A Desert is A Lonesome Place

Far out in the West, where the Mojave and the Colorado desert meet, artist Andrea Zittel utilizes this state of isolation in her work. An open confrontation into our ideologies of what exactly is it that we consider living to mean, Zittel welcomes you to the Institute of Investigative Living. Is it simply enough to have a built environment that we subject to our perception of home? What about the space around it, in it? The furnishings? Why and how do we establish ownership either in art, property and identity and, is this then the future of discourse in Contemporary Art?

Still from the Art21 “Extended Play” film, “Andrea Zittel: ‘Wagon Station Encampment.'” © Art21, Inc. 2015.

Accredited and recognized, Zittel is represented by international galleries including the San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art, Sadie Coles HQ in London, Galeria Massimo DeCarlo in Milan, Regen Projects in LA and Sprṻth Magers in Berlin. She is also a published author and a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts.


Zittel’s work starts from the early 90s after her education at the Rhode Island School of Design and the San Diego State University. Her most notable piece of this decade was the Pocket Property project, a three-year, three-phase venture exploring escapism and self-reliance. Off the coast of Denmark, Zittel had developed an unusual prototype for a habitual living – a 44-ton concrete island where herself and eventually a few friends will live on the living art piece for a month, recording their experience in this tiny constructed microcosm that brings to life an almost illogical infatuation of using art as a medium of existence.


Funded by the Dutch Government, Zittel’s Pocket Property was part of the Nauru Project. A collaboration of artists, including Zittel produced pieces that provoked the discussion of self-autonomy, a particularly significant aspect especially for smaller nations such as Nauru, the world’s smallest pacific island nation.



A-Z Prototype for Pocket Property 1999, Desert Art: A New Frontier

Zittel has always maintained this need to create a conversation with her art. Continuing on with the analysis of living, her pieces have ranged from prototypes of habitational capsules and even breeding units for chickens. These installations in the 90s from her first testing ground A-Z East, seemingly unconnected are examples of modernist art opening the discussion into applying art in a more practical sense. Throughout, Zittel focuses on the conscious decision-making process that inspires her work, thus bringing a new depth to her pieces.


The Living Units created in 1993, much like her Pocket Property aimed to promote the possibilities of art as a solution to create a minimalist living space that encompassed all the needs of one person. In creating this particular instalment, however, Zittel notes that the overall construction led to an inexplicable feeling of discontent as although these units served their purpose, there was a sense of lost direction that can be clearly seen in the bizarre and jarring composition of these living spaces. As a result, the A-Z enterprise has adjusted their aspirations of what their art is supposed to reflect, celebrating the journey of creation rather than whatever it is that is produced.

"A-Z Management and Maintenance Unit, Model 003," 1992

Contemporary art, especially Zittel’s, engages the audience to disengage with preconceptions of the modern world. Everything that she produces is with intent and purpose hence why A-Z West has become an essential destination for avid philanthropists and artists. The Institute into Investigative living has then bee extended into an intensive eight-day seminar led by the former US editor of the art magazine Frieze, James Trainor.

Planar Pavilions 2017, Joshua Tree

A-Z West continues to develop on the experiential aspect of art and makes great use of the geographical location, encouraging an organic blend of art and nature to flourish throughout the compound. As a private property, A-Z West also functions as a showroom and test room for handmade items and artwork sold on their online shop that helps fund the maintenance and running of the place. The enterprise exists as a completely autonomous organization whereby Andrea Zittel relishes in the ability to interact and more importantly, detach from the rest of the world on a whim. It also includes the High Desert Test Sites, a nonprofit arts organization consisting of various artworks installed in the desert to maximize this exchange between artist and their surroundings. A western frontier approach permeates her work and lifestyle, a particular aesthetic popular with the more sophisticated crowd of the minimalist enthusiasts of Instagram, the only social media platform that Zittel regularly updates.

High Desert Test Sites Art: Untitled, HDTS 2 (2003), Wade Guyton, Andy’s Gamma Gulch Parcel, Pioneertown

At first, it seems contradictory to have such an established social media presence whilst promoting the benefits of seclusion, but Zittel’s relationship with social media as with the rest of the world is deliberate. It asserts a new way to perceive and interact with the world, to question again, our understanding of how we live especially in an age driven by output and commerciality. While Zittel longs for this fantasy of continuous rediscovery in alienated places, she is aware that there remains an inescapable aspect of the wider world always infiltrating these spaces. Rather than being resentful of this, Zittel exudes a peaceful acceptance of the way in which art will be inexplicably intertwined with the digital world, using it as a way to show a lifestyle of slow thoughtfulness in contrast to the fast pace of standardized living.


Follow Amirah on her Instagram @amirrrah.q