In her work, the artist Andrea Zittel investigates ways to live. Live better, yes, live more efficiently, sure; but she also explores the places in which creativity and art can intersect with those directives. Her oeuvre is expansive; some might describe her as a conceptual artist, but there’s something about that term that lacks the real-world foundations that ground what she does. Since the year 2000, for example, she has lived in a compound in California near Joshua Tree, which both holds the studio in which she makes a lot of her sculptures and drawings and has become one of her works itself. Known as A–Z West, it is the site of her home as well as other experiments in living, like the small five-by-seven-foot pods that make the Wagon Station Encampment or the 400-square-foot cabins that are part of the Experimental Living Cabins. (People can stay for short periods, often in exchange for working on the property).
In 1991, she began her Personal Uniform series, when she decided to come up with parameters that would define a personal uniform, which she would make herself and wear every day for a season. Although uniforms most readily bring to mind the idea of corporate conformity and the squashing of personal creative expression, there is a kind of freedom to be found within self-created parameters, something Zittel herself perfectly articulated in “These Things I Know for Sure,” a manifesto of sorts she published in 2005:
- The creation of rules 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 content or need.
- What makes us feel liberated is not total freedom but rather living in a set of limitations that we have created and prescribed for ourselves.
- Things that we think are liberating can ultimately become restrictive, and things that we initially think are controlling can sometimes give us a sense of comfort and security.