April 27 2015 05:34 PM

The photographer and videographer's Mojave Project is chosen for a Guggenheim Fellowship

When the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation announced this year's fellowship grants, three San Diego artists were on the list. Since 1925, the prestigious grants have been awarded annually to mid-career artists who have, according to the foundation, "already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts." 

University of San Diego professor and visual artist Victoria Fu was one of the 175 new fellows awarded a grant (roughly $43,000) and plans to work on a new video series focusing on touchscreen technology. UC San Diego professor and composer Rand Steiger will begin working on new musical compositions. 

But while both Steiger and Fu plan to keep their day jobs, photographer and fellow "fellow" Kim Stringfellow plans to take a leave of absence from her position as an associate professor at San Diego State University's School of Art and Design to work on her Mojave Project, a multi-format, transmedia art undertaking that's almost as vast as the desert it's named after. 

"There's nine installments on a variety of sights and topics," says Stringfellow. "I'm jumping around, too, to keep it really fresh."

These "installments" consist of photography, documentary video and journalistic essays on the Mojave Desert, the high-desert area shared by four states, but the majority of which is in Southern California. Surficially, it's rather barren, but just as with Stringfellow's previous projects on places like the Salton Sea and the Morongo Basin, she hopes that people will see the beauty and historical importance of the place. 

"In the end, I hope people will see these connections that may not be apparent right away. That's what I think I'm good at," says Stringfellow, who grew up in Washington State, but traveled extensively through the desert as a child. "It's about sharing the information so people can have a more complex understanding of these kinds of places... One of the installments has to do with sacrifices and exploitation. I'm going to get into topics dealing with climate change and how bad it affects the desert."

Ultimately, Stringfellow sees the completed project as sort of a "natural-history-type art installation" that she hopes will culminate in a traveling exhibition with multiple media components. She says this is at least two years down the road, but museums and galleries are already showing interest. Along with the Guggenheim Fellowship, she's also received funding from the Cal Humanities Documentary Fund. Some of the installments are already appearing on the Mojave Project website, and Stringfellow is ready to get out and document more.

"It's a little slow right now because I'm working at school," she says. "As soon as I finish the semester, I have a full-year sabbatical and Iím just really going to delve into it."

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