“Squaring the Circle” was a celebration of the centennial of the socialist colony Llano del Rio in the Antelope Valley, founded in 1914 by Job Harriman. Harriman ran for mayor of Los Angeles on the Socialist ticket, but an ill-timed bombing by labor activists destroyed his chances. Fed up with local politics, he decided to create his own vision of a progressive society on the edge of the Mojave desert. Hundreds of residents flocked to Llano and set up a busy life complete with a newspaper and schools, all within a progressive communal design by architect Alice Constance Austin.
The community lasted from 1914-1918, when problems over water access caused the residents to leave. Six-hundred of them moved east to Louisiana to start New Llano.
On the edge of the Mojave desert, all that’s left of Llano del Rio now is a few stone foundations of buildings and a water tower. In the late 1930s, Aldous Huxley and his wife lived there (Huxley wrote his only children’s book there, The Crows of Pearblossom). He linked the colony’s fate to Shelley’s famous line engraved on the ruined statue of Ozymandius: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.
One-hundred years after Llano was founded, Jessica Cowley of Analog Signs and I participated in “Squaring the Circle” by making hand-painted signs that displayed slogans found in Llano’s socialist newspaper. (All issues of The Western Comrade are available on the Internet Archive and they are fascinating!) We selected slogans used in the newspaper that were meant to lure new residents to the colony by asking them questions about their life satisfaction in the capitalist system. Not surprisingly, the questions are just as potent today.
Images of our installation on the site of Llano and its environs follow: