Patrick Putze, Book of the Dead, 2005

Hills Snyder’s Book of the Dead – A Frightful Delight
by Patrick G. PutzeOriginally published in Voices of Art Magazine – Volume 13 No. 2

Okay, so I admit it I’m still kind of afraid of the dark and Hills Snyder sort of scared the shit out of me—but only briefly.  Once I embraced or absolved my fears, I was ready for the Book of the Dead, Snyder’s new installation at ArtPace San Antonio.  New Works 05.2, exhibits by the three recent artists-in- residence is showing from July 7th through September 11th. 

Concentrating on ideas concerning the sublime, life, death, and all the rest, the chaotic re-design of the interior architecture of the gallery leads the participant through various spaces on a journey based on experiences, anticipation, sensation, perplexity, ordeal, and reflection.

While at the opening for the show, several people expressed to me that the exhibit should NOT be seen alone.  Long lines forced me to do just this the very next day.

Emerging into Snyder’s first space—which is a pitch-black place of indiscernible dimensions—you are forced to take a seat…literally.  A glowing button invites me to recline, relax, and observe a single circular window of video depicting motions of clouds across a bright blue sky.  An overwhelming floating sensation ensues.  Resting in the space alone with no distractions causes one to slow down to a snail-like, meditative pace.  The subject matter switches to the participant instead of the ‘gallery’ they inhabit.

Removing ones self from the comfort of the leather recliner and therefore releasing the psyche from the methodic deliberation of the ever changing sky, a new portal leads to a chair of a different flavor.  Glowing orange in the black light of another indefinite space, this chair is much more ominous than the previous and provides a sense of melancholy or perhaps notions of fight or flight.  The word ‘Stay,’ adjacent to the hard acrylic orange ‘electric’ chair instills confusion in concert with feelings of discomfort.

Once I’ve decided that enough is enough and find the only escape route, more darkness awaits in the form of maze-like unlit ambiguous hallways.  Feeling your way through the empty dark space leads to perhaps panic and high tension or for those faint at heart, an air of old fun-house environment may cause a giggle.  No laughter here though as I scramble for a getaway and am finally rewarded with a third oval shaped portal aglow with a reddish-orange light.

Stuck in a half-in-half-out exit /entrance, I contemplate the new space and draw some comfort from the fact that there is a couch similar to the one in my aunt and uncles house from my Chicago childhood.  I enter and there are no less than eight different mish-matched couches and comfy chairs.  The musty smell of attic permeates.  Paintings, stenciled quotes, and mirrors adorn the walls.  End tables with side lamps on them illuminate the room.  I’m reminded of the interior waiting room of purgatory in Beetleguise.  I look around, read the quotes of serial killers and anecdotal poets.  “I used to be a meteor, but now I’m a vegetarian,” and “Sometimes the winner comes before the fall” play with words and give an air of humor to the space while I still maintain thought processes from earlier. 

The room is indeed comforting and familiar but once the charm wears off and it is time to leave, I’m left with still another decision to make.  Stay comfortable or take a risk and see what’s behind door number one-and-only.  A wood slab akin to those found on sheds and out-houses.  Up to the challenge, I open the door only to come face to face with a larger white door exclaiming in large print—“Don’t be a pussy!”  Not one to be called names, I open the door and it is indeed the exit from the installation. 

Hills Snyder has done an exceptional job of making his ArtPace San Antonio exhibit about higher concepts and not an ego boosting or mundane display full of over used imagery or something so abstract as to be indigestible or unattainable by the viewer.  The participant becomes the subject and the spaces the vehicle.  The success of the show is not only dependant upon intellect and patience but on the abilities of introspection and investigation of the self.  Using ambiguous space mixed with simple devices which lead to feelings of content or contempt, Snyder makes you consider the important things and reflect on life itself.  Hats off to Snyder for a thrill ride with a lesson in mortality.  I only wonder what I missed by experiencing it alone.  Which page was mine?


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