When we wrote about clipped-together cardboard box shelving a while back, we mentioned wanting to paint the cardboard boxes – coat them with something to change their look (we were thinking rubber paint) – knowing that the cardboard would swell slightly and become….something else: not smooth but sculptural, possibly even stronger once it had dried. After a few comments to the effect of: “bad idea…YOU CAN”T paint cardboard”, we put the idea aside. Then we saw Andrea Zittel’s wonderful cardboard construction, with its cryptic blurb:

“For the last year there has been a teetering pile of cardboard boxes precariously stacked against the dining room wall. Today the masterpiece was finished and installed…. Walla!”

Look at that!!! we thought as we sailed from one website to another discovering Andrea Zittel. FOR YEARS she has been following her imaginings and exploring ways to define and organize space, question assumptions about it, experiment with new ways and systems for living.

Zittel’s not-quite-finished website is all about her work as a – WHAT? -, an installation artist-designer-sculptor-lifestyle thinker and investigator… She is the driving force behind  A-Z West,”an institute of investigative living” in the desert of Joshua Tree, California…”The A-Z enterprise 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.”

PBS’Art 21 described Zittels work this way: “Altering and examining aspects of life that are for the most part taken for granted, Zittel’s hand-crafted solutions respond to the day-to-day rhythms of the body and the creative need of people to match their surroundings to the changing appearance of life.” Whew!

The gist: Zittel makes uniquely compact living spaces, furniture, clothes, and utensils that support daily needs – eating, sleeping, bathing, socializing – in original ways; furniture of dark foam rubber called “raugh” (pronounced “raw”) looks like boulders that can be lounged on in all sorts of ways and won’t show dirt; escape vehicles house portable spaces you can take anywhere and customize according to your desires…

Zittel uses herself as a guinea-pig, testing her ideas and designs in her own life, and documenting them in “Sufficient Self”. Her work is at once incredibly imaginative and strangely utilitarian; it makes us think hard about how we live, what we take for granted.

She’s even written a sort of manifesto, called “These things I know for sure” (which we will publish in its entirety another time). Here is one we like a lot:

“The creation of rule is more creative than the destruction of them. Creation demands a higher level of reasoning and draws connections between cause and effect. The best rules are never stable or permanent, but evolve naturally according to context or need.”

Zittel loves to question what the rules are.

Her work is so rich and varied, we can’t possibly do it justice. We recommend her book Andrea Zittel: Critical Space (which is available used from booksellers), or checking out this article from New York Times and this one from Seattle’s The Stranger, and her blog. What we love most is Zittel’s ability to track interesting ideas about daily living as they occur to her, and test them out in her life – her laboratory. “I don’t make products. I make experiments for myself.”

She is always asking “what if…?”

Related post: Clipped-Together Shelving Pt. 2: Cardboard Boxes

Thanks, Lydia!!

If you’ve found illumination, joy, or inspiration in this post, please consider supporting Improvised Life. It only takes a minute to make a secure donation that helps pay our many costs. A little goes a long way towards helping Improvised Life continue to live ad-free in the world.

Support Improvised Life ♥

3 replies on “andrea zittel’s investigative living

  1. do you think papier mâché-ing the boxes then painting them (slightly glossy) would work?

  2. I think that is a cool idea, though have no idea what the outcome would be…I imagine…but don’t know….
    … we need someone to try it…(maybe we should write Andrea Zittel and ask her how she did hers…)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *