The squat wooden structure looks like it's part tree house, fort, RV and boat. It sits on wheels in a secret lot near Copper. Doors on either side lead to a small open space. On one end, a crude counter holds a hot plate and makeshift sink. A loft is visible overhead.
The rest of the room is bare, save for a wooden swing hanging from the ceiling. Outside, a lamppost with a basketball hoop attached to it gives the whole affair a homey feel.
The address on the side of the post reads “1509,” but Bethany Delahunt admits it's made up. Like everything else on the secret lot, it's the product of her imagination.
The house is Delahunt's thesis project for her master’s degree in fine art from the University of New Mexico. She built the structure herself almost entirely from salvaged or secondhand materials. And it's not just for show: She plans to live in it once it's finished.
Delahunt's background is in sculpture, not in construction, carpentry or architecture. Yet somehow she taught herself how to build a house. For months, Delahunt scavenged Craigslist for supplies. She hunted for secondhand building materials from ReStore and collected wood from salvage yards like Coronado Wrecking and Salvage. Then she spent hours pulling nails from the lumber to make it usable.
She even welded together the steel trailer on which the house stands. “It was, like, 20 feet long, had been in a rollover—was super-wonky. So I had to cut it in three parts and weld it back together,” she says. “I didn't know if what I was doing was good enough, because I don't know much about steel at all."
But by relying on the know-how of friends with experience, along with her own research and intuition, she succeeded. The house is (almost) done and ready for her to move into. On Friday, Nov. 9, she flung wide the doors for an art opening and housewarming party. Delahunt says openings can be awkward affairs, and she often wants to leave as soon as possible. But at this one, "people were, like, hanging out for a really long time,” she marvels, proudly, “because it was like a house party.”
“I have a kid’s agenda,”
The opening was an undeniable success, but the real intrigue of the project lies in its long-term application. Will Delahunt really live in this handmade house on wheels? The weather was mild the night of the housewarming, but the next day, a cold front settled in. Harsh November winds continually blew open the doors, and the cold seeped through the cracks and seeped into the open space. It hardly seemed like a feasible living arrangement, but Delahunt insists on staying. “I designed it specifically so that I could live in it as long as I could,” she says. “I made it big because I was like, I want to live here and feel super comfortable ... And I wanted to make the loft high enough and big enough for a big tall man to come live in it with me,” she adds, laughing.
“That’s sort of what art is for me---making things that seem impossible, possible.”
Insulation, the next component to be installed, will make it a lot warmer. A wood-burning stove and solar water heater are other considerations Delahunt has in mind to make the space more autonomous. “I'm on the grid for now,” says Delahunt, “using extension cords.”
The undertaking, she explains, was meant to afford her the freedom, independence and mobility she needs to pursue a full-time career as an artist. “When I started the project, it was utterly coming from a totally practical, logistical standpoint,” she says. This captivating mix of the fanciful and the functional is an overarching theme in the way Delahunt approaches her work. For the Alibi's first art box competition, she transformed a distribution cube into a working telephone booth. This year, she built a functional lookout tower as part of an exhibition about the border.
She does most of this work with upcycled materials. “I have a kid's agenda,” she jokes. “Kids use what they have lying around their house.” There's no room for that kind of playful creativity as an adult, she points out. “I think that that's maybe why we get older: because we have the ability and capacity to do whatever we want.” She must be onto something. Her house looks like the embodiment of childhood dreams—the coolest clubhouse ever.
She's not the only one who sees the practical applications of her art. Delahunt has already been invited to a residency in Truth or Consequences, making more housing spaces modeled after her design. The houses would serve as semi-permanent, semi-mobile homes and studios for other artists in residency there, making her work not only art but a platform for creating more.
“I'm not trying to make any statements,” says Delahunt. “I'm just getting by, just practical. You know—what can you do with nothing?” In a society that focuses so much on material stuff, it's a refreshing point of view. “There is an element of me wanting to be able to show people that anything's possible,” she admits. “That's sort of what art is for me—making things that seem impossible, possible.”