An Interview with Cross-Disciplinary Artist Daniel Hoh from Silicon Valley

The «Experimental Art» Born of Pressure – An Interview with Cross-Disciplinary Artist Daniel Hoh from Silicon Valley. Berry Liu.  2018-10-08

In 2017, at a contemporary art exhibition in the California capital, a group of spectators were seen whispering in front of a human-shaped image made of what appeared to be «unidentified sturdy small squares.» In reality, this was an installation artwork directly created using «silicon chips,» titled «Dead Engineer.» Material: High-density silicon chips. Artist: Daniel Hoh. Time of crossing boundaries: 3 years. Previous identity: Senior engineer and chip testing expert at a high-tech company in Silicon Valley, USA. Let’s interview this intriguing individual. 

 1: How do you understand contemporary art?

Daniel: I really enjoy contemporary art now, although I couldn’t quite understand it before. But I have a strong curiosity and a good ability to learn. I find «art history» quite intriguing, so during meetings, I would study some art articles recommended by my wife on my computer or phone. The most important factor is my wife’s «guidance» (she is a professional contemporary art critic and curator), which sparked my interest in art. Especially in the realm of contemporary art, I find the subversive aspect of art very exciting. We often visit modern art museums, art fairs, and galleries, an experience I never had before.

Daniel’s Installation Artwork «Myself» Materials: Communication chips, Display panel 

 Daniel work《Dead engineer》Material: Server chips/2017

 Question 2: Why did you start making art yourself? Not just being an audience and art enthusiast?

Answer: I started making art because I found that it calms me down, and I realized I had some ability in doodling. Also, I discovered a new material right around me – the discarded chips from my failed experiments. After seeing so many contemporary art exhibitions, I felt like I could experiment with «making art» myself. Mainly, I found the process of creating artwork after work very stress-relieving, as my job in Silicon Valley is quite overwhelming, you know. There’s hardly any breathing space here…

Daniel work. Title: «Yingzi on the Chip» Materials: 12-inch Silicon Wafer (Silicon Chip)-12inch silicon wafer/ 2016

Question 3: Did stress inspire your art?

Answer: My «main job» is to develop and test the world’s fastest and most advanced chips. I’ve been working in high-tech companies in Silicon Valley for over 20 years, and my colleagues and I have always been striving to «outpace» faster technological products, companies, and people… That’s the norm in Silicon Valley. So, I have always felt a great deal of pressure and often feel tense. If you ask other engineers, they would tell you the same. This industry emphasizes teamwork, and you can’t hold others back, so it feels like you’re constantly running and can’t fall behind. Many people develop anxiety and visit therapists weekly, some lose their jobs because they can’t keep up, and others choose to leave – leave the industry, and even leave this world. That’s also the inspiration behind the artwork «Dead Engineer.»

Luckily, I discovered that «making art» in my free time helps alleviate this anxiety. Now, I have achieved a balance between my left and right brain… The sense of anxiety gradually fades away.

《Balance》 Materials: Circuit boards, soldering iron, server chips.

4«What is the background for much of your art?»

Answer: Many of my artworks are inspired by the environment in which I work, Silicon Valley. This place is home to numerous influential figures who have shaped the world, and the high-tech products and ideas developed here have a global impact on the technological progress. There are many iconic entrepreneurial leaders worth remembering, such as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and more. In the art world, I also admire many artists like Andy Warhol, Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, and Yoko Ono. I am truly fascinated by their lives and stories, and I incorporate them into my artworks, which became my first art series – «Characters on Chips.»

5What is the influence of politics, religion, and culture on your creations?

Answer: Politics, religion, and culture have a significant influence on my artwork. For example, they played a major role in the creation of my «Buddhist Sutra» series. My wife, son, and I were all experiencing anxiety at the same time, and we found solace in listening to Buddhist sutras regularly. At first, I copied the Heart Sutra on paper, but later I thought it would be cool to write it on 12-inch chips. However, this process required intense focus, as making even a single mistake could ruin the entire artwork. Despite the physical exhaustion and a few bouts of illness due to extreme concentration, I found it to be a great way to relieve mental pressure and anxiety. I would rather feel physically tired than emotionally suppressed and anxious. 

“The Heart Sutra”   /on 12 inch silicon wafer/2017

 Currently, there are still many political events and conflicts happening in the United States and around the world every day. Some things are truly extraordinary, and during such times, I feel compelled to express them through art. It was during this period that I began creating installation artworks. Everything happened naturally; when painting on paper and chips were no longer enough to fully express my ideas, installation works naturally emerged as a form of expression. Perhaps in the future, there may be other forms of expression, but for now, I cannot say for certain. 

《Ghost ship》Material: oil on canvas Marker/2017

《 Bitcoin》circuit mask/2018

6Do you consider yourself an artist? Please talk about your feelings about ‘crossing boundaries’. 

I don’t consider myself an «artist.» I can’t paint in oil, and I don’t know much about art history. I have never received formal art training. When I was 19, my parents and I immigrated to the United States, and it was not until I turned 40 that I learned about a famous artist named Andy Warhol. Before that, I only knew about Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and others. During a business trip to France, I visited the Louvre, where I squeezed through the crowd to see the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. Because I was born in Beijing, I had also seen works by Qi Baishi and Xu Beihong in calendars during my childhood.

As for why I started making art, it was because I «pitied» those discarded chips. They were abandoned simply because they had a slight physical defect, even though some of them were brand new. I felt a strong «regret» for them and invested my energy and emotions into these chips. That’s why I decided to bring them «back to life» in the form of art.

《我Myself 》Material: 768 communication chips

The Years Blur Our Faces» Material: Communication Chip / 2016

Further associating it with myself and the engineers in this industry, sooner or later, we will also be abandoned due to age, changes in knowledge, and other reasons. When you see the young engineers in Silicon Valley with their fresh ways of thinking and knowledge structures, you can only continue running. What will the future be like? How far will the world develop? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know either.

 «Crossing over to do art» has led me to find another path. Although every path is challenging, at least it has allowed me to see more landscapes and the diversity of the world.

7: What do you think about certain art forms such as «video installations and the latest AI»?

 Answer: It’s hard to say. I haven’t resonated with some of the strange-looking art these days, at least not yet. You often talk about how conceptual art is ahead of its time, but I haven’t seen anything that feels groundbreaking to me. Those TVs flickering on the floor, boring circuit boards, neon lights… they seem low-end to me. Whether it’s anime or movies, documentaries or not, as long as it looks terrifying, it attracts attention. Maybe it’s because of my background in science and engineering that I tend to analyze these works in a «scientific» way, but that’s just my perspective. However, I really love Yayoi Kusama’s work «Infinity Mirrored Room,» it’s like a 40-second condensed universe, sparking endless thoughts… Good art stands the test of time.

“Yayoi Kusama”-12 inch silicon wafer/2017

Bill Gates》\8 inch\Silicon Wafer\2015

8How far do you think you can go on your art journey? (Participated in contemporary art shows, have a collector, have a museum collection)

Answer: I don’t know. Maybe the future could be promising, but if I were offered a chance to join a promising startup company right now, I would choose to leave (art) and focus on the startup. I feel that the high-tech projects and products I have worked on in the past have, to some extent, changed the world, whereas in the realm of art, I still feel inexperienced and unable to change much… However, I won’t deny that I have placed art creation in a secondary position. I am especially honored that several pieces from my first series «Characters on Chips» have been collected by art collectors, and one of my works has been acquired by the Seattle Computer Museum.

In 2017, I was invited to participate in the «1-2nd Annual BORDERLESS Contemporary Art Exhibition,» curated by art critic Yingzi in the United States. Alongside 13 other Chinese and American professional artists, I showcased my artwork, which received attention and acclaim from the audience. These art experiences gave me great confidence. Subsequently, I was invited to participate in the «World Greater Bay Area Forum» and became the art spokesperson for the forum.

 9“How many favorite modern and contemporary artists do you have? Why?”

Answer: Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo, Yayoi Kusama, Zhang Xiaogang, and Mr. Mao Xuhui. As someone who has lived in the United States for 30 years and considers myself an «American,» it’s astonishing that I only heard about Andy Warhol after turning 40. His works and statements possess a magical quality. Frida Kahlo, the Mexican female artist, also left me deeply impressed. She was a remarkable woman, and her story, artworks, spiritual strength, and imagery all shook me to the core. My wife and I even flew from San Francisco to a distant city in the United States just to attend a joint exhibition of Frida and her husband the next day.

As for the Chinese contemporary artist Zhang Xiaogang, his works reminded me of the terrible times my homeland once experienced, with their cold and rigid figures and scenes, as if controlled and brainwashed by some sinister spiritual force, portraying the psychological traumas of a generation. I admire these artists who capture the essence of human nature in their creations.

Frida 》8 inch\Silicon Wafer\2016ç

《Steve Jobs》-12 inch silicon wafer/2016

  10. Future plans.

Answer: Let it be, follow my inspiration, and create whenever it strikes. Maybe one day I’ll suddenly give up, who knows? Of course, I hope to go further, to continue participating in good art exhibitions, and to sell my works for a good price, haha. For me, having my works collected is an important encouragement and affirmation. Even though Silicon Valley’s soil hardly grows the «art» seed, with elites from all over the world gathering here mainly for high-tech and finance, don’t forget that San Francisco is also the artistic hub of the U.S. West Coast. Countless artists, writers, poets, musicians, and oh, there’s a famous hippie called Steve Jobs here too…

Artist profile 

Daniel Hoh, a cross-disciplinary artist, is an American of Chinese descent. He graduated from the Department of Electronic Engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1995. Since then, he has been working in high-tech companies in Silicon Valley as a senior engineer, mainly involved in the research and monitoring of various types of chips. Over the past 20 years of dealing with silicon chips, he witnessed countless chips around him being eliminated and turned into waste. Being passionate about art, he gradually became inspired and influenced by his art critic wife, Yingzi, and many artist friends, which led him to start «playing with art.»

After engaging with and visiting numerous contemporary art exhibitions, he began to ponder on how to combine high technology with art and create unique artistic works. The materials for his creations became these «failed experiments,» high-precision yet discarded silicon chips. He transformed these chips from waste to treasure, turning them into art pieces. Thus, a series of portraits, depicting family, friends, and influential figures in Silicon Valley, emerged on the combined silicon chip installations. This set of works became his first batch of «installation art.»

His artistic endeavors have received encouragement and recognition from both the art and technology communities. Since this year, his creations have undergone a qualitative change, with more diverse themes and independent artistic concepts. His works possess contemporary and strong social significance, making them typical examples of «technology-crossed art.» The pieces primarily involve chip paintings and chip installations, with innovative ideas and unique materials. They are a remarkable fusion of high technology and art.

Daniel views these distinctive «cross-disciplinary art pieces» as a medium of communication with the community and a platform to question contemporary production modes and social survival in the age of the internet, signifying strong social relevance.

Daniel Hoh is an engineer by day and passionate artist by night. His surrounding artist friends and the Bay Area art community motivate him to create his innovative artworks. He uses unique materials and mediums found in the hi-tech computer science field. Hoh gives new life to the computer chips by drawing art inspired by history, news, society, and the world.

Daniel Hoh has more than 20 years of IC (integrated circuit) industry experience in Operations and Product development. Prior to joining CNEX LABS, Daniel served as Principal Engineer at Broadcom Limited where he was responsible for all aspects of PHY (physical layer) family of products.

Mr. Hoh holds a B.S in Electrical Engineering from UCLA.

 Exhibitions and Honors:

  • In 2015, the artwork «Bill Gates on Silicon Chip» was collected by the Computer History Museum in Seattle.
  • In 2016, participated in the 1st Annual BORDERLESS Contemporary Art Exhibition in San Mateo, California, USA.
  • In 2017, participated in the 2nd Annual BORDERLESS Contemporary Art Exhibition in Sacramento, the capital of California, USA.
  • In 2017, served as the high-tech art spokesperson for the World Greater Bay Area Forum.
  • In 2018, received the «Art Contribution Award to the Community» presented by a California State Assembly Member in the USA.
  • Pictures in the frame:

    《HACKER》-12inch silicon wafer/ 2016

    《Broken Earth》-12inch silicon wafer

    《Yoko Ono》-12inch silicon wafer/2017

    《Andy warhol》-12inch silicon wafer/2017

    《 Prayer》-12 inch silicon wafer/2017

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