Time and space come to halt at High Museum

Daniel Arsham’s “Hourglass” exhibit, submitted by Blythe Terry
A light emits from the purple sports ball cavern in Arsham’s installation. The question of the origin of the many idiosyncratic objects becomes the quest of the viewer.

Blythe Terry, Staff Writer

Installation art pieces are famous for their ability to alter a viewer’s outlook on life. This type of art transforms indoor spaces in some way or another, reconstructing it in a way that is out of the ordinary. This month, students now have the ability to experience an exhibition for themselves, less than an hour away from Starr’s Mill.

Daniel Arsham’s “Hourglass” exhibition, a continuation of the artist’s “Fictional Archaeologies” series, is currently showing at the High Museum in Atlanta until May 27th. The initial prospect is seemingly simple: our everyday objects juxtaposed into an excavation site, a place where the scientists of the future look upon in befuddlement and fascination. That being said, the utter surrealism and potency of atmosphere lends itself to a much more complex interpretation.

The surreal use of color, the oppressive audio, and the trapped figures are so dream-like that it’s almost as if time has been deconstructed entirely. ”

— Staff Writer Blythe Terry

Museumgoers begin on the lower floor of the exhibit, in a sunlit room filled with over-sized, strategically placed hourglasses. Each stands on a wooden base and is filled with grey, white, or blue sand. Inside is an object, of corresponding hue, as if having been buried a century. In white are rickety cameras. In grey are hands and faces. In the center of the room, beneath an avalanche of neon blue dust, lies a powdery white keyboard, encrusted with clear gemstones. The familiar and organic qualities present are juxtaposed with a clinical, orderly surrounding, and the effect is dream-like.

Each segment of the room can be examined extensively. Every outline and detail imbues a scientific curiosity in the viewer. Onlookers are discouraged from touching the art, as you might think, and thus through this limit of the senses the objects carry with them a new permanence. They become artifacts rather than mere oddities.

Then the viewer ascends a floor to the next two segments of the exhibit. The space is now dimly lit. A voice begins to narrate, recalling the story of this excavation, saying: “We attempted to decode these objects, but attempt to decode was all we could do.” This interplay of audio is crucial, and sets a clear direction for interpretation.

The viewer soon approaches an opening in the wall. They are advised politely via a sign that the maximum capacity in this segment is eight persons. The viewer is in all likelihood slightly wary of this fact but proceeds anyhow. It’s a cavern, an opening in the wall of the museum, with surroundings constructed purely from purple sports balls. While initially this grotto may be more reminiscent of somewhere one might hide during a laser tag game rather than an otherworldly archaeological site, the effect is nevertheless captivating.

There’s a bit of a winding path, and then a small, circular space. A single Spalding brand basketball is illuminated on a stand, as if it’s a lamp. Next to it is a mirror, where the viewer is reflected in a blurry haze. The foamy, circular stalactites line the structure, running up the ceiling, and that’s where the cavern truly becomes ancient. It creates a mild claustrophobia, and one feels as though the entire formation may collapse, and as if flicks of purple dust may start raining down at any moment.

Of course, it doesn’t, and the basketballs, volleyballs, and tennis balls continue in their stillness, as they seemingly must have for a millennium, at least.

The viewer then exits back out of the cavern the way they came, just outside, where a Japanese garden has been built. It’s remarkably blue. Blue wooden ramps on either side guide the museum goer. There is a garden filled with constellations of sparkling blue sands, and behind it the most dainty blue house.

The sand is mesmerizing, and it’s all one can do not to press one’s feet into it, or scoop some into a vial for safekeeping. Two pure white trees sprout from the dry garden. A blue rake lies in the corner. The interior of the traditional Japanese home is revealed by a large open circle. Inside, a white statue of a woman is sitting on the matted floor. She’s dressed in modern clothing, but parts of her body are decaying. Behind her is a pure white gown, and at her side is a camera of the same color.

This scene can also be viewed from a different angle. There’s a small crack in the wall of the house, and looking from this vantage point changes the dynamic, the viewer becoming a spy on the woman. This opening is also suggestive of a common theme within Japanese domestic architecture, impermanence. Rooms and walls are often interchangeable, thus the opening in the wall.

This idea of impermanence, of nothing lasting, may seem to contradict the theme of archaeology carried throughout the exhibit. The story of the excavation implies that future scientists are looking back to our present, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that time is nonlinear. Except, of course, when you experience the exhibit in its entirety. The surreal use of color, the oppressive audio, and the trapped figures are so dream-like that it’s almost as if time has been deconstructed entirely. The narrator even references this himself, explaining that the objects were just objects, with no time or context attached to them.

All of this culminates in something captivating to the viewer. Arsham’s work has staying power, lingering on the mind of the museum goer. This exhibit is a must-see for anyone wishing to experience a shift in perspective and witness awe-inspiring artwork.