New York light artist Leo Villareal belongs to a small but growing coterie of artists who write their own computer code to drive electronic spectacles. Several of Villareal's works bring to mind the fluorescent light sculpture of Dan Flavin (1933-1996). An inherent rigidity marks the physical components of Villarreal’s work, though the development of LED tubes enabled him to make color flow and change intensity moment by moment.
Born in Albuquerque, NM, in 1967 and raised in El Paso, TX, and in northern Mexico, Villareal began his studies in stage design and art at Yale University, New Haven, CT. He later pursued graduate studies at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, NY, and from 1994 to 1997, worked on virtual reality projects at Paul Allen’s Interval Research Corporation in Palo Alto, California. In 1994, Villareal first attended the counterculture festival Burning Man, which inspired him to move into art and creating large-scale immersive experiences. In 1997, he programmed a 16-light strobe structure that he brought to Burning Man. Originally conceived as a nighttime wayfinding device using pulsing light, the simple piece was well received and became the precursor to his work in the light medium.
Villareal’s interest is in John Horton Conway's ‘Game of Life’, the founding formulation of "artificial life". Conways idea of "emergence" - the capacity of clearly defined systems to generate unpredictable outcomes – soon became the focus of Villareal's art. Emergence describes phenomena such as the collective intelligence of insect colonies that far supersedes that of any individual in it. The concept may even apply to the genesis of evolving life from the simplest selfreplicating organic structures. So Villareal works exemplify emergent phenomena.
Leo VillarealThe San Jose Museum of Art
August 21, 2010 through January 9, 2011