Aleppo-born Diana Al Hadid is an internationally-renowned sculptor, who is known for transforming renaissance and classical imagery into contemporary sculptural forms. Buro 24/7 Middle East uncovers her thought processes behind creating her masterpieces.
Share with us the inspiration behind your upcoming exhibition, Phantom Limb?
Phantom Limb, the exhibition, contains a range of my works but hinges on a large-scale sculpture also titled Phantom Limb. For this work I salvaged a mold of a previous sculpture — it had literally been sitting in my studio collecting dust. The leg had broken off in the process of the de-molding. It lay discarded off to the side on my studio floor as I began building out the sculpture, and after some time, I realised I had become 'attached' to the leg and wanted to dignify it with a plinth of its own, a little raft trailing the more celebrated figural part of the work.
You once described your works as "impossible architecture". What does that truly mean?
Architecture that is hypothetical, structurally impossible. I think I said this phrase to emphasise this, while I'm greatly interested in structure and material or spatial problem-solving, I am not interested in making functional spaces.
You're known to source imagery from ancient and renaissance art. Is there a particular fascination with that genre?
I studied art history in undergrad. But I should clarify, my greatest interest is not in high renaissance, with its perfection and symmetry, but in early and northern renaissance paintings for their incredibly strange and awkward perspectives and confusing space. They tell their narratives through vibrant colours, patterned fabrics and irrational plays with gravity. They are so incredibly loaded with intimate details; a landscape in the distance has the same rich linework as a shoe in the foreground.
Does inspiration come easily to you?
I don't worry about that too much. I try to just work on what was unresolved from previous projects. I also try to see as much of the world as I can and see art and architecture whenever I travel.
Share with us your process of creating an artwork, from conception of idea to execution and finally to completion.
Your question assumes I first begin with an idea and then decide how to execute that idea, and that is in fact very rare. When that does happen, and I have a clear picture of what I want something to look like, there are still lots of unknowns and problem solving when it starts to materialise.
Each project changes one to the next. I'm making work to learn something, not because I already know something and need to "communicate" that knowledge. More often I start knowing very little and respond to a cast-off form from a previous work — a material experiment that I hadn't quite exploited in a previous work, or a simple shape, such as an existing pedestal. Or if the work is for a specific space, I will try to respond to the space. The rest is just one decision after the next.
How would you describe your life as an artist?
Generally I think artists, like many people who work for themselves, have greater freedom in structuring their lives than most people. As a recent mother, I realise how wonderful it is to be an artist because my baby can be with me all the time and I can set my own schedule. Artists tend to be very thrifty, problem-solvers. They tend to be connected to an open, protected community of like-minded misanthropes locally and worldwide. Depending on their work, they may work in solitude or they may work in collaboration. Most artists are flexible with their workspace, travel often to absorb the world and develop their own strange rituals and routines surrounding their work.
Tell us about your upcoming projects?
My gallery, Marianne Boesky, will be presenting a solo booth of my work at Art Dubai in mid-March. I also have an exhibition coming up at Brown University, which will be an iteration of the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery show, and I am working on upcoming projects in Japan, New York, and other US locales.
Phantom Limb runs from March 6 to May 28, 2016, at the New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD Art Gallery).