Social Study: An Interview with Andrea Zittel
How one woman learned to live with others by moving out: In the 1990s, Andrea
Zittel created her Living Units, which could be installed as
capsules into private apartments. The artists wanted to use them to study
how people organize their living spaces. In the meantime, her Units are
now part of museum collections; and at the request of the Danish
government, Andrea Zittel has created an artificial island off the coast
of Denmark. For some time now, she's lived in Joshua Tree, in the
California desert, removed from daily life in a large city. Cheryl
Kaplan spoke with the artist about her work, the limitations of
privacy, and medieval cities as an alternative to contemporary principles
Andrea Zittel: A-Z West, Photo: Andrea Zittel
Her parents have been living on a 31-foot sailboat in the South Pacific
for the last ten years. Don't worry, the Toyota van is parked nearby, and
when they do venture elsewhere, for instance to visit their daughter in
California, a Dodge camper is within shouting distance. Since the early
90s, when Andrea Zittel created the
Office for A-Z Administrative Services, an ersatz holding company that now
contains two branches,
A-Z East and A-Z
West, she has been operating like a modern day city-state,
dividing her life between New York and Joshua Tree, California.
A-Z, the manufacturing prefix to her works, includes
A-Z Living Units,
A-Z Escape Vehicles,
A-Z Cellular Compartments, and
A-Z Deserted Islands. Zittel's move to California at first appears
decidedly anti-urban. But if you think that desert equals privacy, then
you haven't heard about the amount of people that suddenly show up at
A-Z West. Even the town, in its medieval configuration, was both a
container and a magnet. Mobility, after all, underscores Zittel's
practice, letting her and others gently destabilize the everyday. I talked
with Andrea Zittel from her home at A-Z West.
Andrea Zittel: A-Z Homestead Units #2, 2001,
Deutsche Bank Collection, © Andrea Zittel
Cheryl Kaplan: In 1992 you said: "Some artists
make objects; my work is the organization of a life." What is the
connection between your choice of a corporate language and the
organization of a city? How does the structure of A-Z East, A-Z
West, and Administrative Services take urban planning systems
to a private level?
Andrea Zittel: I never thought about the
structure of cities much until recently, and that's because of living in
Joshua Tree. We're part of a huge county, San Bernardino. They're
re-writing a lot of the legislation, so they're letting us write our
mission statement. I've been going to town meetings, learning how things
work. We're talking about whether to become incorporated.
CK: Town planning systems seem
to parallel the thinking behind your work.
AZ: I was
interested in how an individual can become a whole corporation and how
powerful corporations act like governments. The head of the corporation is
a kind of ultimate monarch.
CK: Designers develop
corporations to promote individual products that are branded and gain
market share. What you're doing seems closer to the evolution of a town,
focusing on access to people instead of products. The creation of your
products becomes the vehicle to a relationship with the owner.
AZ: It was also a form of personal empowerment, having a company name.
Andrea Zittel: A-Z Six Month Seasonal Uniforms, 1992-95 installation view
Deichtorhallen Hamburg, (1999-2000) ,
Courtesy: Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York and Deichtorhallen Hamburg, © Andrea
later a company
uniform. I think of public workers having uniforms. Is the uniform about
frugality and economy of design, or a way of minimizing public difference?
AZ: The clothing was a reaction against excess and designer clothing. I
come from a different class than the one I operated within in New York. I
couldn't afford name brands. To fight back, it didn't matter which system
you followed, as long as you had a system.
CK: Economy is an
aesthetic decision as well as a social one.
successfully managed to make my garments as glamorous as a name brand -
that's a small personal victory. The frugality relates to what you said,
that some people should be forced to turn in their excess clothing. My
mother was a discount shopper. She had an 18-foot closet crammed with
clothes with price tags on. That felt more oppressive than having one
steady garment. There was something liberating about one garment.
CK: Do you still have a steady garment?
AZ: I got carried
away with the felt garments. Now, I have four dresses each season and I
wear jeans when I work. I miss the ease of the uniform.
Andrea Zittel: A-Z Uniforms:
Summer`99 (Berlin), 1999, Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery New York, ©
Andrea Zittel: A-Z Uniforms: Fall
2001, Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery New York, © Andrea Zittel