Q & A with EAM Chief Curator Staci Boris about the new exhibition "David Wallace Haskins: Presence"

Find out more about David Wallace Haskins' first solo show below!

What was the impetus for the new exhibition?

I met David Haskins last March (2015), not even a year ago, when he first introduced me to his work. This led to David’s remarkable Skycube sculpture debuting at the Museum last summer. Through our myriad conversations and the exhibition process, it became clear that producing one work, even one as monumental as the Skycube, wouldn’t be enough. David’s vision for future projects was so compelling that we offered him the opportunity to realize these installations with a solo exhibition at Elmhurst Art Museum.  David’s work with light, space, time and sound is accessible, fun, challenging and profound all at the same time, and it is a pleasure to work with such a hard-working, generous and innovative artist who happens to live and work right here in Elmhurst.  

What does David mean when he talks about the process of reorientation by way of disorientation?

David’s goal is to provide encounters that lead to new ways of seeing.  “Defamiliarizing the familiar” or “reorientation by way of disorientation” is the strategy he uses to slow us down and to provide a place where we can shed our preconceived notions of the world, and in doing so, have a pure and profound experience that alters our perception, one that in his words, allows us to “enter into a kind of beholding that transcends language and thought.”   That is a fancy way of saying that our language, our prejudices, our history gets in the way of seeing what’s right in front of us, the here and now.  David’s sculptures and installations invite people to move outside of the typical way they make sense of the world into a sort of gentle vertigo or uncertainty that he hopes will ultimately help them effectively navigate their interior and exterior worlds. David has likened it 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.

Does the process intend to “untrain” the viewer in some way so as to offer new insight?

Yes. All of David’s works are time-based. They reward visitors who slow down and spend time experiencing the journey of each work.  What you see at first often changes and becomes something else. These installations work against our automatic, overlearned and trained responses to things.  Perhaps moving through this process will provide insight as to how one can move through life in a more fluid and open manner.

How is this process played out in the Soundcube installation?

Soundcube provides visitors with the opportunity to experience the physicality or presence of sound as they would any other object in space.  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.”

What are the new site-specific installations guests will experience in Presence?

Well, I don’t want to give them all away.  Other than Soundcube and Skycube, there will be Light Seeing Light, an interactive light sculpture where visitors can manipulate light as a physical object in mid-air, which is made without the aid of computers or animation. There is the large-scale Void Room 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.

How will the Museum’s space and the exhibition’s layout facilitate the disorientation that Haskins hopes to achieve with this new show?

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, and the gallery space will be modified accordingly.  Visitors will experience a sort of journey from physical presence to infinite space and from interior to exterior perception, with Skycube as the culmination.