We visited A-Z West just before the season had officially opened and Andrea was still in New York. It was quiet, and there were only a few people there. We were housed in a sparsely furnished shipping container, containing not much more than a mattress with bedding, an Eames DSW chair, a few books, a radiator, a small fridge and the Shipping Container Apartment Protocol, outlining the do’s and don’ts of the compound. Since I’m quite OCD, having the protocol as a kind of bible gave me comfort.
In order to make it a self-sustaining project, you are invited to contribute 15 hours of work for every week that you stay, mostly in the form of manual labour – painting structures, landscaping, sanding and re-finishing wood structures, general repairs and occasionally moving rocks. There is a ceramics workshop, a wood workshop, an administrative office, and a big studio with huge looms where woven work is produced. My partner Nick, who is a furniture designer, worked in the wood workshop producing new elements for Andrea’s Experimental Living Cabins in the Wonder Valley, and I was making ceramics that visitors can purchase directly from the studio.
Andrea’s whole practice is an investigation into how to live, both as artist and citizen. So A-Z West, as part of that, is not only a physical system, but also an experiment into how to inhabit this planet. To participate in A-Z West invites profound questions about what gives life meaning. The physical space, objects, and routine serve as a support system, but you’re encouraged to find your own practice and method within that.
There are books in the rooms that relate to Andrea’s work and artists she is interested in, and I would spend my evenings reading. I would wake up really early with the sun, drink coffee, and go for a really long walk into the wash behind Andrea’s house. At 10am, everyone gathered for what they call Hour of Power, which is an hour of communal work on the grounds, which helps keep it in immaculate condition. I was almost shocked to see how clean everything was. In the desert there can be strong winds, but there was never any sand or even leaves on the floor anywhere.
At one point, a group of school children arrived for a visit, and that made us feel as though we were a part of the place. Just by being there and working, you felt like you became part of a Gesamtkunstwerk, that you embody the system that Andrea has set up – but it’s more than that, as it always felt like it invited us to change it, adopt to it, question it or even provoke it.
The days passed really quickly in the desert. In the evenings, still chilly in spring, we would gather around the fire and talk about the rocks that surrounded us.