Repair a table-leg
Hatch a chick
Settle a frontier
Andrea Zittel’s art is lifestyle. She designs uniforms—spartan, felt clothing created to be worn for three consecutive months, and builds Living Units, which consolidate kitchens, bathrooms, and workstations into a single, sleek piece of furniture. A rare combination of object-maker and conceptual artist, Andrea Zittel investigates the connection between systemic order and individual freedom by transforming seemingly restrictive, humdrum circumstances into templates for creative fantasy.
Zittel wears her uniforms daily, and tests the effects of her innovations on herself by uniting home, gallery, and studio under one roof. This began in 1994 with the creation of A-Z East, a three-story open-to-the-public Brooklyn storefront in which people could share in the experience of her latest work. A surreal space, where beds were exchanged for pits, and sofas for undulating mounds of foam, A-Z East investigated art as a way of life. In 1999 Zittel left A-Z East and spent the entire summer living off the coast of Denmark on her handmade fifty-four-ton floating island, A-Z Pocket Property. Functioning as both ultimate freedom and solitary confinement, A-Z Pocket Property was a prelude to the formation of A-Z West, Zittel’s minimalist compound located at the far reaches of the Mojave Desert.
I interviewed Zittel at her A-Z West live-work space. Though nestled between sun-bleached boulders and spiky green plant life, A-Z West’s serenity is anything but luxurious. Enduring extreme temperatures of up to 110 degrees during the day and 32 degrees at night, Zittel’s desert abode puts ingenuity and self-reliance to the test. On the side of the house, in a pile of dry dusty rubble sat the Wagon Station (a.k.a. guest house) and the cold tub, an amusing antidote to the desert heat. Inside, I was handed a bowl of water, which I happily gulped while taking in Zittel’s constructed wonderland. With more space than anyone could have asked for, Zittel still preserves her aesthetic of simplicity. Even her Escape Vehicles, designed exclusively for the purpose of fantasy, confine one to a small, capsulized interior. Similar to her sculptures made for daily living, Zittel’s desert creations are scaled to the imagination of the individual. If only to prompt one’s active participation, Zittel toys with the notion of what is essential by making it a matter of what one chooses it to be.
THE BELIEVER: Before customizing works for other people, you start out as the primary test subject for your art. One of the more extreme experiments was living off the coast of Denmark on a concrete island that you created called A-Z Pocket Property.
ANDREA ZITTEL: Some of my works are intended for others and some are designed with myself as the primary occupant. I tend to reserve the projects that are potentially scary, uncomfortable, or long-term for myself.
Living on the Pocket Property was scary, boring, and uncomfortable, but also interesting because I’d never done anything like that before. The fifty-four-ton concrete island was partially a prototype for a new kind of habitat, a personal island with a built-in house that could go anywhere and also at the same time a critique of “capsulized” living in my homeland of suburban California. As is often the case with my work, it was one of those fantasy/fear scenarios. It seemed to me that my living on it would probably be enough for that particular project. I never want to prescribe solutions for people, so much as provoke them to create solutions for themselves. I’m not a terribly strong, rich, or brave person—so if I can do these things, I suppose anyone can.
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