Open Season

It’s open season at A-Z West again! (April 15th – May 15th) There has been so much happening that it’s actually been hard to post, but I’m going to start putting up images over the next few days. One daily ritual is the “hour of power” – a communal work hour that happens every day from 10:00-11:00 when everyone in the studio, office and encampment works together on the vast myriad of ongoing maintenance repair projects around the compound.

Bench (Judd’s and mine)

2014-01-25 14.29.18I’ve spent years thinking about this piece of Donald Judd furniture “Bench” and how it simultaneously makes reference to the surface of the floor, a seating surface and a table surface .  It makes me think about how all of these surfaces are ultimately totally interchangeable, yet we create huge distinctions between them. (for instance in polite society one would never think of sitting on a table or eating off of the floor)  In tribute to Judd’s “Bench” I’ve been working on my own renditions of the piece in my living room at A-Z West.

IMG_9291I made my  bench 17.5″ high, the same height as Judd’s, but it is bigger so four people can comfortably have a conversation on it.  At this scale it is a slightly odd height, but in a good way.  (It looks a bit more like a table than a seating surface) People are generally a little confused about how to use it, but it works really well once they figure out that they are can  sit on it.  The one thing that I’m still having trouble with is figuring out the right covering for it.  Originally I designed a really beautiful tufted alpaca rug – but as soon as it entered the house the cats started to sharpen their claws on it, making it clear that a custom made alpaca rug was going to have a limited lifespan in a  household with six animals and a nine year old kid.

IMG_9023Judd’s bench is covered by a Persian carpet.   I am personally drawn to the geometry of Turkish kilims more then the the all over patterning  of Persian carpets – so a kilim was the next surface that I tried.  The kilim looks great in this photograph, but it is rough to the touch, and not so soft to sit on.  Also it bleeds when it gets wet, and isn’t  a good surface to spill food or drinks on.  (another given in this household)  Then I tried  two cowhides which I like more because they are soft and super durable (even red wine wipes off of the white cowhide) – but the overlapping hides feel a bit too amorphous for the crisp formal shape of the bench.  More experiments are now in the works… which I’ll document as they play themselves out.



Wrap Up

IMG_9203Now that we have two seasons a year when people can come stay in the encampment here at A-Z West,  our composting toilets have been outputting at peak capacity.  The toilets are made out of simple- five gallon buckets where poop and sawdust accumulate, and every few days they are emptied into contained concrete composting bins.  (A great book to check out on the subject is the Humanure Handbook – Our friend and former  intern Ari recommended it a few years back, and we now stock it on the bookshelves at the HDTS HQ.)  The Humanure has to compost for a full year before it is used on edibles like vegetables, so our composting bin has two sides that are used on alternating years.   (The left side in the photo above has been sitting for full year and the right side is fresh “in progress” compost)

IMG_9220In January we pull out the finished compost, sift it, and put it on the garden –  and seal up the newest compost batch so that it can continue to do it’s thing for the upcoming year.  Kelly and Dean got to spend a gloriously warm winter day outside this week sifting the compost – which surprised both of them with it’s dirt like qualities.  (Though I believe I heard them comment that they found a few pieces of compost that harked back to their earlier formal composition.)

IMG_9439So that is another year-end wrap-up.  2012  is now in the vegetable planters and the residue of 2013 is under a thick layer of straw settling into it’s final  season of trasnformation.


Secret Spot

IMG_9154I know there isn’t much point in having a secret spot of you don’t keep it secret – but the location is secret even if the pictures aren’t.  Over the last 14 years AZ West has transformed from functioning as something of a monastic retreat  to  a bourgeoning community.  It’s an amazing place to work, and to meet an incredible group of people who are constantly passing through – but for someone with slightly anti-social tendencies, such a public life can at times be a bit rough.


IMG_9167Hence the secret spot which will hopefully set things in balance.  Eventually I’ll get to spend time here in isolation, but like all big life improvement projects, it’s going to take a while to get there.  Elgin helped me haul everything out of the cabin this week – getting ready for a big cleaning, a new roof and bigger windows to let in more of the view.  We are keeping as much as the original siding as possible (interior and exterior) and I’m going to try to not drive myself crazy obsessing about making every single thing that goes in the space.  (I always say this – and always end up getting carried away anyway)


Formal Fridays

IMG_9373Kelly initiated Formal Fridays in the studio when she came to work in an amazing royal blue velvet dress with huge gold jewelry.  This week Kelly, Eden and Dean pulled it off – I had big plans for formalism, but got caught up cleaning the chicken coop this morning and haven’t managed to to clean up since…


first hike

IMG_8370Every New Years day we go for a hike – this year Kelly and Scott led a particularly stunning hike near their house at the very end of Gamma Gulch.


IMG_8429This is the next door cabin that they just bought – I love the shape of the front porch shade structure


IMG_8444The previous owner of their house put the water tank on the top of a pile of boulders so that it would gravity feel the house, and he carved a staircase directly into the rock.


Compound Garden


Last spring I started growing things in metal stock tanks in the middle of the shipping container compound (above)… this spring the garden is going full force.  Three tanks are filled with greens (two are mine, and one is Emmett’s) and we will soon add a fourth for a summer crop of tomatoes and cucumbers.  The prepper in me sometimes wishes for more room,  but the high metal sides do a really good job of keeping the critters out.  And I’ve been wanting to read up on vertical gardening and square foot gardening to see if there is a way to maximize the space that we already have.


S0120981 One great thing about the garden is green smoothies every morning.  Our friend Kartz (one of my big-time heroes) battled brain cancer with kale juice, and got me interested in the alkaline diet last time she came for a visit – I’ve been thinking that I need to write about diets soon, and all of the different ones that people I know prescribe to.  (there are a lot!)



Visit A-Z West

People have been asking how they can visit A-Z West, and we love sharing this special place with those who feel an affinity.  In order to provide the best experience for visitors, without interfering with A-Z West’s simultaneous function as a personal residence and studio, we have set up two different ways to visit:
The first is by taking one of our intimate guided tours, which happen four times a year.  These tours last about two hours and offer a glimpse into just about every nook and cranny at A-Z West.  They are administered by High Desert Test Sites as a fundraiser, and there is a modest tour fee that directly supports HDTS programing.
Another way to experience A-Z West is by staying in the A-Z Wagon Station Encampment during either our spring or fall “open seasons”.  During this time the Wagon Stations can be booked from a period of one night to a week or more.  The one thing that we ask in return is that each guest staying at A-Z West helps out during our communal morning work hour, fondly known as the “Hour of Power”, every weekday from 10-11 AM.  The Wagon Station encampment consists of ten A-Z Wagon Stations, a communal outdoor kitchen, open air showers, and composting toilets.  Our 2013 “season” when guests can come stay in the Encampment is from April 13 to May 5, and from October 5th to the 27th (pending availability).  If you wish to stay in the encampment please send an email with a bit of background info about yourself, and what dates you would like to come to
Because A-Z West is a private residence, and also the site of a full time studio practice, please respect that there will also be certain times when the property is closed to visitors.  These are periods when we are working under tight deadlines for upcoming exhibitions, or when Andrea needs to focus on having a private life with her son or just a bit of alone time in the desert.