Visual Artistry

'Bringing order into chaos': Diana Al-Hadid constructs a mind-boggling installation for UT's VAC

'Bringing order into chaos': Diana Al-Hadid constructs a mind-boggling installation for UT's VAC

Austin photo: News_Diana Al-Hadid_Installation
"Suspended After Image" by Diana Al-Hadid, on display at the UT Visual Arts Center. Photo by: Sandy Carson
Austin photo: News_Diana Al-Hadid_Closeup
Close-up of "Suspended After Image." Photo by: Sandy Carson
Austin photo: News_Diana Al-Hadid_Installation
Austin photo: News_Diana Al-Hadid_Closeup

Brooklyn-based installation artist Diana Al-Hadid doesn't like to set strict guidelines for her creation process. Part painter, part sculptor, part architect, Al-Hadid's imagination guides her where she needs to go, dictating where and when her work ends up.

On a walk-through prior to the Visual Art Center's Spring 2012 Opening Reception, the Artist-in-Residence revealed how much work she and her 12 UT student assistants still had to do on the immense wood, plaster and paint installation before it was unveiled to the public.

"I just titled the work two days ago," says Al-Hadid with a smile. "Leave your options open, I say."

The final title of the baroque-inspired sculpture: "Suspended After Image." The artist explains how the title corresponds to her creation process, how images she sees often get stuck in her mind, ("made sacred") and stay with her until she transforms them through her work. In the case of "Suspended," it was a two-dimensional image of a finely-rendered cloak that she converted into a focal point of her very three-dimensional figure.

With the structural rendering of the larger-than-life cloak, Al-Hadid used a 3-D modeling program to develop a visually-deceptive system of geometic stairs and latticed walls that extend the sculpture further out into the VAC's Vaulted Gallery. To break the hard angles of the piece, Al-Hadid also includes a giant reclining human form and a series of ever-widening puddles of color.

 "It might sound lazy, but I make decisions as needed. I draw, and then I figure out the mechanics when I'm in the space. Miraculously, this looks a lot like what I had in mind before I got here."

Because of the structure's mind-boggling design, the installation changes drastically with every new angle. Stairs jut into nothingness, figures end as abruptly as they begin. It's like a softer, more Classically-inspired M.C. Escher design.

And without visible supports, every element of the sculpture looks deceptively fragile. "I like making materials behave in a way that isn't normal for them," Al-Hadid explains, as she knocks three times on a lattice covered in multi-colored paint drips. "For how little mass there is, it's actually a very solid structure."

"Suspended After Image" is truly designed to be viewed from every angle, including from the lookout points from the Gallery's mezzanine, (where the excellent New Prints 2011 exhibit is also being displayed). From above, the wood and plaster puddles extend outward from the figure, giving the installation a curious new energy.

"I think it's important to see the piece from above," says Al-Hadid. "We were really able make use of the vaulted space of the gallery."

As far as pre-planning is concerned, Al-Hadid says she had a vision for the cloak and the stairs, but rest of the structure came to her onsite. "It might sound lazy, but I make decisions as needed. I draw, and then I figure out the mechanics when I'm in the space. Miraculously, this looks a lot like what I had in mind before I got here."

With the final installation completed, Al-Hadid's "Suspended After Image" will be available for viewing in the Vaulted Gallery at the Visual Arts Center until Mar 10 as part of the VAC's Spring 2012 Season.