By Dawn Watson
Architecture is more than the study of blueprints and building specs for Daniel Arsham. It’s a living, breathing thing to be experienced. It’s art.
Creating site-specific sculpture directly relating to the space in which it’s erected, the artist’s aim is to transform the entire area into a visceral, yet playful, interaction with the viewer.
“When we think about architecture, it’s the most lasting gesture we can make as human beings—art too, I suppose, although one could argue that architecture is the most visible and present,” says Arsham. “Therefore its disruption can be very uncanny and powerful, and this is where I’m trying to allow the work to reside, a place where people are a little bit shaken by the disruption of the familiar and the everyday.”
He is now working to install his newest piece, “The Formless Figure,” made of fiberglass, metal and plaster, at the Watermill Center. Located in the Water Mill-based artistic laboratory’s main rehearsal studio, the “draped figure, minus the figure,” according to exhibit curator Daneyal Mahmood, will be on view starting Saturday, April 4.
“The form, generated through negative space, looks like a plaster form coming through the wall,” he said during a telephone interview on Monday morning. “Imagine if, as when you were a child, you put a sheet over your head like you were pretending to be a ghost.”
The slightly larger than life-size sculpture, blends directly into the wall, creating an interaction between the work and the building, said Watermill Center special events manager Elise Herget during Monday’s interview with Mr. Mahmood. “It shows, as Daniel’s work often does, of how we walk into a space every single day without noticing our own interaction with that space. What he’s done is to mold or melt that space around you. It’s an amazing duo.”
Arsham, a growing name on the contemporary art circuit, is well known for his work in “Snarkitecture,” a collaborative and experimental artistic expression that he and co-creator Alex Mustonen dreamed up. The name pays homage to the Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Hunting of The Snark,” which describes an “impossible voyage of an improbable crew to find an inconceivable creature.”
“Snarkitecture investigates the unknown within architecture – the indefinable moments created by manipulating and reinterpreting existing materials, structures and programs to spectacular effect,” says Arsham. “Snarkitecture makes architecture perform the unexpected.”
The work is “simply hypnotic,” said Mr. Mahmood, who described himself as a big fan. One of the things he loves most, he said, is that it’s instantly accessible to everyone, from children to art critics. “Whether you have a vocabulary about contemporary art or not, Daniel resonates with everybody.”
The busy artist is in high demand as of late. He’s currently collaborating on a film project with Watermill Founder Robert Wilson, who says he appreciates the arresting quality to Arsham’s work.
“I see in Daniel’s work something very personal, a unique visual vocabulary,” he said. “Through sculpture, drawing and performance, Arsham challenges our perceptions of physical space in order to make architecture perform the improbable. The surfaces of walls appear to melt, erode and ripple. Animals contemplate the emergence of floating shapes in nature. Sculptures from antiquity are infused with rigid, geometric forms.”
The New York-based artist recently completed a project with musician and producer Pharrell Williams. For that collaboration, Arsham recreated Williams’s first keyboard, presented as a relic, in volcanic ash. He’s also recently worked with actor James Franco on a “The Future Relic” film series based on his casts everyday objects—such as eroding laptops, cell phones, and cameras—made to resemble archaeological finds made from volcanic ash and plaster.
Current and upcoming exhibitions include:” A Special Project for Leica” at the Leica Gallery in Los Angeles, “Remember the Future” at the CAC in Cincinatti, and solo exhibits at Galerie Perrotin in Manhattan in November and at SCAD in Savannah next spring. Additionally, Arsham’s work has been shown at MoMA PS1 in New York, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami, The Athens Bienniale in Greece, The New Museum In New York, Mills College Art Museum in California and Carré d’Art de Nîmes in France.
“The Formless Figure” will open with a public reception at the Watermill Center on Saturday, April 4, from 4 to 6 p.m. Arsham will give an artist’s talk at Watermill on June 6 at 4 p.m. For more information, visit watermillcenter.org