Yalie artist gets national spot

WASHINGTON — Leo Villareal ’90, whose installation “Multiverse” was recently purchased by the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., talked to the News about his installation, its online popularity, the role of technology in art and his life as an undergraduate at Yale.

Q: How did you come up with the original concept for “Multiverse”?

A: One of the curators, Molly Donovan, from the National Gallery, saw one of my pieces at Albright-Knox in Buffalo, N.Y. I did an installation there. She thought my work would be appropriate for this, to go between the east and the west wing of the gallery.

Q: A lot of your work deals with technology and aesthetics. How did you connect these two elements in this work?

A: Basically I created a lot of custom design tools for myself to create sequences. It’s basically pretty simple. I started out with one element that had simple rules and I gradually increased the amount of objects. I was trying to create a system of emergent behavior where complexity arises out of these simple elements.

Q: What computer programs did you use to create “Multiverse”?

A: The program we wrote was written in C++. There are a lot of tools that are accessible to artists. There’s a program called Processing that came out of MIT. It’s very artist-oriented. Things like that are very useful for what I do.

Q: What was the most difficult part of creating this installation?

A: It’s a very large space. It’s 200 feet long. There’s a lot of light, a lot of material, so it took months and months to install that — just the physical installation. But the planning, you know, we had to develop a special clip to hold the lights in place. There are a lot of behind-the-scene activities that no one will ever know about. It took three years from the first visit to the final installation.

Q:“Multiverse” has become a hit on Flickr and YouTube. How do you feel about visitors’ reaction to and interaction with the installation?

A:I love it. I think it’s the highest compliment. It’s a public art work — the more impact you can have, I think, the better. It’s wonderful to have these technological tools, so people can share their experiences with you. As an artist, I get to see what they saw. There are 5 million visitors a year at the National Gallery, so it’s a tremendous opportunity to really interact with the people. That part has been very gratifying.

Q: Did you build installations while you were a student at Yale?

A: Yes. I was a sculpture major. I did a lot of set design before I found that I really wanted to be an artist and make installation sculptures. I was down at Hammond Hall a lot and did installations all around. I wasn’t working with technology as much because I graduated in 1990. At that point, you couldn’t do as much with computers. Just as I was leaving Yale, Photoshop started to come out and there was a big buzz about virtual reality. That led me to a graduate program at NYU in technology.

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