A Thorn Tree in the Garden

Robinson Crusoe and Mad Max by way of Walden Pond, St. Augustine, and Greenpeace

In Foster's book Aziz takes two English women, longing to see "the real India," to the mysterious Marabar caves. There, amidst the thundering never-ending echoes of caverns that multiply the sound of the self until the self is annihilated, the older woman has a sort of existential seizure and glimpses her own death; the younger believes she has been molested by Aziz. This triggers a chain reaction in which Aziz is imprisoned, tried, and eventually released.

The connection to A-Z is not only in the echo of the name, but in the metaphor of the cave, which for Zittel is the desert. The cave, like the desert, is elemental and has been there since the beginning. It is a place to contend with the chaos of the world, to confront nothingness, and understand one's scale; there, the cycles of life supersede all else. The Earth Mother/Sacred Womb aspect of the cave is present in the way Zittel talks about the desert as "a place to create a new organism." In this way it's a kind of reverse garden, a symbolic image of the universe where reincarnation and the overcoming of death are thrown into high contrast. Zittel's desert is a place where tire tracks, dilapidated shacks, burned out trailer homes, broken down windmills, and art merge; where science fiction, archeology, and aesthetics blur.

Passage to India ends with the brutal realization that England must vacate India for the two cultures to co-exist. Zittel's insight is that for art to thrive, sometimes it needs to go elsewhere.

Room with a view
photo: Robin Holland
Room with a view


Andrea Zittel: Critical Space
The New Museum
556 West 22nd Street
Through May 27

See also:
  • The Internal City
    For Zittel, the cave is a metaphor for the desert
    by Jerry Saltz

  • Nam June Paik, 1932–2006
    by Jerry Saltz
  • In Memoriam: Nam June Paik, 1932–2006
    Nam June Paik, the color-addicted, chaos-loving, more-is-more cosmographer of the cathode tube, who in the early 1960s began piling boodles of television sets into stacks and setting them into grids while altering video feeds, causing images to wobble, go fuzzy, turn abstract, and get psychedelic, died last week at the age of 74. This Korean born puckish progenitor of what is now known as "video art" and coiner of the two terms "electronic superhighway" and "the future is now," was clearly a mannerist poet of overkill and discordant drown-out. His revelry will echo on.


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