Esker Foundation commissioned David Hoffos to produce a site-specific, two-channel video, and mixed media installation titled Follower. The video work was filmed in the streets and alleys of Inglewood, Calgary in April 2013.
Hoffos borrows inspiration from a range of cultural phenomena including stage magic, theme parks, genre movies, and self-help books. From a mixed bag of found and invented technologies, the artist conjures an eerie world of illusion while simultaneously exposing its artifice. Much of Hoffos’s installation work presents a blend of sculptural diorama and do-it-yourself cinema. Although his uncanny effects often provoke a sense of wonder—or even terror—in the viewer, his true subjects are the collective modern conditions of melancholy and anxiety.
David Hoffos received his BFA from the University of Lethbridge in 1994. Since 1992, Hoffos’s multidisciplinary practice has produced over 40 solo exhibitions of his signature illusionistic environments. His monumental 6-year installation series, Scenes from the House Dream, recently finished a cross-Canada tour and was showcased at the National Gallery of Canada in 2010. Hoffos has received awards including the Images Grand Prize (2007) and a Sobey Art Award (2nd prize) (2002). Hoffos is represented by Trépanier Baer Gallery, Calgary.
Interview with David Hoffos
Naomi Potter: Can you describe the title of the work, Follower in relation to both your interest in film noir and to the modern condition of melancholy and anxiety?
David Hoffos: Sometimes titles come easily, and sometimes only after filling pages with every possible (good and bad) variation of the idea. With Follower the title was obvious and straightforward – it was the first thing I thought of. In the terminology of cinema craft, the “follow shot” has the camera pursuing or moving alongside the subject. Follower also references the familiar narrative cliche of “being followed” – and this film noir sensibility is somewhat emphasized through some details of costuming, lighting, texture of the image, etc. As for the image of the lone female figure, unknowingly pursued by the camera/viewer, I guess that naturally conjures ideas or sensations of anxiety and/or melancholy (which it would have in common with many of my works).
NP: Can you describe the techniques used in the work, and how it relates to magic and illusion?
DH: Although this work uses adaptations of techniques that have been in my practice for nearly 20 years, the combination is new. Actually, the point of this work was the opportunity to figure out some of the possibilities and limitations of a new display system that will figure in some upcoming shows. Follower combines a small “cinerama” with a Pepper’s Ghost effect. The connections that these effects and processes have to the history of magic and illusion are many: the “black box” theatre dates back at least as far as the 1500s; the projector itself was once a secret phantasmagoric device, before it found a place in lecture halls (the original name was “Magic Lantern”); the panorama (curved painting environment) was a popular pre-cinema mass entertainment; the Pepper’s Ghost originated as an 1800s live theatrical illusion that used bi-location and large reflections to create spectral performers. Like much of my work, Follower attempts to suggest a kind of futuristic display system without hiding its 19th-century DNA.
NP: Geographically there is a circular relation to where the work is seen (9th Avenue window) to where the work was filmed (the streets and alleys of Inglewood). Do you think this creates a more meaningful viewing experience?
DH: Again, this was an experiment – and that was my question, as well: does the site-specificity add anything to the work? I think it does. There’s a slight but palpable sensation for the viewer, that of being in two places at once, or of feeling a time shift, a kind of overlay on the senses, at least in the imagination. On top of that, I wanted to pay tribute to a fast-changing neighbourhood, which figured in my own youth. There is a coincidental moment in the tracking shot that underlines that for me, when one of my punk rock heroes from over 30 years ago suddenly appears in the vicinity of the old National Hotel!
NP: In much of your work the characters are often female and placed in questionable surroundings, their task or role is often to wait or to simply pass time – the what or why is usually never revealed. What is the intent behind this narrative strategy?
DH: As usual, I’m interested in the story world, but not the story – I leave it up to the viewer to fill in the rest. As for the female character, I think it’s Jungian, a stand-in for the self – the shadow side of things is a world of opposites. My settings are often representative of border areas, unpoliced, abandoned. Whether the setting is natural, urban or suburban, its purpose is to unsettle or overwhelm the subject and/or viewer (this is a general rule – Follower features more of a verité or documentary feel).
NP: What struck me about the installation of this work was how much the unknown was as important as the known. There is a palpable sense of anticipation and then delight once the magic of the work reveals itself. Do you think your motivation or even reward for continuing to work in this way is the pure delight of seeing a successful illusion after much technical trial and error?
DH: If you are referring to the actual process of making the work, that’s definitely the case. As I mentioned, this was a first experiment with a new display system. One of the key aspects of my kind of creative process is the ability to pre-visualize. I have done enough experimenting with these and similar techniques that I have SOME confidence when predicting results. Still, there are always anxieties – and surprises. For me, the reward lies not only in the somewhat hit-or-miss accuracy of the pre-visualization process, but also in the hidden and as-yet-unrealized potential of a promising effect (which could be realized on the next project or only many years later).
NP: Space – empty space, lonely space, the space between the city and the country, the dark eerie spaces of your installations – where does this come from? And how much is influenced by the space of the prairie?
DH: My work is all about space – depth, sensation, perspective, navigation, dis-orientation, discovery, ambiance, journeys, darkness, windows, doors, rooms and wilds. I imagine my ideal viewer as ambulatory and alone, which already starts to suggest a kind of space, so there’s that simply practical consideration. I’m claustrophobic, and that goes along with a certain psychology of space (which can be exploited). I haven’t thought too much about prairies, but I definitely prefer them (or oceans) to almost any other kind of landscape. I do not enjoy mountains, at all. In childhood (and even adulthood) I spent much of my time alone, and the charged, imaginary and limitless space of daydreams remains important.