Studio Visit

By Joanne McNiell

Julian Hoeber, Demon Hill (2010)
Mixed media installation. Blum & Poe/ Hammer Projects

Artist Julian Hoeber has worked with painting, sculpture, film, installation, and other media. He’s best known a free-standing sculpture inspired by roadside “mystery houses,” which showed at the Hammer Museum in 2010, and more recently Harris Lieberman in New York City. Recently I caught up with him in his studio, as he was completing several upcoming projects:

The mystery house project, Demon Hill, it’s origins are when I moved out to Los Angeles I drove out and I was reading a book on roadside attractions. i went to this place that claimed to have a geological anomaly where gravity doesn’t work. I was blown away by how much it affected me. By how much the experience was very real. But of course, I also knew that there was some hoax and I couldn’t figure out what it was. It struck in my craw. And then I moved to Los Angeles and I started learning about, what at that time quite an obscure history, light and space artists. And seeing some connection between what they were doing and the mystery house. This idea of phenomenon through architecture and altered sense of space. It stuck in my head for a long time and I always wanted to try to do it. I think I stumbled on something on the internet about how the actual architectural trick works and it’s very simple. Then I was thinking, wouldn’t it be great to do a mobile mystery spot that you could put on the back of a flatbed truck and take it to Marfa? And set it up there and just lay claim to supernatural phenomena that was producing effects that would resonate with minimalism and earth works.  And that’s where it begins. In fact the name Demon Hill sounds like a roadside attraction, but it’s also a pun on the name “de Menil,” which is the family that sponsored all of the major earth works and founded the DIA Foundation. So it was always a joke on both  minimalist and phenomenological and earth work history in late modernism and also on this roadside attraction.

In the design of furniture and architectural works, the computer and the technological apparatus is a tool that creates a tremendous ease. Things can be done much more quickly. It’s funny because even with this really advanced technology it is still, on many levels, relying on cartesian geometry. And when you look at these 8-bit graphics, these older computer graphics trying to make curves out of a series of stepped right angles almost at a point and being able to go to that technology that is now becoming obsolete. And in it’s obselescence it starts becoming a signifier of technology more than one we actually use. For me that is a place where I could get a little traction and bring it out of the digital rehlm and into the real world, and make it rub up against other older technologies, in some ways like basic woodworking. And carpentry is always easier with right-angles anyway. So marrying those technological problems of 8-bit graphics and that it’s easier to use a saw cutting at a right angle than at a curve was always a way to combine those things to get to an impression of the curvilinear, that also carries the qualities of both of these obsolete technologies. 

…My disposition drives me toward history in general, so art school, in particular grad school, was productive for me because of an exposure to a lot of obscure histories that are outside the master narrative, of the 20th century. And exposed me to things that I had no idea existed otherwise. I suppose I could have come across them. But having people who had really become the experts in those histories coming to my studio and saying, “Oh you should look at this that and this other thing.” Having Mike Kelley come and tell me, which examples of performance art or art that works around the artist’s body as its medium… there’s no way you’re going to accrue that knowledge by yourself, in a couple years. For me, it was really advantageous to build a deep base of references and resources. And the other thing was, to be surrounded by people who are constantly challenging everything single thing you did, and forcing you to doubt it. So by the end, the only thing that’s left is stuff that no amount of doubt can erase.

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