The Intellection of Lady Spider House
Exhibition by Geoffrey Farmer
Works by Valerie Blass, Julia Feyrer, Hadley + Maxwell, David Hoffos, Brian Jungen Tiziana La Melia, Gareth Moore, Hannah Rickards, Judy Radul and Ron Tran
Art Gallery of Alberta (2 Sir Winston Churchill Square)
Runs until Jan. 14, 2014
$8.50 for students, free for AGA Members
Whether you’re interested in the quick thrills of obvious horror or the sublime effects of critical dissection, The Intellection of Lady Spider House won’t disappoint. The haunted house-inspired installation, situated on the third floor of the Art Gallery of Alberta, is a collaborative work between Vancouver-based artist Geoffrey Farmer and 11 others personally invited by him to participate, melding together the trappings of a house of horrors with a few surprises.
Hadley + Maxwell, a Berlin-based installation art duo, are two of the many contributors from Farmer’s eerie carnival exhibition. While collaboration is nothing new for the pair, they say working with a large group under Farmer’s meticulous and eccentric eye has been a liberating experience.
“A lot of the time we approach work feeling that we need to address or produce a kind of context or a housing for the work, and in this case, that was already done (through) the way that Geoffrey has been working with it,” Hadley says.
“In a sense, the ground was already laid and we were creating figures to enter into the space. We felt kind of free to be able to fantasize and create these figures in response to something … It was playful in that way.”
This playfulness is one of the more discreet points of focus for the interactive exhibit, though it’s entombed in sinister-seeming details. From a crawlable fireplace to an Alice in Wonderland sized door that leads to deeper parts of the labyrinth, both Hadley and Maxwell refer to the Intellection of Lady Spider House as an exhibit that will be a personal experience for everyone who visits it.
“It’s this sense of the uncanny. That things are familiar and then shifted,” Hadley says. “In a way, (it’s) the mapping of the inside of Geoffrey Farmer’s head, but it’s shifted — and when I’m in it, it’s actually the mapping of my own psyche.”
“It’s like the saloon in the Poltergeist movie when all the objects start to swirl in the room,” Maxwell adds.
The deeper you delve into the exhibit, the more likely you are to encounter elements that become hauntingly human, such as a grass covered figure that may or may not be a thoughtful man, or eerie sculptures and projections that hang over your head long after you’ve left the exhibit. The black foil casts crafted by Hadley + Maxwell evoke a fear of the seemingly empty space, followed by a heightened feeling of joy that grows out of the realization that you’ve encountered something more than the expected darkness. The haunted house as a whole transforms in this way, shifting from sinister to sanguine from one moment to the next. According to the AGA’s executive director Catherine Crowley, it’s the exhibit’s experimental nature that made it such a major draw.
“(Geoffrey) said he’s always wanted to make a haunted house in the gallery, so I said ‘let’s do it,’ ” she explains. “This idea of creating a web and gathering things together and artists together and objects together into something that becomes a self-sustaining structure of its own — I think that’s what the web of the spider house is like.”
For those used to more traditional styles of artwork, the darkness of Lady Spider House with its neon-lit dollar signs and the desolate projection of a woman on the wall may seem misplaced. But Crowley considers the jarring nature of the exhibit an important addition to the gallery with aims to keep a counterbalance to what viewers might expect to find.
“For some people, art exists within its traditions of beauty, and for other people, art is a critical thinking process and a reflection of society,” she says. “So on one hand, you have British water colours, which would be one much more traditional form, and then on the other hand, you have Lady Spider House, which is a very different and unique contemporary form.”