Welcome to the Hacienda



quartzsite market

Like the world that Quartzsite is a microcosm of—community at Quartzsite is based on trade. Stimulated by the model of the Quartzsite Improvement Association, nine major gem and mineral shows and more than fifteen general swap meeting shows attract motorhome owners to the area. Much like the young hipsters who populate the fashionable districts of cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, campers at Quartzsite generally don’t work except as full time consumers. Seemingly incongruous juxtapositions of ever more bizarre goods appear throughout the markets: fresh shrimp cocktails hundreds of miles from the ocean are available next to cow skulls and fox furs dangle near street lights. African sculpture is popular, a demonstration of Quartzsite’s role in a global network of nomadic trade. Although there may be variation among the objects for sale, year after year it is the presence of the market itself that draws the migratory residents of Quartzsite back. Ritually appearing and disappearing with the seasons, the marketplace staves off banality and boredom. Barely advertised, it maintains an aura of exclusivity. After wandering for a time at a Quartzsite show like “the Main Event” or the “Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama,” one is gripped by the thought that even the merchants don’t come to Quartzsite to make a buck. As more than one sign advertising a merchant’s need for a wife makes clear, merchants are more interested in interacting with people than in making a buck.

The shopping district at Quartzsite is a critical node for interaction. Closed to motorhome and automotive traffic, the shopping districts serve as the primary conduits for the flow of people and information. As visitors arrive from around the world and mull over the value of useless objects, they interact in random configurations and share knowledge and experiences. With over a million visitors a year, all of these seemingly random conversations carry an enormous amount of information. The interactions remain at a local level, however, and do not generally create any larger direction or impact on the community beyond fostering its perpetual growth.

Quartzsite’s economy is beyond scarcity or affluence. For the most part, the products sold at Quartzsite’s markets are bought and sold to facilitate social relationships, not because they are needed or to establish social status. It’s no surprise then, that the central point of Quartzsite’s market economy is the exchange of rocks. Often obtained from the surrounding mountains during leisurely hikes and having had minimal labor applied to their retrieval and processing, Quartzsite’s rocks circumvent any notion of labor or scarcity in economy. Nor are these rocks useful or even practical to our wanderers of the desert. At Quartzsite, the markets teach us of a new nomadic way of life beyond any idea of affluence or material desire. According to Marx, the social character of a producer’s labor is only expressed through the exchange of commodities. But there is no labor to speak of involved in bringing these valueless rocks to sale. Instead of being a source of oppression, as they were in Marx’s day, rocks become a source of liberation as they once were in the Potlatch or under the never realized Utopian vision of Communism: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!”

quartzsite rocks

Like the attendees themselves, the stones of Quartzsite are capable of extreme variation while remaining essentially interchangeable. In writing of stones, Roger Caillois has observed “an obvious achievement, yet one arrived at without invention, skill, industry, or anything else that would make it a work in the human sense of the word, much less a work of art. The work comes later, as does art; but the far-off roots and hidden models of both lie in the obscure yet irresistible suggestions in nature.” Caillois notes that even when stones are cut and polished, the work involved only reveals something that had always been there. Within these stones, he suggests, we find images, “remarkable likenesses ”regarded as wonders, almost miracles.”

Even if they are not works of art, at Quartzsite stones are natural ready-mades, empty of any intrinsic meaning, and ready to be filled with abstract signification that can be read, Rorschach-like, out of its random form. Quartzsite becomes a gallery for the purchase of these objects, which, like works of art, provide meditations on uselessness. Like the ancient festivals of sacrifice, Quartzsite is a place in which the subject can disappear into the system of objects, thereby rejoining the plane of immanence. The exchange of stones is a way for people to remind each other that ultimately theirs is a world in which they are nothing, make nothing, and do not need to labor.

As the capital of the multitude, Quartzsite transgresses capitalism itself to incorporate what were once considered obsolete forms of economy: its market economy is largely free of capitalism, dwelling is based on feudalism, and individuals, just affluent enough to escape the necessity of labor, are free to pursue their desires, as if under Communism. Markets emerge at Quartzsite in order to facilitate social interaction. At Quartzsite, as in the imagined Hacienda that the Situationists hoped to build, the concept of productive work is obsolete. In place of labor, meaningless exchange is maintained as a form of social interaction.


can crushing machine


But Hardt and Negri would be the first to point out that there can be no one capital of the multitude. It is by definition everywhere. So it is with Quartzsite as well. Quartzsite is omnipresent, the id of all horizontal cities. The recent real estate bubble teaches us that houses have no more intrinsic worth than stocks. We dwell in mobile homes sold for fantastic sums bearing no relation to their physical qualities. Just as the dot.com bubble unloaded any meaning from the stock market, the housing bubble has unloaded any meaning from architecture or place. Quartzsite is everywhere today, a transient posturbia absent of any productive capacity, not so much about making money as about enjoying experiences together.