Monday, September 04, 2006

David Hoffos: Scenes From The House Dream

Dunlop Art Gallery
August 12 - September 29, 2006

Passing through a curtain at the exhibition's entrance--and after my eyes adjusted to the low light--the first thing I noticed about David Hoffos' current installation at the Dunlop Art Gallery was a multitude of glowing stations. The stations are, with one exception, recessed into the black walls facing the entrance and take the shape of dioramas, not unlike the shoebox models children make for science fairs. Inhabiting these detailed miniature sets are glowing, flickering figures.

I'll not dwell on the particular characteristics of these figures and their environments, which range from a Lynchian scene of a drifter next to a car, to a scene of a boy with a toy boat. Nor will I focus on the narratives one can assume these scenes posit--as George Carlin has said, "nothing is so boring as listening to someone else describe a dream." After all, Hoffos' work is visual, apart from the low-level ambient soundtrack accompanying the space. Instead, it may be important to examine the aesthetic the artist uses, which may be described as D.I.Y. media. Viewers familiar with Hoffos' work will have seen it before--in, for instance, his installation Another City which was exhibited at Neutral Ground in 2004.

This D.I.Y. aesthetic takes a number of low-fi forms, but typically it involves the bouncing of an image off of a mirror and "into" the surface of his models. The images themselves are often generated by equipment we don't generally think of as projection-based, such as televisions, and may travel through miscellaneous lenses or mattes so that they are to scale when they appear in the models. The mattes and mirrors are all exposed, leaving no mystery as to how Hoffos constructs his illusions, and the mattes are made of electrician's tape or corrugated cardboard, reiterating the connection to childhood.

Because Hoffos has used these techniques--and the resulting style--so frequently, one might not be blamed for thinking it borders on being a habit. I wondered for some time as to whether he had perhaps been rushed into this method during art school--deadlines get the best of all of us eventually--and found that it happened to work. I then realized I was making assumptions and decided that there must be a way to read his aesthetic as intrinsic to this piece... whether the artist thinks of it that way or not.

So with a return to the title of the work, Scenes from the House Dream, and the artist’s statement, the theme of dream is raised. Dreams are individual fantasies composed without conscious thought, but more importantly they are the fun-house mirrors of waking life, supplying a non-physical surrogate world for the human psyche. If dreams are the imagined or metaphysical side of human existence, and waking life the concrete and tangible, then Hoffos’ work plays on this duality. A viewer may get enchanted by the dreams presented here, and by the flickering, interlaced figures that haunt the various landscapes. But if one withdraws slightly or turns away from one of the miniature fantasies, the physical reality of space and material comes flooding back in. Thus lapping ocean waves are changed back into the white noise of video, and the night sky is seen for what it is: black tape stuck nervously onto a television screen.

--Lee Henderson

Scenes From The House Dream at the Dunlop Art Gallery - exhibition site

David Hoffos' Another City at Neutral Ground, 2004


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