A design for living from the Mojave Desert

Andrea Zittel's bizarre exhibition is not as surreal as her life, finds Hannah Duguid

Growing up in the California suburbs gave the artist Andrea Zittel a feeling that her life was artificial. She longed for something more authentic, and her experiments with ways of living have become her art. She now lives in a complex in the Mojave Desert, where her house and studio has been beautifully converted from former shipping containers, painted white. It is a place where all parts of everyday life are questioned, and become art. She has lived without clocks, only worn clothes that she has made herself, eaten dehydrated food for a year, and made living shelters of her own design – not houses, but constructions called Wagon Stations, which makes them sound like something from the Wild West.

These Wagon Stations are currently on show at the Baltic centre in Gateshead. They are living pods, which resemble an animal shelter in their basic design. They are a mix of the future and the past – slick metal with a spaceship door that opens upwards like a hatch, but with a primitive simplicity inside. Customised by artists, they all have a different character: one is pink, another is camouflage; there are shelves and candles for lighting, a roll-up bed and pillow on the floor.

Seeing them in a gallery, I have to imagine what they would look like in the desert, which is where they really belong. "My art suffers in institutions," she says. "We have an open house so that people can come and stay in the Wagon Stations, where they can see everything in its original context. Staying in them is an extension of the show," says Zittel.

Zittel herself might also be considered a living artwork. She wears crochet clothing that she has made herself, and she has designed a series of smock dresses. Crochet and smocking are old-fashioned techniques, there's something of the homestead about them, but Zittel has reinterpreted them. One of her crochet jackets is on display at Baltic, draped around a mannequin. It looks like something a Native American might wear, although Zittel considers this work to be a sculpture rather than something to be worn.

Yet much of her work is functional. She made a grill for her kitchen that went in the centre of the dining table. Cooked food was transferred from the grill and eaten from indentations carved into the table – which were then cleaned afterwards. There were no plates in the house.

"It was an experimental set up. I wanted to live everything that I made, but having a son has changed things. I don't want to impose that on someone else. We have a stove now, and we use bowls," says Zittel.

She shies away from the word "domestic" when talking about her art. "That word makes me cringe a bit," she says. Experience and day-to-day life are more comfortable themes for her. She also sees freedom and control as themes in her work.

She says: "When I lived without a clock, I thought it would be liberating. That I would no longer be racing against the clock. But instead of relaxing, I found that I was working all the time. You need a clock to know when to stop. What should be liberating became oppressive. The clock should be the oppressor, but the clock can set you free."

Talking to her, I get the feeling that she is still searching. "People get so latched onto these structures," she says. She means buildings, the houses that we live in and that matter so much to some of us. But her life in the desert is growing around her and perhaps there is a feeling of permanence within these impermanent structures. How does this make her feel? "Some days I just want to just take my van and get on the road again."

Andrea Zittel: Lay of My Land, Baltic, Gateshead (0191 478 1810) to 20 May

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power