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  • David Hoffos, Scenes from the Dream House, worth a stumble in the dark

    As an arts center director, I curated, viewed or facilitated many visual and media arts exhibitions.  Media installations often required a darkened gallery setting for viewing film/video projections and as a result, the technology actually forced the artist to create works in a certain way instead of the reverse.

    Scenes from the House Dream: Circle Street, 2 channel video, audio and mixed media installation, detail of model, 2003. Collection of the artist.

    Quite often, this created a sameness to installations and entering a darkened gallery space to view works at an alternative venue became a standard, if not, a cliched experience.  Over time, it became much less common, albeit rare, to experience an exhibit that utilized this environment in a consummate way.  I often longed for the day when newer technology afforded the artist more latitude in producing works within more flexible lighting conditions.  However, during a recent trip to Toronto, I was reminded that there are always exceptions to every rule.

    Scenes from the Dream House exhibit consists of about twenty works most of which are dioramas or miniature settings that evoke alternative feelings of intimacy, spookiness or something down-right magical.  Each piece demands an irresistible voyeurism which compels you to look at the obsessively detailed scenes constructed by this artist.  The creation of these miniaturized night scenes of suburban streets, wooded camping sites, hotel rooms, kitchens, ocean vistas, and more would be an impressive accomplishment in and of itself.  But then there is the added magical element.

    Scenes from the House Dream: Airport Hotel 2 channel video, audio and mixed media installation, detail of model, 2004. Collection of the artist.

    Each piece comes alive with the movements of spectre-like people or objects filling these miniature worlds with ghostly illusions of activity.  Ghostly is an accurate description as these are projected images that appear partially transparent as they move within the pieces.  There is an inescapable cinematic quality to these darkened, night-scene “sets” which are reminiscent of such films and television such as Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Twin Peaks, the X-Files and for me, the Halloween scene from To Kill a Mockingbird. But there is something more going on here than filmic allusion.

    Scenes from the House Dream: Airstream, Single channel video, audio and mixed media installation, detail of model, 2003. Private collection.

    These dioramas feel like the work of an obsessed miniature hobbiest who has gone off his meds or perhaps one of Santa’s elfs – on special assignment.  Only in this case, Santa would be Hitchcock, David Lynch or Chris Carter.  But this also makes these works refreshingly accessible to just about anyone who isn’t afraid to stumble around in the dark to see them.  I encourage anyone to get there to see this show before it closes.   It’s on view at the MOCCA through December 31.

    MOCCA (Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art), 952 Queen Street West, Toronto


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