One of the more intriguing things about Andrea Zittel is her name, or rather her initials. Clearly she knows this. Her company is called “A–Z Administrative Services.” These initials are a sort of philosophical readymade or hieroglyph that signifies completeness (from A to Z), incrementality (A, B, C), generic corporateness, the personal, and the public. Aloud, they also sound like Aziz, the Muslim doctor in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India.
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.