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Canadian Artist's Nocturnal Installations Offer Unique Art Experience at National Gallery
David Hoffos, Scenes from the House Dream: Bachelor's Bluff (detail), 2005. Courtesy the MacKenzie Art Gallery. Photo: David Miller.

OTTAWA.- Draw back the curtains and step inside. David Hoffos: Scenes from the House Dream awaits. This series of 20 installations by Montreal-born, Lethbridge-based artist David Hoffos is the crowning achievement of his artistic practice to date. Suspend your disbelief and expect to feel unsettled in his dark corridor, but fear not. The artist’s willingness to reveal the secrets of the complex set-ups that go into creating his illusions is sure to make you smile. The exhibition is on view at the National Gallery of Canada from November 6, 2009 to February 14, 2010 in contemporary galleries B107 and B109.

David Hoffos: Scenes from the House Dream is organized by the Rodman Hall Art Centre (RHAC) at Brock University in St. Catharines, in partnership with the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge and TrépanierBaer Gallery, Calgary. It is curated by Shirley Madill, director of RHAC. The National Gallery is the second venue on a tour that continues to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto. In 2011, the Illingsworth Kerr Gallery at the Alberta College of Art in Calgary will be the tour’s final stop.

“David Hoffos’ work is magical and we are delighted to offer this unique art experience to our visitors,” said Marc Mayer, director of the National Gallery of Canada. “Hoffos has taken the elements of cinema and projected these onto the conventions of installation. He directs us to suspend disbelief, to actively participate in his scenes, and then to awaken from the dream.”

In Scenes from the House Dream, David Hoffos combines low-tech holograms with old and new media techniques to create vignettes where characters are caught in time and space. The exhibition serves as a synopsis of the artist’s signature illusionistic techniques that he has perfected over 17 years of art production. “The series is a meandering journey,” said Hoffos. “The experiment was to see if I could take an idea and live with it for five years. The process is a bit of a leap, but it has also been a way of developing techniques that were fairly crude in my work in the 90s.”

The setting
It is difficult to see what lies ahead in the permanent twilight of Hoffos’ winding corridor. Subtle pools of light eventually reveal small openings in the wall where most of his scenes take place. Mesmerizing illusionistic impressions of people move around inside. The discovery of how these illusions were constructed through the numerous television monitors, mirrors and other apparatus on display also delights.

The plot
Hoffos does not offer a narrative. Instead, he unveils a series of linked but discontinuous images that relate to one another through reference to dream imagery and recurring characters. The scenes are vivid visual fragments that resemble the way we remember our dreams.

The entry into the dream
The nocturnal voyage begins with Airships (2003) in which, from a perspective high above, a Zeppelin flies at sunset over a city that stretches as far as the eye can see. The screen’s position is low on the wall, the spectator experiences a floating sensation, like that in a dream.

The dream’s characters
Most of the characters are waiting—in an airship, a spaceship, a stranded train, an airport hotel, a boat, a camper, a bar, a parlour, a gallery. Their one-minute scenes are repeated over and over again. Most of the time nothing happens; they are like ghosts, held in suspense. When something exciting does occur, the characters are oblivious to their environments.

In Circle Street (2003), for instance, a ghostly child cyclist rides up and down a suburban street, unaware of the sight and sounds of fireworks exploding in the sky. In Treehouse (2007), the artist portrays himself holding a bottle of beer, dozing in a chair, awakening, and standing. His movements suggest the state between dreaming and waking. In Barnett Newman (2004), a security guard paces the art gallery like a caged tiger. He checks his watch, plays with his keys, ties his shoes, oblivious to his aesthetically-saturated surroundings.

The exit from the dream
Toward the end of the installation, the scene Petite Princess (2008) presents a dark interior of a house where the princess is nowhere to be seen. However, the room is not empty. A surprise promises to awaken the spectator. The concluding scene is like no other: Hall Room (2008) is a sculptural piece in an empty hall. In it are the sheet-covered furnishings from other scenes: the Zeppelin, tables, chairs, dressers.

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