Hayden Island RV Park Exchange Subculture: A Personal Reflection

By Shelbie Loomis

Jantzen Beach RV Park, by unknown, © 2009-2018 Jantzen Beach RV Park

We live on an island where our nomadic people exist. We live in an RV Park that cultivates exchange so we can thrive.

When my partner (Charles) and I moved onto Hayden Island, we first met our neighbors when they came outside to watch as we backed up our forty-foot, twelve-thousand-pound payload into a narrow hook-up spot which would be our home for the foreseeable future. After a few tries, and feeling the pressure of being watched, I could feel myself become irritated with being such a spectacle. “I see you have a dog with you. What type of dog is he? He looks like a pit bull.” The woman called out as I performed my practiced landing signals to my partner. I could tell Charles was getting agitated with my neglect, and as I was standing there implementing my last task for the day, I was too. I gave her a short answer and turned my attention back to the task at hand. “I can tell you don’t want to talk right now,” she retorted and quickly went back inside to give us some space. Later on, I mentally kicked myself for being so short. After all, I knew the protocol for new arrivals and knew how important it was to have open communication with your neighbors. The RV (Relaxing Vacation) community was a complicated fabric of individuals who are reliant on each other to survive, to grow, and thrive through open exchange and alliance. And I knew that if I wanted my family to be supported in a time of need, it was necessary to be hospitable. 

Fig. 1: (left) Dogs in Cougar RV, 2019. Photograph: Shelbie Loomis. Fig. 2:  (right) With Ulay in the Citroën van, 1977-1978. Photograph: courtesy of Marina Abramović Archives © Marina Abramović and Ulay. DACS 2016

Before venturing out of the Southwestern desert to travel across the United States to the Pacific Northwest, I had done my share of research about the lifestyle of living in an RV full time and possible boondocking. I watched the videos, read articles, fantasized about the whimsical tiny house living that came with intriguing people that traveled a lot. I thought about Marina Abramović and Ulay who lived in their Citroën police van from the late 1970s into the 1980s and according to the Guggenheim had cultivated a “lifestyle choice that merged with their belief that freeing the mind and spirit was only possible after physical deprivation”. To me, I felt that this lifestyle could provide me a solution away from consumerism and capitalism while I focused on what freed my mind and spirit. 

When asking for advice from people that were apart of this community, I realized that the most important information to know were all things that came with word of mouth. Things like “when should I empty my black-water tanks out?” or “which navigation routes should I take that don’t have the steepest slope highways?” It became apparent that if you were going to get on the road and successfully navigate through the country as a nomadic citizen with no special training, you had better learn how to ask for help from the people that knew best. 

Fig 3. (left) Letters from Lyn. 2019. Ink on Paper. 8.5 x 11”  Fig 4. (right) Mieko Shiomi. Event for the Midday (In the Sunlight). 1963. Event Score. Ink on paper, 4 9/16 x 7″ (11.5 x 17.8 cm)

The chance to exchange information, trade knowledge, use of specialized tools, or learning how to work on “rigs” began to re-contextualize simple actions, ideas and objects from everyday life on the road into a form of performance. A performance that came with a collaborative audience, should one be open to the folks that abide by the law of hospitality. I became interested in people, their stories, and their performances, asking them to exchange techniques through different forms of communication. Some of the correspondence resembled event scores, instructional by nature, which made me think of works such as Event for the Midday. (See Fig 3 & 4) When asked to take something that felt intuitive and place it down on paper, most people took the time to act out the action and close their eyes to picture the event as if it were happening in front of them. Shut eyes. Open eyes. Shut eyes. Turn the wheel.  

Fig 5. (left) Robert with RV. 2019. Photograph by Shelbie Loomis. Fig 6. (right) Neighbors with RV. 2019. Photograph by Shelbie Loomis.

However, tThrough my inquiry and deeper conversations with people I asked questionsinto questions such as why they felt the need to have such an open forum of communication, shared resources and knowledge?; Tthe reactions and explanations were full of economic downfall, personal and family illness, and a series of unfortunate events that lead them to be placed in these circumstances. Conversations lead to comparisons to the lives they used to live and aspirations to once enter back into a larger sustainable house. Mostly, everyone who lived in the park was no longer considereding themselves as “passing through” and were on their charted paths to better their futures or upkeep the ones they already had; like for Robert (left) who owned an RV towing business but had outgrown his RV since the birth of his daughter and looked forward to the day that he did not have to spend the time or money maintaining it, or my neighbors (right) who preferred not to be named, who described a life of traveling and chasing rodeos around the country before the crash of 2008 which landed them in the RV park for twelve years and on their second RV. 

As a community, we knew each other’s stories and if the rare opportunity arose where a long-term resident parked alongside your dwelling place; there exists a vested interest in knowing what kind of strengths or weaknesses you could bring to the mixing pot. Could you be trusted to watch your neighbor’s RV while they are at work? Would you participate in donating your cans for the woman down the street who is disabled and needs the income? Are you available to help a widow reattach her water-hose since her husband is no longer alive to maintain the rig? The day Charles and I pulled into our lot, we were being assessed to see if we should be welcomed or ignored. 

Fig 7. (above) Virtue Reality of the Cougar 366RDS. 2019. Screenshot by Rebecca Copper. Fig 8. (left) RV Living & Cooking: Social Practice Exercise. 2019. Screenshot by Rebecca Copper. Fig 9. (right) Justin Maxon drinking an imaginary beverage. 2019. Screenshot by Rebecca Copper. 

My work as a social practice artistsocial practice became a means to reconcile my own usefulness to the community and offer a platform to strengthen the bonds of my neighbors, which is still ongoing today.  As I continue to work inwardly, I started to think outwardly towards a secondary/tertiary audience and what empathy and involvement they could participate in. SSince story-telling was at the root of every exchange:; a concept that was considered when implementing RV Living & Cooking: Social Practice Exercise when participants of the History of Social Practice 2019 class took a virtual reality tour of my rig and were tasked tasking them to complete a family meal within the confines of simple lines marked on the floor. The participants had to collaboratively  fabricate dinner for virtual guests who were coming over and the challenge of seating everyone somewhere within the RV. I wanted imagination to take hold of my participants as they carried on the familiarity of playing house, but ultimately humanizeing the experience of the RV community’s reality. 

I have bonded with my new community through art and open dialogue, and watch the ebbs and flow of exchange that flourished naturally to create a co-existence of tolerance and sustainability within individuals, within a community and in society as a whole. It is an organic and imperfect process. Hhowever by changing my lifestyle by living atwith Hayden Island Relaxing Vacation Park Residence,; my mind and spirit has been freed.

The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a bi-annual publication dedicated to supporting, documenting, and contextualizing socially engaged art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal focuses on a different theme in order to take a deep look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions, and the public. The Journal seeks to support writing and web based projects that offer documentation, critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.

The SoFA Journal is published in print and PDF form twice a year, in June and December by the PSU Art & Social Practice Program. In addition to the print publication, the Journal hosts an online platform for ongoing projects.

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