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"A - Z Homestead Unit (from A - Z West) with Raugh Furniture"
Andrea Zittel: "A - Z Homestead Unit (from A - Z West) with Raugh Furniture," 2000-2005, steel, birch paneling with paint and polyurethane, corrugated metal roof, sculpted foam furniture, fleece blanket, pillows with pillowcases, camp stove with tea, and felted wool with A - Z Fiber Form Uniform and A - Z Container.
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"A - Z Time Tunnel - Time to Do Nothing Productive at All"
Andrea Zittel, "A - Z Time Tunnel - Time to Do Nothing Productive at All," 2000, installation.
ANDREA ZITTEL, Critical Space
Vancouver Art Gallery
June 11 - Sept 30, 2007
By Heather Ramsay
Andrea Zittel drives through a corridor of southern California known as the Inland Empire every weekend. She heads to A-Z West, her 25-acre plot of desert near Joshua Tree National Park and the site of some of her most recent experiments with life, art and design.
It’s a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, her other base, through the smog-laden, formerly-agricultural, now highly suburbanized valley. But, the artist who rose to fame in the 1990s living in, eating and wearing her conceptual pieces in New York City, says this pilgrimage is an important part of her work.
“It’s good to be surrounded by things that you hate,” she says of the oversized housing developments and shopping malls she passes on her way. “People buy so much and own so many cars, it seems like consumption is out of control.” Struggling with ideas about capitalism gone awry, a malady particularly pronounced in the suburbs of southern California where Zittel grew up, has become the basis of more than 15 years of work.
Zittel, who received a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture from Rhode Island School of Design in 1990, has received accolades for her life-encompassing art. She has designed diets made out of dehydrated food (A-Z Food Group), outfits meant to be worn for six months at a time (A-Z Uniforms), and living spaces that accommodate all her needs in a 60-square-foot form (A-Z Living Units). She lived for a time on a man-made island (A-Z Pocket Property) of her own design and turned 168 hours of living outside the boundaries of time, cut off from sources of light and human contact, into art (A-Z Free Running Patterns and Rhythms).
Her work explores people’s desire to control their own intimate universes, and many of her pieces touch on themes of freedom, isolation and escape. She is interested in the process (be it fabrication or design) as much as the product, and has noted that the user of an object shapes it in ways as noteworthy as the designer.
It’s no wonder that an artist with such a fascination for designing the most minute details of daily life in the smallest spaces possible, would be horrified by the glut of super-sized consumption running rampant in her home state. Although much of her work can be read as a critique of the modern over-capitalized world, Zittel readily admits she is product of her suburban upbringing. She has even taken on a corporate identity for herself. A-Z Administrative Services allowed the squeaky-voiced former mall-girl to create the illusion that she was something bigger than herself. The practical side of this was her need to be taken seriously by suppliers and fabricators in the course of creating her iconoclastic works.
This summer, the Vancouver Art Gallery hosts the final leg of the first major retrospective of her work, Andrea Zittel — Critical Space, an exhibition co-curated by the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.
She is keen to visit Vancouver, not only because of the connections that exist between the city and one of the exhibition’s curators, New Museum’s Trevor Smith (he went to the University of British Columbia) but because she’d like to explore the farthest reaches of what she calls her West Coast identity. Zittel is fascinated by the frontier history of the wild west and some of her work, like A-Z Wagon Stations, references the homestead era when five-acre plots were offered to those who could build improvements in the California desert and survive.
Although the 75-piece VAG show features many of the extreme living spaces Zittel has created, she now has a partner and a young son, leading her to shift the direction of her work. A lot more of her art is happening outside of her still-small living space and in her studio where she is taking more control over the process. Many of her earlier pieces, like the mini-trailer A-Z Escape Units, are her design, but were fabricated by expert craftspeople. She is now exploring work she can create herself, such as felted, embroidered and woven textiles.
Zittel is also enjoying working collaboratively with assistants and other artists who share her interests. One such project is High Desert Test Sites, experimental installations created by different artists each year in the desert communities near Joshua Tree. And her latest project, called Smockshop, is allowing young artists who need a way to make a living in a creative atmosphere to customize and sell her dress designs.