I forgot to mention the bowls. The bowls are important symbols, physical manifestations of Zittel’s philosophy.
In 2016 she said: “I believe that you need to have only one garment per season, and you don’t need any dishes other than bowls, and a 30-inch-wide bed is the perfect width—anything more just takes up room and is unnecessary. … I … wanted to explore how it felt to be unquestioningly immersed in a position. At this point in my life, though, it’s impossible for me to believe in anything so fully anymore…. I’m making more abstract and open-ended living environments, though these are still things people can use in day-to-day living. ” (Quoted from an interview by Thea Ballard in Blouinartinfo)
Just as the counter is also the stove is also the table is also the working space, the bowls are also plates, saucers, mugs, wine glasses, and cups for tea. One conclusion I arrived at from my immersive experience is that the bowls worked for all those functions and were particularly effective for tea and wine. However, they seemed not to work for peanut butter and crackers:
Was this important to my ongoing search for knowledge? Well, yes. There’s a comfort in clasping a warm cup of tea or a cold glass of wine in two hands, and a kind of glee in having only one dish to wash after dinner. On the other hand, kiwi juice and triscuits really don’t quite get together easily in a bowl, and spreading peanut butter onto Melba toast in a bowl is inappropriate spatially. Round and flat squashed together. Doesn’t work. And so I conclude that my roundness and the planar flatness sometimes work badly together — my bottom gets tired. Some things just interfere, functionally and aesthetically, with one another. Like chains and planar constructions.
That’s quite personal, of course, but another personal element, perhaps shared more widely, is my “piling” temperament. I’m a person whose piles of stuff, the thing that I use most often and love most dearly, must be kept close at hand. I’m messy. I want my camera beside me so as not to miss the light-catching photo. I want my writing and sketch books nearby so I can grab one when a thought occurs. I want three books, not one, on hand in case I get bored with another that I’m reading. And of course, I want my art materials with me at all times, because you never know when inspiration will strike. And my tea, for the break that comes when I surface from reading or chaining. And food, snacks, or lunch or dinner, has to be accessible. And so, the lovely surfaces and clean lines become June’s space, functional, but a mess.
Once, a long time ago, I imagined I would do better; I could do better. Jer is a one-book reader, with each book put back before the next is begun. His tea-cup is washed and put into the dish drainer after he finishes his tea, which he does as soon after it cools enough to be drunk. His camera is in the case which is in the closet. His note pads are on his desk in his office, with a pen beside them, and each pad has its own use. Coats in the coat closet, shirts in the shirt closet, pens in the pen holder — it’s clear that some people do not live like I do, even when they reside together. But what I also have come to understand is that I don’t want to reform. I am not going to reform. I’m not even sure that for me, eliminating the mess would qualify as reform. Like my hair, the mess around me needs tamed, not changed.
But that puts me out of synch with this living art space. If I made an art space, I would not want it interfered with with other people’s Kleenex and notebooks and camera lenses. I wouldn’t want half drunk cups of tea evaporating on the counter or books splayed open while the reader went on a walking junket.
So I doubt I’ll be making livable art spaces or even living in them, much. Only the composting toilet is efficient and aesthetic under my reign and that’s because I don’t spend much time there. Oddly, though, I don’t mind that particular space of the Experimental Life. It reminds me of my animal nature, which I’ve always sort of believed in anyway.
But if I’m an animal, I’m one with a big swishing tale and the grace of a half-grown puppy. Not only did I smash the tall lamp globe, but I also managed to break one of the sturdy candle containers. I woke up one morning feeling exuberant and flung the covers back. They caught the candle holder, deposited by the bed the night before, and, bother, it cracked into ten pieces. At least it wasn’t smashed like the globe.
So, alas, along with my untidiness, I seem to overflow my spaces. To the detriment of what’s in them. This I try to contain in other people’s houses, and in my own I’ve grown to forgive the occasional broken object. As has Jer, who loves me.
Other conclusions: brushing one’s teeth and preparing for bed by candle light is difficult. Things disappear right under one’s eyes. It’s hard to see how much tooth paste has gone on the brush. The Kindle can be found only with the obnoxious, too bright, flashlight. And when dark comes at 6:30 — well, one begins to understand the traditions of oral societies. So much time to fill before the yawns set in. For a while, I found nighttime disconcerting, disorienting. I couldn’t find the light switch; I had to go to bed because sitting in the dark got to be boring.
But — and this is a real turnabout — with an early bedtime, night becomes a kinder friendlier space. I found I didn’t mind getting up and wandering around in the moonlight. I tried taking photos then, with this sort of result:
and this: somewhat better:
So, I didn’t get any decent nighttime photos. I didn’t care. For a person who has always thought waking up at night to be an ‘orror, a terrible sign of too much coffee or too much thinking or too much evil living, discovering that it could simply be a pleasant, even rapturous, time of day was a true revelation. And a welcome one.
Speaking of rapturous times: I had moments when I knew beauty existed (whatever beauty is). They were luminous times, moments that came while I was sitting, maybe with the bowl of tea or wine or maybe just with a string of wire dangling in my hands, generally between 6 and 11 AM or just at twilight. The day’s beginning or the day’s end. I loved those moments and those lengths of time. They were beyond expectation; they came when least thought about, least desired even.
And I did not much like the time between 11 and 3, when I wanted to talk to someone, to chat on FB, to smile at a passing stranger. No one ever passed the cabin or even drove by on the dusty roads. Jer and I texted regularly at 4 but I did not want to break my isolation before then, if only out of stubbornness. And by 4, the deepest part of the slow day had already passed, so I could mention being lonely without making him jump in the car and bail me out.
It was good to be lonely. I would pick up a derelict chain and straighten it out. Or sit on the stool with my chin on my palm and think derelict thoughts. No one asked me what was wrong or if I needed something. I was just a point in space, a bit of dust, derelict like the rest of the valley, and without any more care than it had. And so that time told me something. Not something I didn’t know before, but now I felt it as a palm in the fist or a bit of wire in the hand. A tactile something to accompany a derelict thought. A silence that not interrupted by machines: no humming refrigerators; no humans speech. I had no music; no podcasts, no noise except an occasional distant jet. Once I heard a dog bark and ravens sometimes took noisy note of my daylight wanderings. I didn’t miss noise — I reveled in the silence, which was always a part of the luminous moment.
For photos of Zittel’s Planar Configurations (the elements of the cabin’s interior) click domus
Here’s a good interview with Andrea Zittel done by Laila Pedro at the Brooklyn Rail