infinite mortal: an interview with Andy Diaz Hope

29Nov11

Andy Diaz Hope’s work has taken the form of large-sized portraits of hungover friends constructed out of thousands of gelatine capsules; glittering chandeliers made up of medical supplies and Swarovski crystal; enormous mythologically-styled Jacquard tapestries that feature images of Skylab, the tree of life, and Kurt Friedrich Gödel; and cabinets and mirrored geometric shapes that feature reflective interior spaces that are, in effect, experienced as larger than the physical objects that contain them.  2011, an installation produced collaboratively with his partner Laurel Roth, is being featured at the Schroeder Romero & Shredder Gallery in New York until January 7th, 2012.

Trane: You entered Stanford as an engineering student, planning to get a PhD in physics, but ended up instead graduating with a collaborative degree from the Art and Engineering departments. Can you say something about the evolution of your interests and why you chose to move from an investigation of pure physics to a life of conducting experiments in the borderlands where art and science meet? Are there any particular events, people, or inspirations that led to this switch?

Andy: I was raised by scientists and artists. My Mom and brother and I moved in with my grandparents when I was 5, so my grandparents became my 2nd and 3rd parents. My grandfather had his PhD in Applied Physics and was brilliant at it and my grandmother had a degree in Chemistry and was a painter. My mom was a painter and mathematician. My dad, who was mostly absent, had a PhD in Geology and had become a wanderer and eventually homesteader in Nevada. My grandfather taught me through his actions that the world was knowable, that if you put your mind to it and weren’t afraid to try, you could figure out how most things work and then fix them. He was doing cutting-edge radar research during the week and fixing the washing machine on the weekends. It was all interesting to him. Physics was the most defined path as I grew up and I had an aptitude for it. It satisfied my curiosity to know how things worked and to solve tangible problems. As I pursued it into college it became more abstract and theoretical and it lost some of its appeal. At the same time, I found the Joint Program in Design — a collaborative major between Stanford’s Engineering and Art departments — and began to explore the workshops at Stanford. I don’t think that being an artist was ever a path I could even see when I was still in school. It was slowly revealed to me as my chosen paths lost their luster and I continued to wander.

Trane: Two of your recent projects — Infinite Mortal and Future Darwinist — deal with questions of what it means for humanity as a species to fundamentally alter the basic conditions of biological existence through technological means. There are several aspects of both works that are really interesting, but my questions are mainly going to concentrate on Infinite Mortal, which is your most recent work. I was wondering if you could answer two questions about Infinite Mortal: 1) Could you discuss the significance of the mirror-surfaced geometric sculptures — some of them seeming almost like stalactites — that dot the exhibit? There are some startling differences in material composition between some of these, and at least a few have interiors that can be accessed as well. What’s the role of these sculptures in terms of the thematic of mortality that informs your show? 2) Infinite Mortal and Future Darwinist both include amazing tapestries that were designed in collaboration with your partner Laurel Roth, and woven in Belgium on a computer-controlled jacquard loom. Could you talk about some of the elements that occur in Allegory of the Infinite Mortal, the tapestry on view as part of the Infinite Mortal project? I can see a tortoise, which is perhaps a reference to Darwin and the Galapagos Islands, and I can also see the mathematician Goedel, as well as Skylab and what look to be some sort of angelic creatures — perhaps the Seraphim, or the more obscure Ophanim. I’m not asking for an explanatory key here, of course, but what are some of the core ideas that are circulating here?

Andy: I created sculptures in which you can see through portals in the concrete, finite, vaguely geological exteriors into seemingly infinite fields on the inside. In some ways that is in reference to the attempt of finite, mortal, corporeal man to understand and experience the infinite — whether in space and time or spirit. Mineral and crystal formations act as a metaphor for evolution — both of the body and conceptual thinking about the infinite — in that both form according to specific patterns but uniquely in response to their exact and immediate environment. The interiors of the pieces create meditative mandalas with the hope that it will spark the viewer to contemplate for a moment the bigger questions of life that we tend to push to the back of our minds until we are convalescing in our Lazy Boys. The kernel of each of those pieces is a humorous list of the ways one might attain immortality — burning in hell for instance — or common stories of what happens when we die — going towards the light. The topics are so broad and indefinable that it helps to impose an arbitrary structure from which to begin exploring.

The Allegory of the Infinite Mortal, which Laurel Roth and I collaborated on, shows a model tableau representing human contemplation of the infinite. It is not so much about infinity or immortality as it is about the scientific and philosophical structures mankind has used throughout history to explore the concepts of infinity and immortality and our place therein. We studied and used imagery from both the scientific and religious fields, often merging the two to create one story — Skylab as Icharus, the Burj Khalifa as the Tower of Babel, binary code falling across the sky from a demon’s open mouth as his jaws return all created things back into undifferentiated matter. Many of the characters in the tapestry represent multiple thought trains. The tortoise, for instance, can be seen to represent Zeno’s Paradox as well as early creation myths — “turtles all the way down.”

Trane:  You have a currently running show in New York called 2011 that’s a collaborative work with Laurel. Could you say something about it, as well as any other projects you might currently be working on?

Andy: The show title — 2011 — humorously references the ambiguous time in our history between the 2001/2010 movies which hint at possible salvation for humanity and the birth of new worlds, and 2012 with the predictions that it will bring about the end of the world. It is in this in-between time that our show takes place. Below is the description we wrote for the show.

The show uses the tableau of a grotto to explore the odyssey and definition of humankind. This grotto was conceptualized with an eye to the longstanding relationship of humankind to caves and the millennia of slow processes that created them even before modern man started his own development towards the present. Grottos are different than caves, though they allude to them. A grotto is a mix of the sacred and the profane – by definition it is artificial to some degree, a man-made enclosure representing the inner world of humankind and intended to mimic an idealized and mythologized underworld. They are spaces meant for relaxation, contemplation, mythology, and sometimes worship. We interpret what our senses perceive, like fire-cast flickering images on cave walls (Plato’s Allegory of the Cave), and use those perceptions to try to locate our place in the larger world. By it’s artificial nature the grotto hints at the limitations of our own human perceptions to perceive infinity and objective reality, while simultaneously paying homage to the attempt to do.

In the center of the gallery lies Andy Diaz Hope’s Infinite Mortal – a large militaristic asteroid that has crashed to earth (or is hurtling away from it, depending on your place in time) bringing with it the illusion of encapsulating the infinite within its matte-black shell. In an alcove towards the back of the gallery is a large collaborative piece, The Reflection Engine, which takes the form of a walnut wardrobe who’s exterior is elaborately carved with symbols of the unknown and the unknowable, the inside of which is mirrored like a crystal geode in which you can sit, door closed, and surround yourself with self-reflections in an ever expanding infinity. The Allegory of the Infinite Mortal, also a collaborative piece, is a woven jacquard tapestry depicting the intellectual structures humankind uses to try to understand the infinite. Laurel Roth’s pair of battling peacocks, titled Beauty and assembled out of fake fingernails, barrettes, and costume jewelry, encourage examination of rules of attraction and competition as part of mating and natural selection.

In a facetted gallery cavern hang multifaceted white and mirror sculptures of both futuristic and primitive aesthetics from Diaz Hope’s Infinite Mortal series, reflecting infinite loops of light and video in sculptures based on geological formations. Juxtaposed among these crystal formations, Roth’s carved wood and cast brass primate skulls highlight the evolutionary changes that brought about the numinous transformation into modern humankind. Carved wooden skulls and bones of animals that evolved alongside of us, first hunted and then eventually domesticated, bred, and controlled by humans for use as food are displayed near these offshoots of our own evolutionary path.

All of the work is intended to question what it means to be human on this evolutionary path through time.

Next year we’ll be working as Fellows with the De Young Museum of San Francisco, with a focus on the development and creation of our third tapestry, the final one for this triptych, all of which are based loosely on foundation storylines of conflict in literature.

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