By WM, August 2022
An interview with Jay Zelingold, co-founder and director of ALMA Studio.
ALMA is a groundbreaking New York area-based art collective creating mixed media art installations by combining light projection with slabs of exotic stone - accentuating naturally occurring dramatic imagery discovered hidden within the complex layers of the stone’s veining.
Your research expanded upon the method developed by artist Arin Jéda. Can you speak about Jéda and how you got so deeply involved in this creative path at ALMA Studio?
I was a mentee of Jéda’s in branding and marketing while going through a complicated divorce, among other significant life transformations. Hence, I was open to starting on an unchartered course that intrigued the hell out of me. I deeply respected Jéda’s rationale, wisdom, depth, and nuance of thought. He introduced the concept of hidden images lying in plain sight and the idea of using external elements to train the brain (not the eye!) to “see” the seemingly random splattering of veins as fully formed images. I saw this as an opportunity to place a mark upon the world at large - to open people's minds to layers of intricacies and beauty that exist within nature and hopefully allow people to connect to the world around them with depth and respect as never before.
Your work has a reference to the cave paintings at Lascaux. Were you thinking of cave paintings when making these pieces?
Art fulfills the human need to connect to something more profound - whether theological, spiritual, emotional, or even political; to find meaning in our lives and the world we inhabit. The most basic connectivity we have - and that which humanity has valued above all else since the beginning of time as we know it, has been our connection to our world. As the earliest recorded art, the Lascaux caves epitomized that ideal for me.
To take it one step farther, ALMA epitomizes this concept more than almost any other art form - because the essence of our work is “telling the story of nature,” i.e., instead of our art being the expression of our inspiration, we merely share our inspiration from nature’s expression.
The way you find the imagery in the existing stone you refer to as "Psychovisual Layering." Can we hear more about this term and what it means to you?
This term comes from Jéda and his penchant for ideas that contain strongly opposing duality… yet sometimes lock in harmony.
Jéda believes that when multiple diametric or unrelated planes intersect in harmony, the creative portion of our brain is disproportionately stimulated. Not unlike the volume of a cube being so much greater than a square because of its added dimension, he feels that when both the left and right sides of the brain are stimulated simultaneously, the added dimension makes “cubes” instead of “squaring” our pleasure. And he believes this exists not only with visuals but in all senses, such as music and intellectual stimuli.
To put it mathematically, let’s say that when listening to Céline Dion’s voice, one's “joy level” is level 5. Now, if another equally stimulating voice or instrument which compliments or harmonizes that first voice is added, the layered sound will be squared and generate a joy level of 25.
But here is when it gets interesting. If a second plane, unrelated to audio stimuli, were introduced, the joy level would be cubed! For example, if the other dimension woven into the voice is brilliant lyrics –which trigger a completely different part of the brain– and those lyrics, if just spoken, would trigger a joy level of 5, then the layered result would be disproportionally much higher than 25.
Saying it differently- when contrasting duality or unrelated layers are displayed in a way that the solution to the contrasts involves harmonizing the opposing sides with creativity, the brilliance involved in syncing the opposing layers heightens the appreciation of the final product in both breadth and depth, adding new dimensions that cube –rather than multiply– our enjoyment when tapped into.
As a result of this fascination with harmony, ALMA sees everything in layers, thinks in layers, and constantly tries to harmonize the layers we process. We zero in on this manner of bilateral observation and processing when training our carefully selected team to develop the uncanny ability to unearth intricate art in stone.
An ALMA contains duality on many levels. The fact that there is intricate art layered on chaotic veinage. There is then light layered on top of that in a method that both the man-made light and the natural stone are seen in harmony. The messages of the scenes are almost always dichromatic - the contrast of modern technology being used to accentuate the oldest forms of nature. Every aspect of an ALMA consists of contrast and dichotomy yet converge to create brilliant beauty. At the seemingly unrelated crossroads of art, nature, and technology, ALMA epitomizes the concept of multiple seemingly unrelated planes intersecting in harmony - i.e., psycho-visual layering.
Seeing images in inanimate objects is called "pareidolia," Neuroscientists have been trying to figure out why people see things that are not there. These apparitions are usually male faces - but I feel that what you are involved with is something that does not relate to science in that way. Do you see your work as being science related?
This is a fascinating topic. One can make the case that this is, in fact, typical pareidolia - which is nothing new to fine art, as Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Victor Molev, and even Salvadore Dali have had influence from pareidolia. Incredibly, I recently came across writings from Leonardo da Vinci where he described seeing characters in natural markings on stone walls, which inspired his artworks (see http://leonardoswall.com/Chapter2.php), so perhaps da Vinci, were he to have had access to modern technology, would’ve founded an ALMA studio of his own ;).
Frankly, the question surrounding pareidolia is a curiosity of ours, and I've even been somewhat interested in taking it even further - i.e., the healing energies of crystals, stones, and minerals and exploring any possible connection between them and what we’re doing. However, what I connect with most, is the skill and process we’ve created of blending the digital with the physical and the transformation of something natural and beautiful into something so much more than it already was.
What about stone do you find interesting enough to create an entire complex art practice around?
The idea that nature itself has such depth and the concept of taking intellectual and emotional inspiration and strength directly from nature is an overwhelming experience that we get to experience every day. We are surrounded by beauty in so many facets of our existence. Yet, the realization that our appreciation of it is so “surface” and the discovery of new layers of beauty and expression in something both natural as well as so beautiful is profound and worthy of devoting the incredible amount of time, blood, sweat, tears, and joy to ALMA.
Where are you sourcing the stone that you experiment with during the creative phase of your work? Is it a random process of selecting the right stones for the art?
The stones are sourced from high-end stone galleries that would typically cater to designers and contractors building high-end residential and commercial spaces. But before our discovery and external projection, there is nothing unusual about the stones we work with other than the natural beauty that is natural stone.
What do you hope for the public to experience from seeing your works?
Frankly? One word: Goosebumps. I want people's minds blown. I want worlds shaken - in a good way. Strong emotions, such as laughter, or tears, happen when there’s a stark break from the expected and the norm. We are all familiar with and respect marble and granite, yet our association with it is merely decorative, symbolic of status, and functional. When the “veil,” if you will, is lifted from something one thought they already knew all there was to know about, it is challenged and proven to be far more profound, more beautiful, connective, and elevated; that is a transformative moment - for them and us.
What are some of the clues or ways you see imagery in a stone's surface?
We must leave some things mysterious, don't we? But I will say that it often takes being in a very “zoned-in,” almost trance-like state.
What is coming up for Alma Art?
NFTs! Our work forms the quintessential crossroad between the physical and the digital, and we epitomize the direction web3 is going. This will also open up what we’re doing to millions of people who would otherwise never come across our work and allow ALMA to be more attainable for many more people.
We also have advanced interest and conversation from multiple ultra-high profile commercial spaces to install centerpieces in their lobbies.
We are actively looking for opportunities to collaborate to bring our work to the world and those who will appreciate our work - mother nature's work!! WM
For more, visit www.almaartstudio.com.