We have to hurry because we have an appointment with the artist Andrea Zittel at her home in Joshua Tree, which I’m really excited about. It’s a one-hour ride through the desert past innumerable massive wind turbines. A California native, Andrea Zittel is an installation and relational artist who also runs An Institute Of Investigative Living.

According to her website, “the A-Z enterprise encompasses all aspects of day to day living. Home furniture, clothing and food all become the sites of investigation in an ongoing endeavor to better understand human nature and the social construction of needs.” Yesterday she sent us directions to her place. “GPS won’t help you. You might get lost,” she added. Once we arrive in Joshua Tree we leave the paved road across from the huge roadside dinosaurs (weighing over 100 tons!) and follow a gravel path winding up to her house. A few signs direct us either to her studio, her guest houses, or to her home. It seems like she is
used to visitors.

Her assistant, Tatjana, is expecting us at her studio. I can see three assistants working through the glass walls. The studio is a huge workshop separated into three rooms. In the first room, there’s a computer and some desks. In the second, the assistants are working on some plaster objects – her so-called “Aggregated Stacks.” It looks organized, lots of cleaned brushes and white porcelain Petri dishes with lids for color tests, each labeled properly with its respective color. I am immediately inspired and would love to start creating something of my own. Friendly but shy, Andrea welcomes us. She shows us around and has to quickly measure some of her objects that are being picked up by a museum today. We leave the studio and take a walk to her house. Her house looks amazing. She lives among her artworks. She has designed everything herself, even the tiles in the kitchen (called the “A-Z tiles”) as well as the coat hooks on the walls. It is beautiful and one of the most styled interiors I have ever seen. I don’t know where to look first, and her sense for detail blows my mind. Even the five pairs of used hiking boots in her bedroom look like part of an amazing still life. The color range has a lot of brown and ocher. Most walls are wood-paneled and one wall in her bedroom is covered with wallpaper made out of newspapers covered with a painting.

“I knew I would end up in the desert living a somewhat experimental life, more than I knew I would end up being an artist.”

The interior is a chic mix of ethno and 1950s. Her house and the details look much like her artwork. Everything is cleaned up, nothing is lying around, and everything seems to be arranged. There’s a bed on the terrace and a hot water bottle on the sheets suggests that someone really spent the night outside.

She tells us that she grew up near the sad Salton Sea we saw yesterday. When she was younger she always came here to visit the area, and 11 years ago she decided to move here. Actually, she was looking for an even lonelier spot. Her new work will be about neighbors. She is very interested in neighborhood stories and interesting people with a strange way of living – even though she says she is not so into dealing with strange neighbors herself. We take another walk to one of her outdoor projects, which she is in the process of repainting. It turns out it is a new outdoor kitchen that she has almost finished as part of her living project. One time when there were too many strangers sitting in her kitchen at seven a.m., she decided to build an extra kitchen for the guests. Now I see that the silver capsules standing around aren’t measurement tools or some other kind of high-tech instrument for detecting the moon – they are beds encased in silver shells, where people can spend the night. She calls them “living systems.” It is mostly artists or her students who use them when they come and spend time here doing workshops. The Wagon Stations, as they are called, are open to anyone who wants to spend a night in them in exchange for an hour of communal work, known as the “Hour of Power”. Nights at one of the ten futuristic stations during their spring (April to May) and fall (October) can be booked by visiting her website.

On the one hand, traveling with kids brings certain restrictions with it; on the other kids are a door opener. The mere fact of having raised them seems to make you somehow trustworthy and more serious about life. Andrea explains to us that she has to leave quickly to pick up her seven-year-old son from school and leaves us with some fruit, “If you want,” she offers, “you can wait in my house until I come back.” Her trust in strangers is very appealing. “How does your son like the solitude,” I ask. “He’s fine,” she explains, but her father is not 100 percent convinced whether or not he should be living in a more civilized area. Because she has to spend a lot of time abroad, she loves to explore her own surroundings and knows nearly every stone within a day’s journey of her home. With a piece of paper covered from top to bottom with travel advice for our next stops in Death Valley, we say our goodbyes and head off.