Where illusion and reality converge
BY TONY MCLELLAN
In a silent, pitch dark room, a virtual diorama flickers to life. The display is titled Shadow of the Platypus, and with clear, echoing audio and soothing natural sounds, it depicts the life of the platypus by way of unique, unorthodox artistic illusions. Although it appears to be just a nature documentary at first, The Lost Minutes, Stage One: Shadow of the Platypus exhibit has a far greater depth to it, giving its viewers the chance to view the unique ways it examines time, evolution and the ever-changing world that surrounds us.
The installation, located in the Eastman Gallery at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery (KWAG), is certainly not presented in a way that one would expect typical museum exhibits to be presented. David Hoffos, a Canadian-born visual artist from Lethbridge, Alta., combines various technologies, new and old, to create the strange, enchanting visuals shown in the presentation of Shadow of the Platypus.
“David uses CRT monitors, VHS footage, and bouncing images off of glass,” said Crystal Mowry, the curator at KWAG. “So there are a lot of illusionary strategies that are actually quite lo-fi. In this exhibition, we’re dealing with more digital forms of media and also sophisticated architecture that David has designed for this gallery.” With this current installation in particular, Hoffos uses a classic illusionary trick, called the “Pepper’s Ghost” effect, to give off a 3D illusion, when in reality, no 3D is actually used. The technique has been used for over 200 years, and Hoffos manages to incorporate it with relative ease into the modern technologies of the 21 century.
Shadow of the Platypus is “one chapter in a series of chapters that will unfold over time,” Mowry said. The exhibit is intended to be the first part of The Lost Minutes series, with an unspecified number of parts planned to succeed it in time.
“We don’t know exactly what they’ll be yet, and David may not know exactly what they’ll be yet,” Mowry said. “This could take years to unfold.”
A work of art that spans multiple years is nothing new for Hoffos. In 2003, he launched a project he called Scenes from the House Dream, a project which ended up taking over six years of work to complete, all the while creating ideas he would put to use in the years to come. The project, according to Mowry, “used strategies similar to this (Shadow of the Platypus) exhibit, but also dioramas, and model environments that incorporate video as well.”
While Shadow of the Platypus is clearly a very visually-focused work of art, even more appreciation can come when the art is studied on an intellectual level.
“The platypus could easily be a stand-in for something else,” Mowry said. “The subject of the platypus reminds us of natural history, of evolution and the strangeness of the animal world, but also by the virtue of its relationship to evolution, it relates to time in a much larger expanse of time in which things are happening. So we’re not talking about a couple of minutes literally, but we’re talking about billions of minutes that happen or that quantify evolutionary time.
“David’s work ties us back to ideas about evolution and natural history but also culture of display, such as museums and musicological environments where we might learn about creature like the platypus.”
The Lost Minutes, Stage One: Shadow of the Platypus is currently on display at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery until Jan. 5, 2014. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. The gallery is located just inside the main doors of the Centre in the Square in downtown Kitchener. The hours are: Monday-Wednesday and Friday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday, 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. KWAG can be contacted by calling 519-579-5860 or visiting them online at www.kwag.ca.
Where illusion and reality converge