The present show at Regen Projects, LA - Energetic Accumulators and Token Exchanges – continues to adapt furniture to precise tasks of day to day living; in this case mainly desk spaces for stacking small, miscellaneous items, in satisfying arrangements. Of course, the artist’s tasks seem mainly the adaptation of her day to day surroundings, giving the project a certain circular logic, but her concerns are really hypothetical rather than practical.
Zittel’s work is often comic, exaggerating the reductive functions supposed by domestic design, the life confined to such minimal terms, simple needs and rigid organisation. An intense conformity is partly the point. The absurd dictates of ‘form follows function’ or ‘a machine for living’ results only in life becoming more formalised, more machine-like. But beyond her demonstrations of simple (self) construction from inexpensive materials, there is also a strangely alienated, behaviouristic view of life, a need to define activities so concretely, in terms of objects to hand, for lack of any larger – especially interactive or interpersonal – ambit. It is design that fusses over the details to domestic order to allay more central concerns; that plays at a self-containment and isolation there rather than work at more testing circumstances. It is design for the person without purpose.
Alternatively, the work allows such items to be taken on sculptural or formal terms, as an arrangement of materials, irrespective of function, and to demonstrate underlying links between fine and applied art, to urge a broader definition of ‘function’. Zittel is one of a number of artists, including Carsten Höller, Jorge Pardo, Tobias Rehberger (see also Post 8) and Franz West, that use furniture, fixtures and architectural features to broaden sculpture thus, to anchor installation to explicit design issues.
Such work relies less upon judicious display of found items – the ‘ready-made’ – than on commissioned fabrication – as the ‘readily-made’ and in this participates in a wider trend (see also Posts 25 and 49). However for Zittel, fabrication is mostly concerned with simplified and D-I-Y steps, modest and common materials, so this aspect is less pronounced than for example in a Koons or Rehberger. Furthermore, the design is sometimes so general that its realisation takes on more of a collaboration with particular builders, whom Zittel duly credits. This gives the work a less certain trajectory, undercuts the crucial distinction between design and function and means that it is not always clear in what sense the work stands as a model – how literal or hypothetical its application might be.
Her early work presented schemes for mating pigeons, as both elegant wooden abstraction – in particular recalling the Minimalist modules of Donald Judd – and practical models for avian breeding. The stark contrast between dedicated function and formal beauty is part of a steady challenge to formal properties in sculpture, following Minimalism. ‘Materials’ then gradually include uses and methods – ‘maximise’ properties – while abstraction subtly inherits connotations of authority and control. But it is when Zittel exchanges birds for humans, switches from breeding to isolating specimens, that her work gains greater complexity. As noted, the concentration on the individual and the isolation of (usually) her needs, takes on a whimsical quality as activities are arbitrarily assigned cubicles, costumes, localities and furnishings. Zittel’s work ranges from painting and prints to sculptures, installations, with lighting fixtures, storage units, carpet and shelving, demonstrating the phases to planning, promotion and merchandising, inevitably including a website.
The emphasis upon self-containment reaches its peak in Prototype for a Pocket Property (1999) literally a small island built for one, from concrete, apparently free-floating and located somewhere off the coast of Denmark. Typically the model is, in some respects, literally a small island, in others no more than a pretence or metaphor for profound withdrawal or abandon. A later project in the high desert of California provides a permanent location for equally remote or far-fetched abodes. It too has a website.
But increasingly, Zittel’s attention seems to lie with the association or combination of possessions, with fundamental questions of affinities and categories. Her Prototype for a Billboard (2005) confidently announces their crucial yet illusory role. Significantly, the billboard features a pair of birds, held in disembodied hands, beside barren bushes, the lower portions of which are left unpainted, along with a square – presumably for text – to the left of the birds. The unpainted timber may be part of the design, may simply be that for which the artist as yet can find no plan or category, may be illusion or ‘the way the world works’ in spite of all plans. Either way, the artist finally does not hold with certainty of function.
Tuesday, 24 June 2008
Posted by CAP at 19:50