Blurring the line between art and life, artist Andrea Zittel’s fascinating experiments in functional living showcase her preoccupation with self-sufficiency and adaptability. Located on 35 acres next to Joshua Tree National Park, A-Z West is the proving ground for her ongoing “investigations in living.”
There are two ways to visit A-Z West. The first is to take one of the tours that are offered four times a year. Tours last about two hours and offer a glimpse into Zittel’s home base, the Wagon Station Encampment, Regenerating Field, Shipping Container Compound, studio, guest cabin and more. These are administered by High Desert Test Sites as a fundraiser, and there is a modest tour fee that directly supports HDTS programing. The second way to visit A-Z West is to stay in the A-Z Wagon Station Encampment during one of our two “open seasons” each year.
I chose to take the tour.
An original homestead cabin which now serves as Zittel’s primary residence.
The shady sunken seating area in the front of the house offers up incredible views of Yucca Valley/29 Palms.
An original painting by Andrea’s grandmother.
Her A-Z enterprise encompasses all aspects of day to day living. Home furniture, clothing, and food all become the sites of exploration in an ongoing endeavor to better understand human nature and the social construction of needs and desires. Simple, functional & beautiful.
She lives completely surrounded by her art and has designed everything herself – right down to the tiles in the kitchen.
Zittel’s ‘Aggregated Stacks’ are fabricated from recycled mailing cartons, which inevitably accumulate as the result of the online orders required by the artist’s life in rural Joshua Tree. They serve both as wall-mounted reliefs, and as freestanding sculptures. Created by wrapping cardboard boxes in the same plaster materials as a traditional body cast, they form complex, integrated compositions that deconstruct the modernist grid by being simultaneously random in their arrangements, yet ordered by their inherent geometry.
Virtually everything on Zittel’s property and in her cabin is a work of art that she’s created, including this closet.
Dogs, cats, turtles, chickens & pigeons are just a few of the animals you’ll find on her property.
The valley floor is cut into a grid by a series of dirt roads. Like her cabin, the grid dates from the 1930s, when the federal government passed the Small Tract Act—better-known locally as the Baby Homestead Act—to give a five-acre parcel of land to anyone willing to ‘improve’ the land by building on it. Most people couldn’t make a life in the desert and left. This section was a recent add-on to her residence which was one of those original homesteads from the 1930’s.
Barrel Cactus/Palo Verde Scape
As an artist, Zittel is equal parts sculptor, architect, designer, developer, and performer. She works with fabricators & welders to produce/design objects.
Her Studio is the biggest structure on the property.
Best motivational poster ever.
There’s also a loom room.
With the weavings, she’s spent the past few years “trying to find the intersection between a subtle, minimal object that’s both fine art and design.”
All I wanna do is loom, a loom, loom, in her loom room.
Why A-Z Everything? Zittel gave herself a brand name because when she called industrial suppliers, no one took seriously a high-pitch-voiced girl named Andrea. When she told them that she was calling on behalf of A-Z West, they assumed she was legit.
Zittel has developed temporary living shelters that reference both the covered wagons of the old western frontier and the standard suburban station wagons of today.
Although the wagon stations don’t have wheels, they are easy to collapse, transport, and reassemble. The POD windows are also perfect for late-night desert stargazing.
Their small size allows them to evade building codes, providing the inhabitant with the potential for greater freedom and autonomy.
The Wagon Station encampment consists of ten A-Z Wagon Stations, a communal outdoor kitchen, open air showers, and composting toilets.
It is open to anyone who feels an affinity with Andrea’s mission in the high desert – including (but not limited to) other artists, writers, thinkers, hikers, campers or those who are engaged in other forms of cultural or personal research. The higher elevated PODS are the best but there are only two of them within the encampment.
One to two week visits are generally scheduled during the two “open seasons” each year: one month in the fall and one month in the spring (generally between April 15th and May 15th) and one month in the fall (generally for the month of October).
Wagon Station communal kitchen. Staying at A-Z West is free, but each guest is required to help out during the communal morning work hour, fondly known as the “Hour of Power.”
Open air showers. If you hike the canyons around The Wagon Station encampment you’ll find previous site specific projects from other artists involved in the High Desert Test Sites project an organization, co-founded by Zittel, that supports immersive experiments and exchanges between artists.
Designed to facilitate social engagement as well as personal exploration, the encampment is a blend of communal and private spaces. “Everybody has their desert fantasy; my particular fantasy was probably living on an alien landscape.” – Andrea Zittel