“What makes us feel liberated is not total freedom, but rather living in a set of limitations that we have created and prescribed for ourselves.” – Andrea Zittel
Andrea Zittel works from the self-proclaimed “Institute for Investigative Living” in Joshua Tree, CA. She is part prophet performing acts that point to alternative modes of being, part Bauhaus guru fusing art and craft, and part desert hermit humbly dedicated to the art of living. Her property, A-Z West, is a fifty acre site in the California desert and is an “enterprise that encompasses all aspects of day to day living. Home furniture, clothing, food all become the sites of investigation in an ongoing endeavor to better understand human nature and the social construction of needs.” Since fall of 2000 it has been “undergoing an ongoing conversion into a testing grounds for living, in which spaces, objects and acts of living all intertwine as a single ongoing investigation into what it means to exist and participate in our culture today. ‘How to live?’ and ‘What gives life meaning?’ are core issues in both Zittel’s personal life and artistic practice. Answering these questions has entailed the complex relationships between our needs for freedom, security, autonomy, authority, and control, observing how structure and limitations often have the capacity to generate feelings of freedom beyond open-ended choices.”
Her work is a fascinating investigation into the border between representation and the literal–a collapse of the space between viewing and experiencing. A-Z Carpet Furniture is an excellent example of this collapse. It “ highlights the slippage between represented space and literal space. It hovers between being a representation of something (it can hang on the wall or lay on the floor) and the actual thing itself, and it is meant to be used just like any furniture.”
Another dichotomy she explores is our complex desire for art objects. We want beautiful objects to interact with in our day-to-day lives. Yet, we also want those objects to be loaded with ideological or philosophical significance and positioned in the forefront of artistic tradition. She answers that complex desire with her Parallel Planar Panels which “evoke manifold types of physical fields: abstract paintings, walls, floors, furnishings – as well as offering metaphors for the multifarious ‘planes’ of human experience. They reflect an enduring interest in the porous boundaries between distinct modes or genres – whether between abstraction and figuration, or the decorative and the functional. Rather than seeking to deconstruct categories and taxonomies, strategy of careful syncretism are honed adopted.”
In her video Dynamic Essay about the Panel, Zittel notes that it is the limitations and definite boundaries that define the use and relevance of manifestations of the planar form. She describes horizontal panels (tables, rugs, floors, etc.) as “energetic accumulators.” They are the support structures on which we live. On the other hand, vertical panels are vehicles for meaning and messages, which she labels “ideological resonators.” I highly recommend watching this short video in which she explores the profound ramifications of such a simple structure in our daily life.
The Wonder Valley Experimental Living Cabins are the most recent addition to the Institute for Investigative Living. “The cabins are located in a remote part of the Mojave, 40 minutes from Joshua Tree, off-the-grid, without power or running water. In lieu of these amenities, the cabins offer the vastest of space—an instance when patterns and routines are stripped away, allowing a new kind of awareness to emerge. Conditions are minimal, but all basic necessities are provided, including water, light source, bedding, seating, composting toilet, cooking tools and utensils.”
All quoted text from http://www.zittel.org/