The art of illusion

For as long as he can remember, U of L alumnus David Hoffos (BFA '94) has been fascinated with magic, illusion, trickery and deception.

As a child, he was absorbed with movies like Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. – watching them as many as 20 to 30 times. Later in high school, Hoffos took in almost every Alfred Hitchhock movie at a local repertory theatre.

"I would pick these movies apart," recalls Hoffos. "It wasn't so much the storytelling that drew me in but the details of technique and craft, the special effects, the mechanics of suspense."

Today, as a nationally renowned artist, Hoffos has carried that fascination with motion picture magic into his practice.

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David Hoffos, at home with his unique cat.

His current exhibition titled David Hoffos: Scenes from the House Dream, recently on view at the National Gallery of Canada, combines low-tech ingenuity with old and new media to create vignettes where characters are caught in time and space. Taking up 5,000 sq. ft., it is comprised of 20 installations that Hoffos produced between 2003 and 2008.

"It's a rambling labyrinth of miniature dioramas and life-size projections that create a dreamlike space that viewers walk through," explains Hoffos. "I've created 3-D illusions and effects that don't require any special viewing apparatus, you can walk right up to them and experience the illusions – and even understand how they are created."

Using mirrors, television monitors and other basic devices, Hoffos brings seemingly ordinary scenes to life. In one, a ghostly child rides a bicycle up and down a suburban street, oblivious to the fireworks exploding in the sky. In another, a security guard paces an art gallery like a caged tiger. He checks his watch, plays with his keys, ties his shoes. Then there are other scenes where very little appears to be taking place, that is until you notice the curtains eerily blowing or a strange movement behind a crack in the wall.

"My work is all about this line between illusion and reality, between body and spirit, the physical and the non-physical," says Hoffos.

As the title of the exhibition suggests, Hoffos found inspiration for his work in a recurring dream he had about an interior, domestic space.

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C.P. Fail, 2008 Single-channel video, audio and mixed-media installation Photo by David Miller

"I didn't know this when I started the project, but a lot of people have this dream, of this space that changes over time in their lives. It often contains hidden spaces – places that represent the past, the present and the future."

And while Hoffos thought he was simply bringing that dream to life, he was surprised at what emerged.

"Now that it is complete, when I look at this labyrinthine experience, this dreamlike journey, it speaks to the modern conditions of anxiety, depression and addiction. These are things I was not consciously putting into the work, but now, when I go through it, I really feel this melancholy, this sense of waiting, and sense of sadness and nostalgia. I never would have guessed that these sensations would come out of what started as a dream about a house."

In the future, Hoffos sees his illusion techniques moving from the gallery to the stage – expanding to dance, theatre and even rock shows. And the possibility of pursuing a childhood dream to create a feature film always lingers in the background.

"Right now that project is still a fantasy," says Hoffos. "But a lot of my work has come from dreams, so who knows?"

For a look at SAM in a flipbook format, follow this link.