David Hoffos, "Airships," 2003, 2 channel video, audio and mixed media installation.
DAVID HOFFOS, Scenes from the House Dream
Southern Alberta Art Gallery
By Mary-Beth Laviolette
It hardly mattered that I had already seen some of the mixed-media work featured in this exhibition of shadowy illusions. For the first time, almost all of the 25 Scenes created by the Lethbridge-based artist were on display, and whether this latest presentation had me peering into small windows or stepping into the darkness toward ghostly video projections on figurative cut-outs, Scenes from the House Dream seemed like an entirely new work. Perhaps it had something to do with having so many of the small-scale dioramas and cut-outs displayed in one place, in this case, occupying both the first- and second-floor spaces at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery. But this version of Hoffos’ five-year project had a rhyme and a reason to it that made it into something more than a house of illusions fabricated in a low-tech fashion. Both aspects of his work — the subject of illusion rendered through video projections and the rudimentary mechanics of their making — melted away as I ventured through this sizable effort encompassing 4400 square feet.
As in previous encounters, a sense of mystery, or even menace, prevailed — amplified by a soundtrack of urgent noises. Most compelling was the selection of 15 dioramas, laid-out sequentially behind the curtained-off entrance. Positioned behind a framed window pane and about five feet off the floor, I focused in on these miniaturized and dimly lit or night-time scenes.
Some, like the pensive Airport Hotel (2004) and the ominous Winter Kitchen (2007) were full of apprehension, their carefully orchestrated interiors complete with furniture of toy model size. In other works, it’s a wide-open world where horizons are far off in the distance. This includes Irwin Allen (2005) and the earlier Airships (2003), each featuring a video projection of a phantom-like zeppelin in a sci-fi setting. These particular scenes/dreams are somewhere in the hyper-urbanized future, and while not exactly utopic, it’s unusual to see in a contemporary artwork such wonder, instead of something typically dark and apocalyptic.
Many of the diorama projections are of individuals acting out small roles: a security guard pacing through a museum gallery, a lone camper stepping into an Airstream trailer. The ‘live’ action is kept to a modest scale, but what intensifies the drama of House Dream is the artist’s overall aesthetic. His avid and knowledgeable enthusiasms for such filmmakers as David Lynch and Towering Inferno’s Irwin Allen, plus 60s and 70s TV sitcom décor (part of the popular culture of Hoffos’ own youth), and modernist architecture are just a few of the palpable influences.
In past interviews, the artist has referred to these dream-based undertakings with their open-ended narratives as “scenography without plot” or a “story world more than a story”. This all rings true. But in this journey through interiors and exteriors of varying scale, and past solitary individuals posed like phantoms in the darkness, there are the underpinnings of the psyche and the human condition.
The work is about lonely places and people who, by and large, are alone. Two scene/dreams in particular, deliver this idea and I wondered about their autobiographical references — the early-2003 65 Footers, where surging waters threaten to swamp a small boat, adrift in a surrealistic marina, and Treehouse(2007), where high in the forest, the artist himself is at rest in a rocking chair perched in a forest. Not all of these works carry such emotional weight with the same cogency, but overall, there is a more all-encompassing psychological glue holding this House Dream together.
There might even be a bit of the German composer and über stagemaster, Richard Wagner, in this immersive installation of sound, imagery and careful placement. Accessed by passing through a heavily curtained entrance and into darkened surroundings, there was a sense of Scenes from the House Dream being a “total artwork” or Gesamtkunstwerk as the composer called his operas or music dramas. Even the idea of dimming or turning the lights off during a performance can be traced back to this composer. In Hoffos’ synthesis, it’s where all the dreams begin.