Gregory Michael Hernandez, who has a mind-blowing new show called “Flatland: A Collision of Architectures” at Emma Gray HQ, has the mind of physicist who can spatially reconfigure complex matter at will.
For his 2010 solo show at LAXART, the artist came up with an ingenious answer to the perennial art world problem of the white cube — that sterile, uniform space that has been the prevailing standard for showcasing works of art. Slicing off the corners and edges of a typical cube, Hernandez discovered a shape known as a truncated cuboctahedron (basically, a clunky, many-sided sphere, for us non-mathematically inclined lay folk). He decided to build a large cuboctahedron out of wood and recreate a specific desert landscape inside of it.
Having a longstanding fascination with abandoned homestead properties, Hernandez chose one in the California desert and took extensive photographs of its interior views. Then, using mathematical formulas provided by his engineer brother, he papered the inside walls of the cuboctahedron with these images in such a way as to create a perfect representation of the inside of the desert homestead, with all the perspectives worked out. Thus, if you stood at exactly the right spot inside the cuboctahedron, you'd see the inside of a squarish house. Using photography, sculpture and mathematics, the confining cube was magically fragmented, expanded and dislocated all at once.
When this show was happening, curator Emma Gray was just a few months away from opening her spunky experimental space, located in a second-floor attic in Culver City. With its narrow entrance giving way first to a tiny office area before opening onto a rather severe and compacted triangular exhibition gallery, EGHQ's eccentric configuration has always played a conspicuous role in the shows that it has hosted.
After seeing Hernandez's LAXART project, Gray was suitably intrigued, and asked him to do a site-specific intervention into EGHQ. As it turns out, the show will be the last for EGHQ in this particular locale before the concept moves on to become a pop-up endeavor. It's a fortuitous turn of events as the show is not only spectacularly beautiful, it's also the most rigorous conceptual engagement with the dimensions of a particular space in recent memory, making for a fantastic send-off for EGHQ into the next dimension, so to speak.
“Flatland” takes its title and inspiration from a classic nineteenth-century novel in which two-dimensional beings have life-changing encounters with objects from other dimensions, engendering radical thoughts of a fourth dimension. For this project, which is somewhat the opposite of what he did at LAXART, Hernandez first measured out the exact dimensions of EGHQ and constructed a simple skeletal representation of it using wood planks and studs. He then took this piece out to another designated homestead property in the desert, and merged it into the existing architecture.
Hernandez lived with this odd hybrid structure for a few days, sleeping in his pickup truck close by. He took extensive photographs of the views from inside the EGHQ replica.
Then, returning to Culver City, he set to work recreating the experience of the homestead inside the actual EGHQ. He erected a wood structure in the place where the homestead had intruded into EGHQ's dimensions. He painted EGHQ's walls to mimic the shadows and receding lines that he saw inside the homestead. And, in a nice kitschy touch, he painted a few desert scenes to act as windows outward from the gallery space.
The results can be quite disorienting and mystifying for all but the most adept spatial visualizers. An “x” marks the spot where you're supposed to stand in order to achieve a perfectly aligned view of the inside of the homestead. Here, it's particularly trippy to see two paintings line up as one when you move into a position where the crack created by EGHQ's entryway is closed to your eyes.
Intriguing views can be found anywhere you stand in the little gallery. Receding lines on one wall trick the eye into thinking it's gazing into infinity. Genre paintings engage in a charming conceptual dance with geometry. And standing on the other side of the wood structure effectively puts you outside of the homestead area, making you feel that you are looking inside even as you are, in fact, inside. The space is doubled and splintered in so many bizarre ways that your experience of it is genuinely shifted, and you often wonder where exactly you are — a desert of the mind, a gallery of the heart, or a lost homestead of the soul.
You have a little less than three weeks to see this show, as Emma Gray HQ will hold its regular hours through August 6, before it becomes open by appointment only through August 13.