‘Everybody Has Their Own Desert Fantasy’: Watch How Artist Andrea Zittel Is Helping Artists Realize Their Escapist Dreams

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "Andrea Zittel: 'Wagon Station Encampment.'" © Art21, Inc. 2015.

The desert is an enduring symbol in the visual arts—it serves as a metaphor for solitude and peace, an Edenic respite from the bustling concrete jungle. In contemporary art the desert has become the physical site of burgeoning art communities, like Donald Judd’s Minimalist haven in the Texas town of Marfa, or the Burning Man Festival that descends upon Nevada’s Black Rock Desert every summer.

For the artist Andrea Zittel, the desert is more than just an escapist fantasy—it is her actual home. Zittel’s 70-acre estate unfurls across the California desert, on the edge of the Joshua Tree National Park, where she has established “A–Z West,” a multipurpose residential and studio complex.

In contrast to the fetishized representations of the Western expanse, Zittel has embraced and maintained the solitude that she found in Joshua Tree. Once a fixture in the New York art scene, Zittel decamped for California to embark on a “life practice” that has become her sole artistic project.

In an interview with Art21 in 2015, the artist described her “Wagon Station Encampments,” a series of modular sleeping pods dotting her property, where she’s invited artists to pursue their own work in a communal environment.

Still from the Art21 “Extended Play” film, “Andrea Zittel: ‘Wagon Station Encampment.'” © Art21, Inc. 2015.

“Everybody has their own desert fantasy,” Zittel told Art21, “And so my particular fantasy was probably living on an alien landscape… I think the aesthetic of these [pods] was, sort of, a sci-fi pioneer aesthetic.” 

Indeed, the “Encampment” is otherworldly, to say the least. Among the scrub brush and tumbleweeds, a series of futuristic enclosures are nestled in the rocky terrain, with just enough space for an adult to sleep. Zittel has designed the capsules to be just one component in what she describes as “a cross between a retreat and a residency and a normal campground.” The complex also includes a communal kitchen and outdoor showers.

Still from the Art21 “Extended Play” film, “Andrea Zittel: ‘Wagon Station Encampment.'” © Art21, Inc. 2015.

Although the environment is sparse, Zittel told Art21 that it is barren. “I get upset when people say there’s nothing here… there’s something about the space that I think really calls to people who want to try and invent their own structures for living.”

Watch the full segment, which originally appeared as part of the “Art21: Extended Play” television series on PBS, below.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists throughout the summer. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television series premieres this September on PBS. Watch full episodes and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.

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