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Five Thoughts About Living From Artist Andrea Zittel

Andrea Zittel
Lessons Learned from Experiments on Living

“Her work is about generosity. It says yes to life, and what more could we ask for?” said Meg Cranston, chair of fine arts at Otis College of Art and Design, in her introduction of artist Andrea Zittel. Zittel, the Fine Arts' 2016-2017 Critic-in-Residence presented ‘How to Live?’, a lecture in which she described several of her works rooted in investigating the structures and conditions of daily life. From designing prototypes for furniture and clothing, to investigating time and space, here are a few ideas that surfaced from the talk.


1. "Freedom is not comfort."

Exploring the themes of security and comfort, Zittel created ‘A-Z Pit Bed’, a circular bed set within a platform that surrounds the sleeper in apparent relaxation. Zittel related that the actual use of the bed was cumbersome and resulted in a feeling of claustrophobia. 


2. "You can switch the code."

Living in New York City in the early 1990s, Zittel had to confront the realities of living and working with limited space and resources. The restriction of space made her change the expectations of her practice, and seeking a solution, she turned to modernist design. Turning her modest lifestyle into an experiment, ‘A-Z Management Maintenance’ was born. She effectively “switched the code” on people's perception to a new hierarchy that prioritized intelligent, “good design” and glamorized the idea of simple living.


3. "Variety is more oppressive than uniformity."

‘A-Z Six Month Personal Uniforms’ was inspired by Zittel's stint as a gallery assistant, where looking consistently stylish was a requirement. She created strict rules for the items she would wear, eventually creating single uniforms that she wore for six months at a time. Influenced by Russian constructivism, she created several garments from rectangular pieces of fabric. During the project, she realized that "the demand for variety is more oppressive than uniformity. When you have constraints, you can work against them, and that's more creative."


4. "Life happens on a horizontal plane."

"Everything is created by planes. Panels are the building blocks of our reality." This realization is what prompted Zittel to create ‘Planar Configuration, 2016’. In her work, planes are used as architecture controls, blocking and revealing to achieve different effects. To create a kitchen, for example, she deconstructed what was necessary into the simplest terms. The varying heights of identical planes would determine the use, as one plane would act as a dining table, another a prep station, another a seat, the concept of the kitchen became minimalistic and abstract. 


5. "Independence is slipping through the cracks."

Zittel believes that today’s independence seekers, rather than pioneering new land, are looking instead to slip through the cracks of modern society. Small, portable living structures offer maximum personal liberty. She created ‘Wagon Station Encampment’ at her A-Z West location to offer artists, creatives, and campers alike the chance to connect with the landscape, focus on research, or experience life in the minimalist terms.


The application deadline for the spring session of the A-Z West Wagon Station Encampment is November 30. For more info about the encampment as well as other ways to visit A-Z West, email or visit


Image: Courtesy of Andrea Zittel