilgrimage there is proof of this. My hope is that The Bombay Beach Biennale and the relationships we are forming there will illuminate and validate the regenerative powers of this kind of creative collaboration.”
Bombay Beach was my favorite stop on my whole road trip through Joshua Tree, Salton Sea, and Anza Borrego. The whole town’s atmosphere is full of this eye-catching mixture between seemingly abandoned nothingness, and though-provoking art.
I’ll let the pictures I took speak on that matter… (the giant star was my favorite).