• an experiment in living at
    AN EXPERIMENT IN LIVING AT ANDREA ZITTEL'S A-Z WEST
    We spent a week in Joshua Tree as part of contemporary artist Andrea Zittel's experiment in living.
    April 23, 2015  |  BY Nick Nemechek

    Most of us partake in our daily routines without giving much thought to the arbitrary nature of those seemingly instinctive choices.From brushing our teeth in the morning, to eating with a fork and knife, I personally had never second-guessed why or how those decisions had become so compulsory.

    But several years ago, as an art student at USC, I was first made aware of Andrea Zittel - an artist who puts all of those daily rituals into question.

    Andrea's decades-long career is a series of investigations into living environments, routine and utility.

    Her work questions the most basic aspects of human life, including how shelters function, how our clothing is constructed, and the priority we assign to daily activities. Her experiments range from foregoing the measurement of time, creating self-sufficient living pods, or wearing the same uniform for months on end.

    However extreme, each experiment contributes to the "ongoing endeavor to better understand human nature and the social construction of needs."

  • Back in 2008, I had my first opportunity to visit A-Z West - the artist's residence, studio and experimental grounds located on 35-acres adjacent to California's Joshua Tree National Park.

    I made the two-hour drive East from Los Angeles for the annual High Desert Test Sites event - an organization, co-founded by Zittel, that supports immersive experiments and exchanges between artists. From in situ installations, sunset art performances, late-night drinking at a remote desert bar, the weekend was a peek into the world of this bourgeoning art community, largely cultivated by Andrea herself.


  • As we planned our recent 12,000 mile road trip from New York to the West Coast and back, I knew I had to revisit the place that so tightly grasped my fascination a few years prior. We spent months traveling the country to document varied interpretations of 'the home.' But the exercise felt incomplete without exploring the project that sought to dismantle our entire understanding of the human living environment.

    So we left LA en route to experience A-Z West, and watched in awe as the sprawling metropolis was slowly overtaken by the unbridled desert landscape.

  • We left LA en route to experience A-Z West, and watched in awe as the sprawling metropolis was slowly overtaken by the unbridles desert landscape.

  • The exercise felt incomplete without exploring the project that sought to dismantle our entire understanding of the human living environment.



  • As we approached the bail bonds that marked the camp's entrance, we followed a long, sandy road to the artist's compound, located in a river wash between two mountains of granite boulders. Alison, the camp's host, showed us to our quarters - two futuristic-looking steel and MDF structures, termed 'wagon stations' by the artist.

    Each station had a roof that could be opened and closed, acting as a source of shade, shield from harsh winds, or as an open-air sleeping pad, depending on the weather.



  • The stations were equipped with only the most important living essentials - a firm mattress upholstered in yellow canvas, a brush for cleaning the sand (or any unwanted visitors), and a wide-brimmed, straw hat for protection from the brutal afternoon sun.

    In exchange for the experience, all campmates were asked to participate in a daily "hour of power." We joined Zittel and her staff for groundskeeping tasks, like cleaning the kitchen, leveling a sandy nook, or emptying buckets from the composting toilets.

  • Her work questions the most basic aspects of human life, including how shelters function, how our clothing is constructed, and the priority we assign to daily activities.



  • The stations were arranged around a communal kitchen & open-air showers, which functioned as the social hub of the compound - the place where we'd share meals, stories, and the occasional glass of red wine with fellow campmates.

    The kitchen was equipped with a few modern conveniences - propane stoves, stovetop expresso makers, cast iron skillets and bowls of varied sizes - the sole vessel from which we ate, drank and prepared food.



  • Our time at A-Z West was one of reflection, where everyday actions, like preparing meals and going to the bathroom, were reconsidered. Our movements were dictated by the elements - finding warmth in the mornings, shade in the afternoons, or shelter in downtown Joshua Tree during a few particularly brutal windstorms.

    By distilling the camp to the minimum, the artist challenged our relationship to the many objects we indiscriminately considered essential.



  • But in many ways, the experience also strengthened my long-held appreciation for the home. As I questioned my blind acceptance for what previously seemed intuitive, I found that I didn't actually miss the objects that offered relief from minor inconveniences, but much more strongly yearned for a space that felt familiar, personal and my own. I realized that the objects I value most are generally not even functional, but those that contributed to feelings of familiarity and identity - objects that elicit fond memories or a simple pleasure from their design.



  • The experience was truly unforgettable, and has made me an infinitely more discerning consumer of objects, space and time. While old habits die hard, my new-found awareness has allowed me to take a few steps back and consider whether or not my daily conventions are truly rational, or simply inherited.

  • I found that I didn't actually miss the objects that offered relief from minor inconveniences, but much more strongly yearned for a space that felt familiar, personal, and my own.

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  • YES.

  • Amazing! Very inspiring!

  • OMG. Beautiful photos. My fav is the kitchen. I want to cook there. 🙂

  • MizTee

    This brings back memories of tent camping in the desert. It looks like there are showers, and water available in the kitchen. Luxury!

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