Joe Thompson, Director, MASS MoCA speaks about Diaz’ work

"Geometric Death Frequency-141" by Federico Diaz

Joe Thompson, Director, MASS MoCA speaks about the work Geometric Death Frequency-141 by Federico Diaz in an interview with China Blue.

China Blue (CB)
The title of the Diaz’ work currently on display at your museum is Geometric Death Frequency-141 can you tell us a little bit more about the title and how it references the work?  What is its meaning?

Joe Thompson (JT)
For the artist, the stoppage of time and light is, in a way, deathly (thus photography contains within it a kind of death).  In this work, Diaz converted a photograph into a three-dimensional form, with each photographic pixel (or picture element) becoming a 3D voxel.  When rendered digitally, and then put into motion through application of a computer program that models the action of liquids in motion, the voxels interact, and take the form of wave-like shapes.  Diaz stopped this computer animation at frame number 141, and then converted that digital rendering into an actual physical sculpture: thus death.

CB
With Geometric Death Frequency-141 Diaz drills down to the core of familiarity of recognized spaces and re-represents them as a visualization of data.  Although the source the museum’s clock tower entry courtyard is an architectural feature that is recognized as of this world, Diaz presents us with something that is recognized as familiar but somehow different – a kind of hyper realism or data realism.  Diaz re-represents the court yard entry as a data wave.  This relational aspect of the work provides us with a reference point by citing the fluidity of the court yard space yet conscribes the forces to the periphery. How does this transform our idea of sculpture?

JT
Since at least classical Greece, sculptors have been interested in liberating sculpture from stasis, granting marble or bronze the apparent ability to walk, move, extend in space and time.  But, of course, it can’t: the striding figure, the spear hurler, the galloping horse are always frozen.  But those feel like an instant of time.  Here, you can almost feel time itself stopping. GDF-141 reminds me of that bullet that slowed, then stopped in Matrix: there is a different relationship to time at work here.

CB
How do you see the intersection between science, technology and art evolving and how does Diaz’ work illustrate this?

JT
I’m tempted to say that in this case science and technology are not much different than carving or modeling: they are a technique.  But with Diaz, it’s a bit deeper than that, since his work is also exploring the effect that technology has on our consciousness.  Digitization and the increasingly rapid flow of information are probably changing our being: they are certainly changing the way we communicate with one another, and Diaz is obviously interested in the implications of that.  This is an investigation of technology as much as the utilization of technology.

CB
Capabilities in interactivity eg: responding to changes in environment, sensors and robotics are now often integrated into art work, how do you feel it changes our expectations of art and how art is defined.

JT
Art has always been interactive of course: we relate to a work of art, our understanding of a work changes depending upon our age, our familiarity, our physical distance from the work, our memory of it and the works preceding it.  But ever since art has become kinectic, and more, ever since art has become capable of being responsive to our presence, that dynamic grows infinitely more complex.  Not neccessariy better, but just more complicated: a great painting can easily be more interesting that a bad piece of motion-sensitive video art.

CB
Using robotics as a means to produce art is beyond being a Duchampian reference.  Do you feel that algorithmic fabrication strategies (which have become a building model for many current aspects of cultural production) reflect a significant shift in the focus and/or meaning in art production?

JT
Yes, if only through the dislocation of labor.  One simple algorithm is economic: it is sometimes cheaper to build labor-intensive art in Asia, for example; thus we are seeing more fabrication work outsourced.  Some artists make this outsourcing part of the work itself, acknowledging it, referring to it.  Others gloss over it.  Sometimes it’s important, with the means and modes of production embedded in the work’s meaning, sometimes it’s simply a technical or production detail with no importance to the work, even if it is interesting from a socioeconomic and “history of labor” point of view.  I’d say the same thing about robotic production.

CB
Tracing back to Leonardo da Vinci’s time for example there was an intimate interconnection between science and art.  Since then, it has not always been such an even balance between the two yet they have informed each other.  Can you describe how you see this environment as different or similar now?

JT
We have to be careful to distinguish between the use of technology (which is increasingly common) and the true “interconnection” as you call it.  The fact that LED’s and LCD’s and computer processing are ever more affordable means that editing and articulating complex moving images and animation will be ever more prevalent.  I know a lot of artists who are intrigued right now with laser-cutting techniques, because this is amazing technology.  But that’s not exactly what you’re talking about.  There are more and more artists who are deeply engaged with fundamental questions about our environment: glacial melting creates big questions and amazing imagery and metaphors.  Artists are responding.

CB
Your museum has a wealth of space and capabilities and seemingly is able to deal with the complex demands that contemporary art requires of spaces (especially large scale art).  What do you see as the major challenges which these works pose to mounting them?

JT
We are very long on time and space, but still quite short of money: this can create huge and dangerous temptations!

CB
What is the museum’s commitment to exhibiting new media work as opposed to other forms of contemporary art?

JT
Two years ago there was a moment when we had, if I recall correctly, 38 LCD projectors running, some playing DVDs, some playing computer-generated output.  I counted it, and a visitor would have needed nearly two weeks’ time to see it all.  Right now, we only have 2 “new media” works: the rest is conventional sculpture (if vast and immersive), or 2-D work.  So it varies according to the interests of our curators and artists.

CB
What role do you feel you play in exhibiting this type of work? 

JT
It’s simply part of our program…we don’t really think of it as a separate category, any more that we would think of “watercolors” as a separate category.

CB
Does the museum collect new media art? 

JT
We don’t collect any art work at all. The Sol LeWitt installation is a 25-year show…that’s the closest we have to a “core” permanent collection, and even that is temporary. 

Mr. Thompson, thank you very much for your time and thoughts on Mr. Diaz’ work.

Geometric Death Frequency-141, Federico Diaz
through March 2012
MASS MoCA

About China Blue

China Blue is an internationally exhibiting artist and the Founder of The Engine Institute. She is the recepient of a 2012 RISCA Fellowship in New Genres and her exhibition "Firefly Trees" was nominated for 2012 Best Monographic Museum Show Nationally by the International Association of Art Critics. Her indepth worked in sound was what drove her to be the first person to record the Eiffel Tower in Paris and through a NASA/Rhode Island Space Grant she was invited to do a pilot study to record nature in an innovative way. She has shown her works in museums, galleries and non-profit institutions for over 20 years. Her work has been widely covered in web, television and print media including the New York Times & NPR.
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