The mystery spot, also known as a “gravity hill,” is a uniquely American scam. They are (supposed) sites of gravitational anomaly, where visitors will feel queasy, scared, and disturbed. In reality, they’re tourist attractions—off-kilter structures that play tricks on your brain and inner ear. You’ll find quite a few of them in California, where artist Julian Hoeber lives and works.
In 2011, Hoeber designed and built his own mystery spot at L.A.’s Hammer Museum. The show, aptly called Demon Hill, was attended by a record-breaking 17,000 people, confirming our long-time suspicion that people love being freaked out by art. This week, Hoeber has installed a new mystery spot, DH#2, in the Chelsea galleries of Harris Lieberman. The installation forms the backbone of a larger show of his paintings and sculpture.
Almost too big to fit inside Harris Lieberman’s gallery, DH#2 sits like a shipping container that was dropped at a bad angle. Metal studs support the twisting plywood box, which you enter at ground level. Once you’re inside, your sense of up and down slides away—it’s hard to remember where the “actual” ground is, below you. One wall protrudes like it’s being folded inward in a diamond shape, and a mirror on the opposite wall reflects the form. Everything is made out of plywood, including a chair that only makes the effect worse, and the wood’s grainy patterns somehow add to the trippy-ness. Ironically, even though it’s obvious there’s nothing supernatural going on here, it’s hard not to feel uneasy.
Hoeber is working in the tradition of Light and Space art, cut with a strong dose of horror-film camp. In a series from 2008, he made bronze casts of his face and then riddled them with bullets from a semi-automatic weapon. In 2001, he staged bloody portraits of his dead friends. Early drawings show beautifully gruesome murders and stabbings. On the other hand, if you strip the Americana context away from Demon Hill, you’re left with something closely related to artists like Robert Irwin or even James Turrell.
The two cultures may seem totally at odds, as if Turrell and Quentin Tarantino found themselves locked in a room together. But both movements emerged from Southern California at roughly the same time, and in a way, they do the same thing, by pushing the limits of what our brains—and eyes—are capable of accepting.
Julian Hoeber at Harris Lieberman is on view until October 20th.