Travel across the US and you might encounter a type of roadside attraction known as a Gravitational Mystery Spot. It features an off-kilter structure which induces vertigo or disorientation that is generally attributed, by roadside hucksters, to either some gravitational anomaly or a paranormal phenomenon. The real source of the effect, however, lies in a simple architectural trick: the room is tilted along two different axes and so – even as we use visual cues to compensate for the tilt – our inner ear cannot effectively account for it, and so visitors appear to be standing at an impossible angle relative to the floor.
Julian Hoeber’s installation DH#2 (2012) – the second in a series that began with Demon Hill at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, in 2010 – employs this simple trick, while also exposing it. A room is neatly built out of plywood and aluminium studs, lit with rows of fluorescent lights and situated in the middle of the gallery. Even, however, with its eccentric cant fully exposed, the room’s effects are still pronounced. Given this, its structural scrupulousness is akin to a magician declaring that he has nothing up his sleeve before performing some sleight-of-hand.
But this ‘trick’ is impressive. Upon entering, I initially felt a little light-headed, wobbly on my feet, and possessed with the overwhelming sensation that the room itself – already at a steep angle – might topple over. The pyramid thrusting out from one side of the room (in lieu of a fourth conventionally flat wall) seemed to further evoke a jarring sense of space being punctured or collapsing.
The effects dissipated after some time. My second visit was disappointing compared to the first one. Perhaps this was due to a thorough circumnavigation of the chamber itself. Not that the effects disappeared entirely, just that it reminded me of waiting for psychedelics to kick in, of wondering: ‘Am I feeling something or not?’ Most visitors I observed spent about five minutes in DH#2, until its effects faded. Perhaps there is no reason to spend much longer, except that it seems to me that a work of art that frustrates rather than rewards prolonged contemplation would appear to have a short shelf-life.
However, extended consideration gave way to a different category of experience altogether. After spending some time in the room, the visceral physical sensations ceded to a social experience. The tight confines of the space – along with the intensity (and, commonly, the effusive responses) of entering the space – facilitated conversation with strangers. Other people’s experiences dovetailed with mine; after the initial woozy thrill subsided, most visitors seemed to calm down, take note of the surreal and impossible seeming angle at which everyone else was tilted and then, generally, take a few pictures. One surprise was that, after getting my sea – or rather ‘Mystery Spot’ – legs, re-entry into the mundane world of horizontal floors felt a bit like getting off of a boat. This secondary destabilization was exacerbated by Hoeber’s dizzying black and white-striped Op art-type paintings (XC Schematic 005, XC Schematic 006 and XC Schematic 007, 2012), all of which were unavoidably encountered immediately upon exiting DH#2.
A separate room contained more works that explored the tension between conceptual rigour and the unruliness of our body’s sensory experience. These included ziggurat-like relief sculptures including one with a cast of a face tucked inside and partially visible through a narrow slot. Similarly, the gouged painterly surfaces of Execution Changes #58 (CS, Q1, CJ, DC, Q2, CJ, LC, Q3, CJ, DC, Q4, CJ, LC) (2012) seem deliberately absurd given the determined-sounding composition defined by this work’s title. These works, along with DH#2, stake out the outer limits of the disconnect between mind and body; an apt metaphor for the experience of art in general.