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Whittled by Zittel 

by Carie Scozarro & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & ndrea Zittel doesn't like to clean house. (Who does?) "You spend all of your time doing something that will eventually just go back to its previous state," she says in an undated BOMB magazine interview (www.bombsite.com). "If you spent that time doing something creative, like building something, you'd actually have forward motion as opposed to the stasis of a repetitive act." Sounds good to me. The next time someone questions your mess, tell them you're choosing to divert your creative energy to something more meaningful.


But then you need to follow through and actually do something creative. Zittel is very good at doing just that, and the art world has duly bestowed her with many accolades. Her resume since graduating in 1988 with an MFA in sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design is impressive: several dozen solo and group shows nationally and abroad, including at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Biennial, and locations in Japan, the UK, Italy, Denmark, and Germany. If sticker price means anything, consider that her "Wallens," a porthole-like lens that you install into your wall, floor, ceiling, etc., lists for $6,000. An edition of her prints, which depict designs for her modular living units, will run you double that amount. That's if they're available.


But sticker price and high-end gallery names aren't necessarily a reflection of an artist's creative mettle. What makes Zittel so bankable in the art world -- and so interesting for the rest of us who don't have $6,000 to spend on art -- is her diversity, her exploratory approach and her downright quirkiness. An accomplished painter, printmaker, and sculptress, Zittel is often referred to as an "installation artist," a categorization that falls short if you consider that her earliest works involving breeding chickens. (Yes, chickens.) After graduating from San Diego State, Zittel relocated to New York, where she developed "breeding units" for poultry, an inquiry into the human need for categorization and the role of human as "designer." In order to get the breeding industry to take her seriously, Zittel created her own company, A-Z Administrative Services, including company letterhead and a logo. She eventually became more enamored with the modular units that housed the chickens -- a tangent that would eventually lead to breakthrough work in modular furniture, housing and even transportation. As if the idea of breeding chickens isn't unusual enough -- at least it answers the question of which came first -- her chutzpah in developing a false-front company gives you an idea of how Zittel's work involves problem-solving and outside-the-box thinking.


Zittel didn't see her abandonment of animal husbandry as a failure. "Every single piece is flawed in some way, and it's that flaw that I work off of for the next piece," she told the BOMB interviewer. "So making mistakes is a very optimistic process." This theme is only one that Zittel will bring to local audiences when she travels to the MAC on April 20 as part of EWU's continuing series on "Work and Order: Nature and Home."


Another theme will be Zittel's modular work, which connects such diverse elements as architecture, fashion, design, art, function, and human behavior. Zittel's A-Z Uniforms, for example, highlight her willingness to use herself as a model for her inquiry into the human condition. The clothing was a response to the artist's need to dress for success on a limited budget while working in a New York gallery. Blurring the lines between fashion/design and art, Zittel created a series of felted dresses that could be worn over and over, much like a uniform. The trend is echoed by historical artists, such as the turn-of-the-century Russian Constructivists and some early Surrealists, as well as by more modern designers like Chanel.


"There's a continual theme in my life and in my work," says Zittel. "It's about taking something that seems like it's one way and flipping it over so it becomes the other."


Andrea Zittel offers continual surprises, whether it's the experiment in encapsulation and self-containment that resulted in the development of an 40-ton concrete "island" commissioned by the government of Denmark; or the series of customizable "Escape Vehicles," mini-mobile homes that mimic our obsession with matching the interiors of our homes (and cars) to our innermost sensibilities; or the artists' community called High Desert Test Site she is creating in California's Joshua Tree National Monument, where friends often gather to dress in silly clothes and hike through the sandy foothills.


Sounds like fun. And it beats cleaning house.





Andrea Zittel will speak at the MAC, 2316 W. First Ave., on Thursday, April 20, at 7 pm. Free. Call 456-3931.

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