New Elmhurst Art Museum Exhibition by David Wallace Haskins will help you unlearn what you already know in an effort to provide new insight about the world around you.
By Kelly Stanfield
From the Spring 2016 Issue of
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
Innovative multi-media artist David Wallace Haskins will receive his first solo exhibition this spring at the Elmhurst Art Museum (photo courtesy of the Elmhurst Art Museum).
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
Ground-breaking multi-media artist David Wallace Haskins has a true knack for deconstruction. Employing light, space, time and sound, his works are immersive and interactive, working to challenge the viewer’s sense of perception and introducing new ways to physically experience and understand the ordinary. In his first solo exhibition, David Wallace Haskins: Presence—running at the Elmhurst Art Museum this spring, Haskins will uncover a true labyrinth of revelation in what the exhibition does to help us unlearn what we already know, which is not exactly easy for human beings.
Curated by Staci Boris, the museum’s director of Public Programs, Presence is a dynamic and immersive experience that defamiliarizes the viewer with the familiar. Haskins’ sculptures and installations coax the viewer out of their comfort zone, inviting them at once to venture outside of the way they typically make sense of the world around them. Boris describes it as a, “sort of vertigo or uncertainty that (Haskins) hopes will ultimately help (viewers) effectively navigate their interior and exterior worlds.”
This “vertigo,” Haskins feels, strips us of our expectations about the most basic of objects we experience everyday. Once “disoriented,” we can begin to attain a greater awareness and understanding of the world around us. Says Haskins, "I am interested in creating work that leaves visitors with a renewed sense of perception by re-contextualizing common phenomena; leading them on a journey of reorientation by way of disorientation. My hope is that through a re-acquaintance with the primordial senses of wonder, beauty, and discovery, people will experience a beholding that transcends language and thought,"
That beholding first came to light in the fall of 2015 when The Elmhurst Art Museum introduced the public to Haskins’ ground-breaking Skycube, an 8 x 8 x 8 foot cube constructed of steel, glass and far infrared light film that presents the full vertical dimension of the sky down within the horizontal space in which we live. It is currently on view in the museum’s grounds through the spring. At eye level, the actual three-dimensional sky appears through a square aperture cut into the massive white steel cube. The resulting image reveals the actual sky moving across the surface of the Skycube like a live physical space moving before you eyes. Daylight hours reveal atmospheric conditions changing moment to moment. In the evening, hues of blue gradate continually until a deep black square reveals a composition of moving stars and planets.
The effect can be quite jarring, watching the sky just inches away from view and moving and changing in three dimensions. And according to Boris, jarring is precisely what Haskins wants. “David has likened (this disorientation process) to the experience of tripping or falling. Once you experience this kind of disorientation, you become much more aware of your body and environment. That disorientation then leads to mindfulness of the present moment.”
Just as Skycube manipulates space, Soundcube works within the element of…you guessed it, sound. Soundcube is a sound sculpture series that creates an immersive three-dimensional sound field in free air. This enables the listener to experience sound waves as the physical entities they are, giving them a presence similar to any other object in space.
Boris describes the effect: “Typically we associate sound with a particular object—sound is produced by something or someone we see or know of. In an empty white room with a single bench and a single light, participants will experience sound like they never have before. Surrounded by an invisible matrix of 32 discrete channels, each programmed with unique sounds, visitors will experience the presence of sound moving around, above, beneath or between them. Multiple types of compositions will be experienced in the Soundcube, including atmospheric, architectural and musical. David calls this work ‘a sculpture of pure sound.’”
The kinds of disorienting experiences provided by Haskins’ works disrupt a sense of “balance” or equilibrium that we feel when experiencing the familiar, processing points of references we have become so familiar with to obtain information about our surroundings. Once disoriented, we can then assess those surroundings with fresh senses and make discoveries we would never have been afforded the luxury of without the process.
In addition to the Skycube and Soundcube, the new exhibition will unveil Haskins’ interactive light sculpture, Light Seeing Light. Made without the assistance of digital animation, Light Seeing Light offers visitors an opportunity to manipulate light as a physical object in mid-air. Boris explains, “There is the large-scale Void Room (working title) that invites viewers into the unknown--a darkened room that offers a phenomenological experience of space and matter. Here David plays with volume and void, interiority and exteriority, light and dark. He is interested in juxtaposing contrasting phenomena to, again, lead viewers into that state of disorientation.”
The layout of the new exhibition will also be used to achieve that effect. Designed to impact just how you experience this immersive show, the exhibit begins in the museum’s Hostetler Gallery (a gallery with a large glass-enclosed entrance) with Time is the Mother of Presence, a projection work in which the visitors’ movements create light trails that reveal their presence. But in order to make these traces visible, the participant has to move slowly or stand still. This staggered introduction encourages a slower pace through the exhibition. Each of the three main galleries will have separate entrances as most of the works require their own room or discrete space. “There is a definite progression of ideas and spatial experiences in the sequencing and layout of the exhibition,” Boris explained. “…Visitors will experience a sort of journey from physical presence to infinite space and from interior to exterior perception, with Skycube as the culmination.”
The real culmination of all of this jarring is a freeing of cognizance that Haskins loves to stimulate, and so what you get out of the experience is new insight, and that’s always empowering. So visit the Elmhurst Art Museum this spring and brace yourself for David Wallace Haskins: Presence. You’ll experience that illuminating process of unlearning what you already knew in an effort to understand what you’ve always missed.
David Wallace Haskins: Presence runs at the Elmhurst Art Museum March 5 through May 8, 2016.