“I think we are creating the world in our own image with roads like arteries, computers are like neurons and axons, power plants and machinery are the muscle and so on.”
Throughout your property you have placed your sculptures and various natural ephemera, including carefully arranged logs from a huge cherry tree that seems to be petrifying in your yard. There is a feeling of both permanence and transience. How is material in relation to time important to your work?
I often refer to time as a medium, like any other material I work with, having its own peculiarities and limitations (chronology, for example). Learning to work with time has become such a huge part of my process. If I force something prematurely, it can fail. Or if I wait too long, it’s over. Both results can be desirable as well. That said, many projects I refer to as non-linear, in that I can revisit something I started years ago, or change or go back into what was at one point a finished work.
Exposing works to the elements is a great way to see both time and entropy. The sun, wind, rain and ice wreak havoc on almost any material. Bronze and stainless steel stand defiantly against them but only as it relates to our lifetime. Eventually they too will yield, as will we, but our thoughts and ideas will last forever – simply because they have been. For me, making art (apart from connecting and inspiring) is a way to help my thoughts, ideas and feelings stick around longer and in a more tangible form (particle rather than wave).
At some point, I would like to explore integrating time as a more central component, like building erosion machines that could sculpt on my behalf for months or years or adding sound to a sculpture or installation, which also relies on time.
Visiting your studio and viewing works from different series and stages in your practice, there is a strong sense of focus. The human form is a subject you have devoted much of your attention to, primarily a form without gender. Can you tell me more about your concept of the figure?
I rarely question it or think to do otherwise. Sometimes I am inspired to make something that might not be directly or obviously human in form, but it still strongly relates to being human and to our human senses. Primarily though, it’s a reflex or a compulsion at this point. I have known over the years, especially during my student years, that working “figuratively” was not popular but I did it anyway. In recent years I am happy to see it emerging in new and dynamic ways that are more relevant than ever, in not just a contemporary context but historically as well.
For now, we are human with human bodies, so making sculpture that mirrors that seems eternally natural (think of the Venus of Willendorf or the cave paintings). For me it is also important to feel like I am making a clear connection to the viewer, any viewer as opposed to an audience that might need to do some research to understand what they are looking at in order to feel something. I have always seen art making as a service to both myself and to others. The human form speaks a language that we all know. That’s important to me.
Having an instinctual relationship with your subject matter, is that primal necessity to create art in our image part of your thought process?
Yes! I think we are creating the world in our own image with roads like arteries, computers are like neurons and axons, power plants and machinery are the muscle and so on. Leonardo Da Vinci obsessed and attempted to expand on an idea called the Micro-Macro Theory where the Earth was equated to the human body (rocks are skeletons, the tides are the breath and the water is the blood), which to his credit he later abandoned as not likely. I like the theory, but maybe it’s not the physical earth that is like our body, but the sum of humanity itself that is like our body—obviously not in appearance but in function, metabolism and ultimately in consciousness (or super-consciousness). I think this is a fascinating pattern found in many complex systems and might explain my interest in using the body as focal point to explore, express and communicate my ideas.
Creating works that often symbolize the idea of a human or the abstraction of a body rather than a portrait of an individual, do you think about our own evolution as a species in relation to your work?
I am often accused of zooming out too far or seeing too big a picture to the point where I miss some of the subtleties of everyday life. So, yes, I tend to think on that timescale. Sculpture lends itself so well to this way of seeing and on so many levels. I am intrigued by rock formations, fossils, shells, bones trees, and any object that is somehow shaped or transformed through chemistry, physics and time. Sculpting is a way to do something similar. When a sculpture is successful it can seem to be as spontaneous and effortless, my thoughts and efforts acting as a type of catalyst for its apparition. I have a theory that expands on Darwin’s: there is another component to evolution (beyond random mutation and survival of the fittest), that of deliberation or will. If we humans have leanings and desires, so too must animals and cells according to their complexity and so must molecules and atoms according to theirs (bonds to this but not that). I think our genes tune into a yet undiscovered frequency that is shaped by intention and desire, an open channel from the senses in whatever form they take directly down to the genetic level. In essence, our will shapes our evolution.
Do you subscribe to any spiritual philosophies? Do you consider yourself a humanist?
I have learned a good deal about various religions, enough to recognize a repeating theme and need in the humans that created them. I’m currently hashing out the details on my own “ism” because I haven’t found one that is broad enough. Introducing Tendencilism (first time officially in print). I am a Tendencilist. Basically I believe matter has certain tendencies that are somewhat predictable and scalable. We fit right into that spectrum of phenomena. As miraculous as we seem to be (as well as any other living or nonliving thing), Tendencilism posits that with space, matter, turbulence, time and entropy, some crazy shit is bound to happen and we are proof that it does, therefore a verifiable faith.
And socially yes, definitely a humanist.
What is your concept of an afterlife?
I think human consciousness and therefore the spirit, especially at the individual scale, is intrinsically dependent on the body for its existence. When the individual dies, the shape of the thing that made its soul (the body) decomposes. For me, the afterlife is more of an abstraction rather than an actual thing or occurrence. I may live on through my work, a parent through their offspring, and idea through the internet or books etc. My brother puts it elegantly: “manifesting the deathless self.” There is a beauty to it that doesn’t rely on rococo mysticism.
Life is mysterious enough. “One life, one opportunity” – EMINEM
When we last met you were telling me about theories involving humans collectively behaving as one living organism and artificial intelligence’s threat to humanity. What are your thoughts on these concepts? How have they influenced your work?
One of my favorite subjects, I’m still trying to figure out how it is playing into my work. I think it is, subconsciously, but I’m trying to be more aware of how my creative process, especially with these computer-assisted techniques, can help to pry open the digital world and artificial intelligence as it relates to humanity. I think we are in the midst of a tech-driven species transformation. Humans have become so connected and we have created this memory device that records not just all that we have ever known but every transaction as well. From afar, it would be difficult to say humans resemble individual mammals. We look more like a teeming creature, full of software, hardware and electricity. AI, which in some form or another seems inevitable, is a threat to humanity—as we have known humanity to be. It may be the midwife to something even more perplexing than us.
Is that good or bad? Is it a threat or an opportunity? for who, or for what? I think the answers to these big questions lie in the stories we tell ourselves (art) and in turn what we value and how consciously we choose to live and integrate technology into our lives. If we act unconsciously, biology is likely to subject us to mere “cells in a big mechano-electric brain,” maintaining and feeding it and in turn sustaining us as needed. This might leave the individual with a subconscious paranoia that they are not in control of their lives—maybe it’s already happening? We might feel like something bigger than ourselves is making choices for us, not necessarily corporations or governments, but a massive metabolic integrated system that slowly begins to have a sense of itself (AI) and of what it needs and what it is made of—us. Do we want to hand the baton of consciousness along or grasp it and grow into our own unique potential? I think creativity and the arts act as a talisman for that human potential.
How is scale important?
Scale is very interesting to me. We are accustomed to seeing the world from a pretty narrow point of view. This influences so much of how we experience the world around us. With sculpture, the size of an object can orient it in our minds. To sculpt monumentally, the object and the idea dwarfs us, making the world around it and ourselves seem bigger or smaller depending on its surroundings and context. Inversely smaller works can have a strong effect, in that we can become so much bigger than the object or idea. That said the works created on the computer don’t have a pinned or fixed scale. I can work on a toe the size of a computer screen then print it at one centimeter in length or blow it up to twelve feet. One of the things I really like about these particular castings is their small scale juxtaposed with their fractal like complexity in texture and surface. They become monumental in their complexity and nuance much like the natural world at any scale.
You mentioned that in the last few years you have been using different apps to visualize and create works. How has this influenced your process? Do you conceive of works differently when you are using a computer?
For a long time the computer was just a tool for the usual (research, managing photographs of my work, updating my website, etc.). Slowly I became more aware of 3D printing and the technology that could affect virtual objects. In 2013, I started collaborating with fabricators that used sophisticated 3D printing and scanning technology. They were complicated and expensive to work with, so I began teaching myself more about it and discovered that there were intuitive programs available that let me really dig in directly. That opened up the doors—even more so when I bought a 3D printer in 2014. At that point the technology became almost as spontaneous and accessible as drawing.
As to its effect on my creative process, any new material or approach can expand the ideas and aesthetics of my work. Using the computer to actually sculpt has literally opened up a new dimension. I bring what I know about sculpting to these programs, but I can also make them do some really unexpected things using algorithms, geometry, fractals and glitches. I can then print these ideas into real world objects, turning them into either molds for casting directly or into patterns for mold making, that I can use to cast metal, ceramic or resin. I have also used an Xbox Kinect to scan life-size real world sculptures transforming them into imperfect virtual files that can be modified and printed again. These scans aren’t very high tech and are often riddled with glitches or “artifacts” (to use a photography term), which I embrace as part of the process that shapes them.
This back and forth into and out of the virtual world is like diving in and out of the imagination, all the while fine-tuning and messing with the dials. Casting metals with low melting points into the prints has become an obsession. My impromptu setup is primitive and imperfect at best. When I combine that with the refinement and sophistication of 3D printing, some really unexpected, volatile and beautiful things start to happen that look like explosions or lava flow. I aim for a certain amount of chaos. Many of the works in this show are the result of this process. I feel these techniques are a perfect metaphor for how the digital world is dramatically shaping our society, our bodies, our minds and our psyches.
What do you listen to while you are working?
I am a big fan of audiobooks. Luckily many of the tasks I have to perform free up the analytical side of my mind and there is room for more interesting chatter than my own. I love historians, philosophers, physicists, biographers and fiction. Listening to books across genres helps me to gain an ever-expanding portrait of humanity, which both consciously and subconsciously works its way into the work I make.
What were some of the last audiobooks you listened to?
Most recently Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo Da Vinci biography preceded by The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. Before that was The Judgement of Paris by Ross King. In the upcoming line-up is: The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan and an Elon Musk bio by Ashlee Vance (I agree with his trepidations of mindless AI development). My dear friend Tim Gerard Reynolds is an audiobook actor for Audible. He’s like the Brad Pitt of voice acting, and is always giving me insights about the latest and best Sci-Fi epics. I gamed with him online for years. So, though I’m no longer a gamer, his voice is still in my head telling me the tales now.