In 2009, USC's Doheny Memorial Library held an exhibition which examined he idea of telling "the story of everything." The twenty artworks on display were the result of hundreds of hours of philosophical dialogue and artistic collaboration between Victor Raphael and Clayton Spada. Their primary focus was understanding how individuals make sense of their roles within the vast structure of the cosmos. Following intellectual wanderers who have traced similar threads in a limitless web of knowledge, they investigated fields as diverse as astronomy, religion, mythology and alchemy for visual inspiration.
They began by establishing a philosophical framework for their creative process, determining which areas of thought warranted further exploration. This body of ideas guided them as they started gathering a reservoir of visual imagery for their digital compositions, incorporating elements from woodcuts, engravings, etchings, and lithographs. They discovered many of the visual elements in the "From Zero to Infinity" series in rare works from the USC Libraries' Special Collections.
As they created their artworks, Raphael and Spada sent many digital files back and forth between their studios. Raphael initiated the process by using a Polaroid camera to create an abstract image and applying metal leaf onto its surface. After scanning the altered Polaroid, he then sent the file to Spada, who used Adobe Photoshop to modify it and layer other visual elements on top of it. He then sent the image back to Raphael for further tinkering. The artists spent up to years on some of their pieces before they were satisfied, and the printing process couuld begin. Through it all, Raphael and Spada shared a common conceptual framework that guided their dynamic artistic collaborations.
Their composition "Problema X" offers a window into their creative process. Beginning with an image that resembles a side view of a spherical, dust-clouded galaxy, they added visual elements from a sixteenth-century Spanish astronomical treatise by Juan Perez de Moya and a work on probability by the seventeenth-century Swiss mathematician Jakob Bernoulli. In the center they included a striking image from a German test about Hindu cosmology, showing giant creatures supporting the entirety of existence on their backs. The combination of elements explores the underlying structure of the universe while asking questions about how much we can really know about it. Although we want to find regularity and order in what we observe, how reliable can our perceptions be?