AUGUST 4 – AUGUST 26, 1995




David Hoffos’ installation, YOU WILL REMEMBER WHEN YOU NEED TO KNOW, ventures into the territory of The X Files without taking on the big production values. Smoke and mirrors, scratchy home movies and the fumbling sleight of hand of the rec-room magician are keeping with Hoffos’ low-tech style.



DAVID HOFFOS (born 1966 in Montreal, Quebec) is a contemporary artist who maintains a practice in Lethbridge, Alberta. He is widely recognized for unique illusionist installations that draw their inspiration from archaic special effects and cinematic techniques. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Lethbridge in 1994 and has participated in solo and group exhibitions in Canada, Spain, Portugal,Switzerland and the United States.



Has anyone else noticed how recent theoretical discussions centered around the French word for play, “jouissance”, seem to have conspired to take most of the fun out of the term? David Hoffos on the other hand seems intent in putting the pleasure back in the activity by restoring its paradoxical and contradictory meanings and playing them off one another. Play itself may denote several opposing things. The word may even have a greater resonance in English that in French, since it preserves most of the latter’s disruptive and erotic connotations but adds to them the implication of a staged, theatrical event with a predetermined and repeated script of a closed narrative structure in which the audience plays the role of passive spectators with a fixed set of programmed responses.

Taking the theatrical connotation of play one step further, we find that this second term has a specific significance in the history of artistic critical discourse. It can be traced back to Michael Fried’s 1967 attempt to defend late modernist production against what he saw n an immortal tend towards “confusion” in the lineage of the arts through a promiscuity which mixed their parentage. He vilified the theatrical which he visualized as adulterating the purity and breaking up the integrity of various media. More specifically, he linked it to duration of experience and ultimately to minimalist objects which he wished to separate from modernism. Fried’s impassioned, and certainly not playful, defense was of course already a rear guard action, that is a strategic play to keep his hero from being written out of the historical play. Its no coincidence that only two years before Nam Juan Paik had bought his first Sony portable video camera, signaling the presence of a new era of video, installation and real time art which was taking over the stage.

Hoffos’ installations are both play-full and theatrical. A certain nostalgic quality harkens back to the theatre of the 1800’s by invoking many of its conventions. He makes frequent use of the darkened room, and has on occasion even ritualized the gallery entrance with the symbol of the theatre: a heavy dark curtain. Ushered into the dreamy gloom, the spectator’s attention is captured and held through the use of the dramatic spotlight, although now replaced with the cool glow of the video monitor and/or projected movie image. Characters generally appear which enact and recite a brief, familiar and even domestic narrative on a shallow, illusory stage. Yet while the curtain goes up, it never seems to go down, catharsis is never achieved, the traditional role and expectations of the viewer never confirmed.

And here we encounter the other aspect of the term play: one that releases the meaning from the confines of the first and gives it an entirely contradictory possibility, the play within the play so to speak. Play also denotes a direct participation in a free type of non-structure activity, no necessarily enclosed within the rules or structure of a game. It can be disruptive and intuitive, perhaps exemplified best the bye “jeu de mot”, the pun, or the play on words which upsets the singular linear path and logocentricity of language by doubling or looping significances.

Thus as much as Hoffos invokes the forms of the traditional theater or its contemporary counterparts, that is electronic media like film, video and television, he also plays them off one another, deliberately fragmenting, multiplying and overlaying his media, using one to interrupt the other’s seamless continuity on which any willingness to suspend disbelief (now a permanent condition) is posited, in short using these disruptions to forego the narrative and illusionistic closure of the theatre.

In Fried’s worst nightmare, Hoffos mixes his theatrical historical precedents with contemporary home and network video projects which he may segment and re-tape on film, which in turn he projects from either the front or the rear with either concealed or visible projectors onto sculptural ensembles. Or he may reverse the order, beginning as he does here with a charmingly constructed maquette which resembles a child’s toy theatre. This has been filmed and projected onto a fragmented screen of flat reliefs, situated like stage scenery in a larger set within the gallery. These cut-out props, being static, never precisely correspond to the flickering images cast on them even though they are ostensibly based on their contours. A video monitor has been incorporated within the final production, in a sort of double tableau vivant. In turn, the looping of the film and the video into an endless series of fragmented moments suspends both narrative structure and the linear duration of time. Each layer of media tends to disrupt rather than confirm the transparency and integrity of the other. This oscillating conflict is in fact the major drama of the production. There is no resolution to the tension. Meaning in this instance becomes provisional, even the suspension of disbelief is placed in suspension…in any case, media both electronic and sculptural, become a deck of magical playing cards, which may be shuffled and played out in various orders in a game that is always different and always the same, but never over.

This slight of hand has a magical quality to it that is both conjural and conjectural. In fact, Hoffos frequently employs that old standard of the theatrical magician: the mirrored box in which what you see is never quite what you see. He consistently stages his presentations between parallel mirrors which reflect themselves and his media images endlessly into an edgeless, unreal space that fades gradually as it approaches the appearance of the infinite, thus duplicating the endless replication and reproduction of the media. The problem here may be that the result, albeit illusory and virtual, is still linear and Cartesian, essentially logocentric, or what Deleuze and Guattari call “striated space”, which they associate with the certainty and the rules of the royal sciences.

This may explain why Hoffos has here moved to a vortex of converging mirrors for the walls of the maquette. Rather than creating an illusory, yet quantified perspective, the non-parallel mirrors converge, providing a point of accelerated, centripetal rotation rather than recession, a space of perpetual circularity that corresponds to the temporal looping of his tapes and films. This alternative, uncertain yet magical space, which tends to disappear being its own reflections, throws the authority of the royal sciences into doubt and allows for the entry of the anomaly: i.e. that which is outside of science’s explanations but within the realm of experience. In this case, however, the familiar rabbit from the hat who would normally play this role is replaced by the equally amazing, but offstage presence of an alien spaceship, whose eerie, shifting surveillance lights seem to illuminate the scene. This luminous galactic suggestion of humanity’s technological and evolutionary future is played off against its earthly counterpart the shadowy image of the Sasquatch emerging from some dark wood, i.e. the mythic image of the evolutionary past. This melancholic creature, half human half animal, is captured on the miniature monitor in the living room window of the projected setting, and not in the maquette. It tends, like the idea of the alien, to hover somewhere on the dubious and undefined border between nature and culture, past and future, familiar and other.

Like the border among the various definitions of play, and between magic and science, or network and home video, this border becomes all the more undefined by Hoffos representations of nature and culture. This nature is not idealized into a sublime transcendent, non-differentiated totality, but rather a domesticated and in this case highly artificial space: a patently unnatural mature of lead trees and plexiglass streams. His area of civilization, a model of a domestic farmstead, is equally uncivil, its only inhabitant, as has been said, the image of the Sasquatch held in a suspended state of endless return. In the smoke which might be mist, which envelopes both, the homes fires become the forest fires. But its certainty of meaning and differentiation which here seems to be going up in flames.

All this slight of hand, however, does not necessarily imply slight of concept. By collaging his elements Hoffos erases the borders between the media, theatre, film, television, video and sculpture, as well as erasing the borders between culture and nature and the certainties of time and space, and history and future. He doesn’t so much create a greater totality as a space outside of each, a playful space beyond the confines of the “regles du jeu.”

LESLIE DAWN is an art historian at the University of Lethbridge who has a special interest in contemporary criticism.


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