Return to the talk Watch the talk

Subtitles and Transcript

Select language

0:11 I was raised by lesbians in the mountains, and I sort of came like a forest gnome to New York City a while back. (Laughter) Really messed with my head, but I'll get into that later.

0:23 I'll start with when I was eight years old. I took a wood box, and I buried a dollar bill, a pen and a fork inside this box in Colorado. And I thought some strange humanoids or aliens in 500 years would find this box and learn about the way our species exchanged ideas, maybe how we ate our spaghetti. I really didn't know. Anyway, this is kind of funny, because here I am, 30 years later, and I'm still making boxes.

0:55 Now, at some point I was in Hawaii — I like to hike and surf and do all that weird stuff, and I was making a collage for my ma. And I took a dictionary and I ripped it up, and I made it into a sort of Agnes Martin grid, and I poured resin all over it and a bee got stuck. Now, she's afraid of bees and she's allergic to them, so I poured more resin on the canvas, thinking I could hide it or something. Instead, the opposite happened: It sort of created a magnification, like a magnifying glass, on the dictionary text.

1:24 So what did I do? I built more boxes. This time, I started putting electronics, frogs, strange bottles I'd find in the street — anything I could find — because I was always finding things my whole life, and trying to make relationships and tell stories between these objects. So I started drawing around the objects, and I realized: Holy moly, I can draw in space! I can make free-floating lines, like the way you would draw around a dead body at a crime scene. So I took the objects out, and I created my own taxonomy of invented specimens. First, botanical — which you can kind of get a sense of. Then I made some weird insects and creatures. It was really fun; I was just drawing on the layers of resin.

2:07 And it was cool, because I was actually starting to have shows and stuff, I was making some money, I could take my girlfriend for dinner, and like, go to Sizzler. It was some good shit, man. (Laughter)

2:18 At some point, I got up to the human form, life-size resin sculptures with drawings of humans inside the layers. This was great, except for one thing: I was going to die. I didn't know what to do, because the resin was going to kill me. And I went to bed every night thinking about it.

2:36 So I tried using glass. I started drawing on the layers of glass, almost like if you drew on a window, then you put another window, and another window, and you had all these windows together that made a three-dimensional composition. And this really worked, because I could stop using the resin.

2:52 So I did this for years, which culminated in a very large work, which I call "The Triptych." "The Triptych" was largely inspired by Hieronymus Bosch's "[The] Garden of Earthly Delights," which is a painting in the [Museo del] Prado in Spain. Do you guys know this painting? Good, it's a cool painting. It's kind of ahead of its time, they say. So, "The Triptych." I'll walk you through this piece. It weighs 24,000 pounds. It's 18 feet long. It's double-sided, so it's 36 feet of composition. It's kind of weird. Well, that's the blood fountain. (Laughter) To the left, you have Jesus and the locusts. There's a cave where all these animal-headed creatures travel between two worlds. They go from the representational world, to this analog-mesh underworld, where they're hiding. This is where the animal-headed creatures are by the lighthouse, and they're all about to commit mass suicide into the ocean. The ocean is made up of thousands of elements. This is a bird god tied up to a battleship. (Laughter) Billy Graham is in the ocean; the Horizon from the oil spill; Waldo; Osama Bin Laden's shelter — there's all kinds of weird stuff that you can find if you look really hard, in the ocean. Anyway, this is a lady creature. She's coming out of the ocean, and she's spitting oil into one hand and she has clouds coming out of her other hand. Her hands are like scales, and she has the mythological reference of the Earth and cosmos in balance.

4:21 So that's one side of "The Triptych." It's a little narrative thing. That's her hand that she's spitting into. And then, when you go to the other side, she has like a trunk, like a bird's beak, and she's spitting clouds out of her trunk. Then she has an 18-foot-long serpent's tail that connects "The Triptych." Anyway, her tail catches on fire from the back of the volcano. (Laughter) I don't know why that happened.

4:43 (Laughter)

4:45 That happens, you know. Her tail terminates in a cycloptic eyeball, made out of 1986 terrorist cards. Have you guys seen those? They were made in the 1980's, they're like baseball cards of terrorists. Way ahead of their time.

4:59 (Laughter)

5:01 That will bring you to my latest project. I'm in the middle of two projects: One's called "Psychogeographies." It's about a six-year project to make 100 of these humans. Each one is an archive of our culture, through our ripped-up media and matter, whether it's encyclopedias or dictionaries or magazines. But each one acts as a sort of an archive in the shape of a human, and they travel in groups of 20, 4, or 12 at a time. They're like cells — they come together, they divide. And you kind of walk through them. It's taking me years. Each one is basically a 3,000-pound microscope slide with a human stuck inside.

5:37 This one has a little cave in his chest. That's his head; there's the chest, you can kind of see the beginning. I'm going to go down the body for you: There's a waterfall coming out of his chest, covering his penis — or not-penis, or whatever it is, a kind of androgynous thing. I'll take you quickly through these works, because I can't explain them for too long. There are the layers, you can kind of see it. That's a body getting split in half. This one has two heads, and it's communicating between the two heads. You can see the pills coming out, going into one head from this weird statue. There's a little forest scene inside the chest cavity. Can you see that?

6:17 Anyway, this talk's all about these boxes, like the boxes we're in. This box we're in, the solar system is a box. This brings you to my latest box. It's a brick box. It's called Pioneer Works.

6:29 (Cheers)

6:31 Inside of this box is a physicist, a neuroscientist, a painter, a musician, a writer, a radio station, a museum, a school, a publishing arm to disseminate all the content we make there into the world; a garden. We shake this box up, and all these people kind of start hitting each other like particles.

6:55 And I think that's the way you change the world. You redefine your insides and the box that you're living in. And you come together to realize that we're all in this together, that this delusion of difference — this idea of countries, of borders, of religion — doesn't work. We're all really made up of the same stuff, in the same box. And if we don't start exchanging that stuff sweetly and nicely, we're all going to die real soon.

7:24 Thank you very much.

7:26 (Applause)