Lost in the “Fun House”: Bill Will’s Hoffman Gallery exhibit

By Chester Brogan

When asked about what was motivating Bill Will while designing and producing the current exhibit at the Hoffman Gallery, curator Linda Tesner said: “He says he uses humor as a Trojan horse, to capture the viewer’s attention. Then, there is always some social or political message underneath the humor.”

The exhibit includes a room full of empty white dress shirts with black ties hanging and moving about by mechanisation. It includes: a large suspended wooden cage, a dim room full of faceless papier mache heads animated by slight horizontal movements and a speaker monotonously chirping yes or no at odd intervals, a wall of stove-top coffee makers turned upside down to resemble faces and chomping their lids up and down like molars, a distorting and divided mirror of the United States, a massive wagging golden foam finger and a mechanical representation of a firefight on an urban bridge. Despite apparent themes of a sort of emptiness, alienation, mechanisation or isolation which can be observed in the faceless heads or the empty shirts or the jaws of the stove-top coffee makers or the cage, Ms. Tesner told me that those things might not be on the front of Bill Will’s mind. Otherwise, we are left alone to decipher the cryptic humor of the pieces and excavate from that the deeper message. The more I think about the couple times I walked through the Fun House, the more it seems as if it is not the individual pieces themselves that carry the deeper messages of the exhibit, but rather the individuated detachment of the voyeur who walks through.

The Fun House is a truly enigmatic exhibit. Walking through a gate as if entering a carnival ride, one steps through the easement into a phantasmagorical scene. The ambient audio in the room, as well as a guided pathway and the oscillating pieces creates a very strange domain for the viewer. In my case, I followed the path fascinated with the uncanny mechanisms whirring around and left relatively baffled. The project in all respects gives the impression of an extremely developed and cohesive series of ideas.

Bill Will has been chewing on some of the themes in the exhibit for a good deal of time.

“Bill literally sent me an email on New Year’s Day 2014 and asked if I would have coffee with him so that he could run some exhibition ideas by me,” Tesner said. “It’s very much part of a curator’s job to avail oneself of these opportunities. We started having coffee every few months, as Bill developed an installation that would take up the whole gallery. It was an evolutionary process.”

The entire exhibit is extremely compelling and almost acts as one segmented yet singular piece. While it seems as though it might require a relatively devoted viewer to interpret the exhibit in as nuanced and developed a way as the Fun House deserves, the experience is strange enough to be very interesting and enjoyable for a quick walkthrough. Try to think about the pieces in different ways — from different perspectives and at different resolutions. Clearly the first interpretation which comes to mind is not necessarily going to hit the heart of the exhibit. With such an unorthodox and peculiar exhibit, one must try to interact with it in a different way than with a typical piece of art. Perhaps, the viewer herself is incorporated into the exhibit as she walks through. One must think in such a way to understand what the Fun House is attempting to communicate.

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