When NUVO last profiled Jose Di Gregorio, it was 2004, and he was a Herron student interested in Karaoke, provocation and absurdity. His crowning achievement may well have been his Karaoke Box, a wooden box with room enough for Di Gregorio to sit and perform songs on a bullhorn for a dollar donation while hidden from the public eye. Benefactors were also rewarded with a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. "It wouldn't necessarily be the song you requested," he said in the 2004 piece, which noted that "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and "Sunglasses at Heart" were among the '80s ballads in his repertoire.
Di Gregorio left Indy after graduating with a BFA in 2006, then made a stop to teach English in South Korea before moving to Sacramento to raise a family. He returns to Indy this week with TrA, an installation consisting of ten mandala-esque "celestial portals" mounted on the walls of a room painted entirely black. Inspired by a trip to a science museum with his daughters, the piece is, in part, Di Gregorio's effort to translate the planetarium experience to a small room with four walls - and to, in particular, conjure up that moment when a sky full of stars is, at the flick of a switch, overlaid with a network of connect-the-dots lines that define the constellations. TrA is the abbreviation for Triangulum Australe, a relatively tiny, triangular, three-star constellation with which Di Gregorio became obsessed following his visit to the planetarium.
TrA is essentially a science-based effort, and Di Gregorio calls himself a proud "atheist or humanist," though he does subscribe to some of the ideas associated with a traditional mandala, notably the Net of Indra, which maps the concept of eternal return on a sort of celestial spider's web: "When I read what the Net of Indra is I think that it makes perfect sense: the notion of interpenetration, that all phenomena is interconnected," he told me last week. "I can dig that, but overall, it's not a spiritual experience for me."
At the same time, his work is as much about, to paraphrase, just doing the work and seeing where it ends up. "How many lines can I put in a circle?" he said he asks as he creates a "portal." "How many lines can I put so that it becomes so saturated that you can't even see through it?" His ten portals progress in complexity from the first disc, which has no diametrical lines; to the second, which has two; to the tenth, which is, as he puts it, saturated with lines to the point that "it's just madness" to try to draw out patterns.
But while Di Gregorio can talk geometry and spirituality if you'd like, he remains something of showman, a guy who wants to provoke you in one way or another. His hope is that his installation is "imposing," such that "you walk in and it's so black that black is saturating every bit of light." iMOCA Executive Director Shauta Marsh (who, incidentally, authored that 2004 profile of Di Gregorio for NUVO) told Di Gregorio last week that the room, after having been painted entirely black in preparation for his arrival, had become "heavy metal." Di Gregorio answered, "Fuck yes, heavy metal! Can you have a better show than Heavy Metal Planetarium?"
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