"The events you are about to witness happened a long time ago," declaimed Perry Hoberman in his three-dimensional performance piece, "Dead Space Living Rooms," which the audience watched through special glasses, "but they're still happening." Cinematic illusion and reality were at the heart of the work as Hoberman attempted to make the narratives of grade B horror films serve as deconstructive metaphors for the ways in which we perceive film images, with the photographic medium conceived of as a symbolic afterlife.
Presented in conjunction with the inaugural TV Generations exhibit at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions' new space, Hoberman's thoroughly post modern work demonstrated popular culture's potential as fertile ground for the contemporary artist to cultivate. The virtue of this work was that it expressed metaphor through sensory display; its limitation lay in its philosophical diffusion.
Opening Hoberman's set was a black-and-white three-dimensional slide show with sound, titled "Out of the Picture" which was originally presented in installation form at Artists' Space in New York in 1983. Subtitled "Return of the Invisible Man," this brief presentation was a concrete enumeration of some of the fundamental parameters of spatial perception, with H.G. Wells' famous novel taken as a starting point.
"Dead Space/Living Rooms," considerably more ambitious than "Out of the Picture," combined live narration and gesture with its audio-visual display. Hoberman began with a brief introduction: "Come with us and meet those who live in dead space." He very quickly summarized the story lines of the four films which form the aesthetic basis for his piece: The Walking Dead, a minor 1936 opus in which Boris Karloff plays an executed killer brought back to life; Mad Love, in which the hands of a murderer are grafted onto a pianist: The 4-D Man, a post-atomic tale of a man who can penetrate matter; and D.O.A, a forties film noir in which a fatally poisoned Edmund O'Brien seeks his own killer. Death-in-life and transmutation are key elements in all the films.
Sitting in front of a three-dimensional image of a massive apartment building, Hoberman invoked a temporal unity as he indicated the rooms where certain actions take place. Via three- and four-step animation, isolated scenes from the four films were given motion. Using an opaque projector, Hoberman projected demythifying puns over the cinematic images. Upon a scene depicting Boris Karloff's electrocution he overlaid "He was a conductor." Hoberman's central paradox was addressed as he inscribed "Not Dead, Not Alive" over a realistic three-dimensional photograph of mannequins in a store window.
A long sequence then proceeded in which dialog from the films was read at random as a complex layering of two- and three-dimensional, kinetic and static, color and black-and-white images took place. Hoberman stepped behind the reflective screen and became himself as insubstantial as the cinematic images with red and blue shadows of his actions projected on the side walls. A central image recurred throughout the piece--a three-dimensional image of a room with several walls upon which two-dimensional images were projected. By layerings of visuals such as this, Hoberman generated his metaphor of paradox. Three-dimensionality is to two -dimensionality, for example, as life is to death, or as kinesis to stasis. Persistence of vision itself, the principle by which we perceive motion pictures, is a form of afterlife.
There were moments when the visuals accurately reinforced the metaphor. At other times the paradox remained unexpressed. The piece closed with an ambivalent gesture: the artist lapsed into silence, sat down and became a spectator himself.
First published April 19, 1986 in ARTWEEK