Bombay Beach blew up in the mid-twentieth-century as a top tourist destination for beach goers and water skiers along the Salton Sea in Imperial County, California. But, by the 1970s, the beach had began to suffer the affects of the increasingly salinity to the water due to chemical runoff from nearby agriculture. Many residents began leaving when the lake became inhospitable to wildlife. The mass exodus caused tourism to decline while residents worried about potential health concerns.
Today, Bombay Beach is quiet. Most of the people you encounter are tourists and photographers. It is genuinely difficult to tell which properties are abandoned and which are homes. That is partially due to the overwhelming amount of vacant lots and structures, but it is also because it is sometimes hard to differentiate a piece of public art from someone’s abode. And that is what makes it beautiful. Most of the art is kinetic. It casts light, shapes, shadows, and sounds around the seemingly desolate landscape. When you stand still, look, and listen, you perceive the quiet heartbeat pulsating throughout the community.
That is because just a few years ago, people began to move back to Bombay Beach. It is enjoying a renaissance as a creative haven for artists and intellectuals. Since 2016, it has hosted the Bombay Beach Biennale which has resulted in a variety of monumental art installations that range from sculptures from found objects to re-imaginations of entire abandoned structures in the neighborhood.
We visited on a late April evening. You can watch our YouTube video here: