I’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.
I 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.
Judd’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.
Now 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)
In 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.)
I 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.
Hence 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)
Kelly 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…
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.
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!)
One of the long awaited amenties at AZ West has been our own movie screen – a plan that finally came to fruition this month! A while back when visiting USC to give a lecture, I met A.L.Steiner and mentioned that I would love an opportunity to see “Community Action Center” – her new film that she made in collaboration with A.K. Burns. This conversation ultimately ended up with her agreeing to screen the film at AZ West in connection with HDTS. And the heat was finally on to get a screen made. Chris Engman, artist and current USC MFA student stepped up to help engineer this endeavor, along with the help of Lucas Wrench – our totally unflappable and every helpful summer intern.
The screen itself is a pretty awesome piece of sculpture – set back in the private wash area behind our new encampment. In addition to CAC we also got to watch C.L.U.E. – a collaborative work that Steiner made with robbinschilds (I became completely obsessed with this film when I first saw it at the New Museum…) One other bit of cool trivia is that part of C.L.U.E. was filmed in Joshua Tree – bringing the work in full circle.