We continue our collaboration with Idiom, with an article from Jimmy Stamp, who is a writer and architectural historian based in New Haven, CT. Read below from excerpts from his article, and be sure to check out Idiom tomorrow for the full article!
Idiom Preview: Fluid Panel State
by Jimmy Stamp
Andrea Zittel’s work challenges our dogmatic acceptance of social constructs by blurring the boundaries between art and life. This blurring manifests not as an abstract representation of reality, but as a practical reconsideration of common objects and everyday experience. These inquiries have taken the form of things as simple as clothing — Zittel has been making her own seasonal “uniforms” since 1991 — and, perhaps most notably, architectural space. In the 1990s, she designed a built a series of compact multi-functional living units that resembled classic steamer trunks as if designed by Charles and Ray Eames. When opened, the living units expand to accommodate Zittel’s every living function — cooking, eating, working, washing, and sleeping. The living units ask users to question labels such as “kitchen” or “bedroom” as well as the basic necessities of dwelling. For Zittel, they were part of a search for a distilled, controllable mode of living. Fluid Panel State, Andrea Zittel’s tenth exhibition at Andrea Rosen Gallery, continues that search with what may be the most refined iteration of the artist’s twenty-year inquiry into the relationship between design and the everyday environment.
I’ve always been particularly taken with Zittel’s more architectural or spatial work, and I admit to being somewhat disheartened when I stepped into a the open space of the gallery and saw no Living Units, Accumulators, Wagon Stations, Escape Vehicles, or any other architectural installation. Instead, the walls of the gallery are adorned with woven panels, drawings, and paintings; abstracted images created in the rust and amber hues of the season. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to realize that my initial reaction was wrong. Fluid Panel State is high-concentrate Zittel.
As the name implies, Fluid Panel State is an investigation into the nature of the flat plane or “panel.” It may seem like an overly simple subject, but that’s the point. Zittel is working to encapsulate her thinking into a more efficient form. Critiquing her own previous work, the artist commented that she tended to “bring in everything but the kitchen sink.” In fact, some pieces actually included the kitchen sink. Zittel was concerned that she just kept “packing it in.” The “it” being the apparatuses of living. Her challenge then, was to create a more efficient vehicle for her ideas; to distill living not just spatially, as with the Living Unit series, but conceptually. Her solution was the woven wool panel. Though Zittel took weaving classes to learn the craft, she knew that to realize the large-scale works on display, she’d need talented professionals equipped with 60-inch looms, and so the artist, whose work is often very personal, even isolating, developed many of her pieces with a community of artisans from around the country.
The covers, dresses, and ponchos that resulted from this collaboration are imbued with a richness when re-contextualized in the gallery as “panels.” In context of the exhibition, these panels function as both subject and medium. The delightfully polysemic nature of “panel” lends itself to a variety of interpretations and forms. It can be two-dimensional or three-dimensional. It can be discursive or concise. It exists somewhere between painting and sculpture; between functional object and decorative ornament. This uncertainty, a hallmark of Zittel’s work, makes the “fluid panel state” — the moment a panel is activated by use — possible.
By the time I left the gallery, I realized that the work was, in fact, architectural. Indeed, the panel — be it flexible or rigid — is one of the most basic elements of architecture. Eighteenth century architecture theorist Marc-Antoine Laugier distilled the essence of architecture into a now-famed illustration of the “primitive hut,” a theoretical ur-building formed from natural elements: the trunks and canopies of trees. More than 150 years later, famed modernist architect Le Corbusier further distilled and abstracted architecture with his “Dom-ino” structure, which broke architecture down into two basic constructed elements: the column and the slab. Taking a cue from these two theorists, Fluid Panel State could be read as a further distillation of architectural form. As Zittel transforms the architectural slab into a flexible panels, the users — the bodies that shape the panels — become columns. The art object reveals the body as a functional object and the body, through its interaction with Andrea Zittel’s panels, not only activates space, but creates it.
Fluid Panel State runs through October 27, 2012 at Andrea Rosen Gallery.