Cultured Magazine

June/July 2015

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EXQUISITE MASS For someone who claims to have a terrible memory, Diana Al-Hadid has a way of putting a lot of history into her sizeable, complex sculptures. "They go through a long and wayward process," says the New York-based artist. Take her recent show at OHWOW Gallery in Los Angeles as an example. In the middle of the gallery sits a sculpture that began with Al-Hadid working on one of her Blind Busts—a series of heads she sculpted while blindfolded. To this bust, versions of which have shown up in past works, she added what she refers to as a "plumed smoky collar" intricately carved out of coated foam. The bust and plume sat on a pedestal in her studio for several months as she worked on other projects. Al-Hadid tends to work with a slow, yet instinctual process, where half-finished works might collect debris as they await attention. She may even develop other methods for working with materials, and along the way, the sculptures grow. For the sculpture at OHWOW, the structure grew from the bottom into a mountainous one. "I thought of the piece a little bit like a body and a little bit like a landscape, and a little like a woman in a big complex dress with a complex structural harness; but also, a volcano that's sort of erupting," she says. "It's all of that. Part of it was taken from a strange Hans Memling painting called Allegory of Chastity (1475). It's this woman that's cloistered into a mountain. She's just sitting politely with her hands folded at her waist while her body appears to be part of, or in, the mountain." The end result is a magical depiction, especially in the context of the rest of the show, which includes a site-specific archway that one has to walk through, as well as several panels that contain ghostly images that have been stripped away to almost nothing. Even with the monumental size Al-Hadid works with, there is a sense of fragility to the work, where it feels like one might break something off if he bumped into it—but behind the work is an architectural structure. "There's an interesting metaphorical thing: my work is fragile and strong," Al-Hadid says. "But I think there is maybe more to say about the fact that I have two contradictory, or maybe even complementary, impulses, which is to make large work outside the scale of my body—work that I can climb or walk around or navigate—and on the other hand, I have a micro-lens on the work where I can make very small marks and zoom in really close. The strength-fragility thing has always been in my work—it has maybe even become more explicit now because I think the work surprises people in how much it looks like it's going to fall in on itself." Al-Hadid rose to prominence in the past decade for making a series of works that resembled upside-down cathedrals, followed by a series of what looked like ruined church pipe organs. Lately, she's made an effort to work with less of a preconceived notion of what she'll be making. "When I was coming out of school, I think I had a harder time starting with a blank slate, but I worked hard to wiggle my way out of that dependency," she says. "For years, I've decided to start with a pedestal and just build off of that —just see how the form will develop and where the sculpture will go, and not have a 'thing' in mind. But the new sculptures speak to so many of the same issues that I'm still interested in. For instance, religiosity is still something clearly present in my work—not that I'm religious, but this issue of how people form religions in various cultures." But she hasn't given up on the architectural qualities of the constructions that turned heads when she was included in the 2009 Sharjah Biennial, or in solo exhibitions at Marianne Boesky in New York and the Hammer Museum in L.A. "I'm married to an architect, so I realize now that I'd be a terrible one," she says. "But in terms of drawing out space and building structures, or thinking about counterweights and triangles, I'm still a builder at heart." 142 CULTURED Diana Al-Hadid may take a slow approach to her work, but the New York-based sculptor is quickly becoming an art star. BY MAXWELL WILLIAMS

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