Andrea Zittel is a contemporary artist living in the high desert of California. Her work blurs the line between art and everyday life. With a slightly distopic and fantastic view of existence she has done things like breed chickens, make modular living environments and create a 44-ton floating island off the coast of Denmark. She graciously let SuperNaturale interview her about her work, her thoughts about art versus craft and her deep love of felting.
This interview was originally conducted in 2002, for Ten by Ten magazine. Many thanks to Ten by Ten and Andrea Zittel for allowing us to publish this special SuperNaturale version of the article.
Itís interesting to be doing this interview with you for SuperNaturale right now, because after years of working in the margins between design and art - now Iím working on a trinity to combine design, craft and art.
Since graduate school Iíve been interested in the idea of craft. But every time I brought it up in school people would discourage it. Craft is sort of a scary area for a lot of artists. So Iíve been trying to think about why there is this prejudice against craft Ė and have realized that it is primarily seen as a regressive gesture. So the question that follows this is: how can craft, in some way, become progressive? Or another approach is to think about how it can actually be made relevant to a contemporary lifestyle.
And do you mean the making or the having?
In my mind itís more about making it. For me the definition of craft is that it is an individual form of production as opposed to mass production, and also that a crafted item usually be made by the same person who would wind up using it.
If craft is individual production, what is the difference between art and craft?
Well that similarity is probably what scares most artists. But for me the function of art is more to do with facilitating new forms of perception. Art helps us to perceive things in a different way. Then I see design as a pursuit to shape the way that these things look and function in a more practical sense... and craft delves into production and the way in which they are made. I think that all three areas can be components of a single object Ė in fact, perhaps we should always be thinking about this trilogy when we bring a new object into the world.
So craft can be the process by which you arrive at art.
It can be part of the process, but I feel that it hasnít been an important part of artistic production for a while now. The thing is that after several decades of artists challenging the conventions of authorship by not producing their own work, it has now become the hallmark of an important artist to have a large crew of fabricators who make their work for them.
It seems to me that there is a gap there somehow--presumably when most artists are starting out they would need to do it themselves, and contracting it out would be a bit of a leap.
There are some artists who do that DIY thing really well but when I follow a lot of younger artists I see that when many of them start showing, they immediately aspire to start working with assistants and studios. Personally I find it really stressful to work with assistants and until this last year I never had a studio...
So it sounds to me like you have been crafting since art school, that you have always been very involved in the making of your art.
Sure. And I paid my way through art school by doing bronze casting and welding and woodworking for other artists - so Iím pretty good at doing those things even though it hasnít been part of the content of my work.
I find making things for myself enormously empowering and I have this intuitive feeling that craft could still be really important in peopleís lives. All of my work keeps coming back to the idea of individual empowerment. Like when I made design it was very much anti-design, and anti-architecture, it was more about how to be an empowered consumer and to be your own ultimate authority. So with craft thereís another form of this idea that you can be doing things for yourself.
Have you always made your own clothes, or have you ever had them made?
Well, in the early 90ís when I was wearing 6-month uniforms, I would have a tailor make them because I wanted them to be really perfect and I donít sew that well. But the Personal Panels and Crocheted Dresses I make myself. Iím better at crocheting and felting than at sewing.
Are you not doing the 6-month uniforms anymore?
Well when I started doing this style [felting] I got really excited about testing all of the variations that I could achieve with the process - so I kept making new dresses to test out. I guess now there are more like four to six dresses a season Ė though if I can figure out the perfect pattern, I will gladly settle down into a uniform again.
So how long have you been doing the felting?
Since the spring of 2002.
Whatís been the progression in your clothing?
[It began with] Six Month Uniforms, then starting to make up rules.The first rule was that everything had to be made from a rectangle, and there were almost 5 years of having all these different garments that were made out of rectangles. The reason for the rectangle was that it was the most pure manifestation of the fabric; you could just rip it from the bolt. But then I realized that it would be even more pure to use the unwoven strand... and crocheting became an even more direct way to make my dresses. That was the second manifestation of the rules. Eventually I knew that it was all building up to the fiber, but I couldnít figure out how to make a dress out of pure fiber, until I learned how to felt.
Feltís so amazing. I can make a dress in 8 hours, but crocheting a dress takes 6 weeks. When you think about normal production, everything from taking the wool and making it into thread and weaving it and cutting it and sewing it, in comparison this is so efficient. Itís one step.
Felting and Fulling
Instructions with photos
And whatís your relationship to the process v. the product?
Well, since Iím the one making the things that I use, I think that process and product are totally interrelated and integral to each other. Perhaps these two facets arenít as connected in everyoneís lives Ė but I think that labor can be incredibly fulfilling and even empowering. So realizing that, I guess that the next step for me is to find a way to make the production of my work as much of a creative gesture as the end product.