“Chicken artist” visits Oberlin
The “chicken artist,” otherwise known as Andrea Zittel, came on September 24th to give a lecture on “the artistic process.” A conceptual artist, her work has been exhibited in numerous museums and galleries, including the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City, and has received critical acclaim.
Zittel’s career first took off when she fancied the use of chickens as an artistic medium. To any animal rights activist it undoubtedly seems disconcerting to exploit these beings in such a way.
The concept of breeding the chickens for the sake of art was inspired by the post-industrial revolution’s peculiarity of placing animals into hierarchical categories.
The artificial manipulation of nature for artistic ends was an expression of her exploration of what constitutes a true creation as opposed to something that is just “made.”
She apprehended breeding methods using the knowledge of dominant and recessive genes as a mixing palate for creating her art. The slides she presented displayed one jet black chicken with iridescent patches and an extra toe and one with a black and white patchy pattern. Her art was sensationalized as well as criticized. She was accused of exploiting the birds and got into trouble with the U.S. Department of Health.
Yet Zittel is best known for her sculptural “living units,” which have comprised the bulk of her career. When she began making these highly compartmentalized living units in ’93 she was accused by many of being a fascist.
This feeling was generated because it appeared as though her purpose was to impose this highly compartmentalized lifestyle on other people.
Yet in her lecture, Zittel clarified this misconception by illustrating the connection her art has with her lifestyle and experiences and showing how they are inextricably linked.
The idea for these small “controllable environments” came from her personal lack of funds for an elaborate household. The living condition she was reduced to at the time became the inspiration for her sculptures. This prompted her to translate her financial limitations into an artistic luxury that seemed to be “a very romantic idea.”
Her sculptures resemble the modernist visual code of minimalism and are true to the medium, yet are built with the intention of having everyday value. In fact, the living units that she sold to art collectors were treated as pure art and were not actually inhabited. This inspired her to allow buyers of living units to participate in the making in order for them to be customized.
As an artist re-evaluating the normal codes for interior design, Zittel has created innovative systems that have more utility. One example is the fusion of the kitchen and bathroom into an in-take out-take system which makes more sense because the two areas are designated for hygiene yet are always separate.
The living room and dining room serve two different functions and yet are many times combined into one large room.
Senior Dan Winikur said, “I never met an artist who was so open about the way she lived and how it influenced her art.”