Meet the Lava Man



By Tess Kornfeld + Photography by Kelli Mosher

What inspired you to start the lava project? I was teaching in Las Vegas and I would see Mount Lassen on the drive to the family farm. My wife is an artist, but she would just be like, “Yeah, it’s beautiful.” I would stop every time, get out of the car, and look. I got back in the car one time and she was like, “What’s the deal?” And I said, “To me, that is sublime. You can’t photograph it, you can’t videotape it. How do you translate nature at that level and move it into the gallery and into some other form?” And she said, “You make your own.”

What was it like the first time you poured lava? It was like leaning into a volcano. You feel the heat off of it. It’s right in your gut, it’s like that. You feel alive because your body senses [it], like this is really much more powerful than I am.

Now, what do you really want to do with it? What I want to do is recreate. I want to create my own volcano. I want to create my own glacier, my own earthquake vault. But I want to put them in buildings and I want to at least bring them into the physical. One of our goals is to create a lava flow long enough to reach from Comstock Art to the Manley parking lot. I’d love to hear the phone call, “I am here in the Manley Field parking lot. It is on fire.”

What is the most bizarre project you’ve been involved in? In the spring of 1991, I met this young artist, Matthew Barney. He asked me to be in a series of videos. I was dressed up as an iconic football player from the Oakland Raiders named Jim Otto. The video started in a walk-in freezer. I was on my back on a skateboard-like device. He stood on my chest naked with climbing equipment on. He squatted on my chest and took an ice climbing screw and inserted it up his ass. He had a string from that and he put it into his mouth. That thing went viral in the art world.

You recently cooked a steak over lava. How did it taste? I love red meat, and it was the best steak I've ever had. I was shocked.

Is there a future for lava in the kitchen? I'll say yes because I don't like to say no.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Jerk.

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