Daniel Arsham | Calm Before the Storm

Arsham’s exhibition at Galerie Perrotin in Hong Kong – his first ever in the region – is titled Future Archive and showcases glistening sculptures made from rubble and debris including shattered glass, volcanic ash, steel and crystal. 

A row of pay phones, a film reel, an old cockpit and other items, including life-sized sculptures of Arsham himself, are replicated as relics to be found in an imaginary future. 

“It’s taking something from the recent past and projecting it over the current moment into the future,” says Arsham, who is now based in New York. “In some ways you’re erasing the present.”

Arsham’s Future Archive exhibition also plays with architecture, another one of the multi-medium artist’s passions. Through curious interactions with the gallery’s wall surface, Arsham’s sculptures and installations create the illusion of reconstructing architectural structures into unusual and unnatural forms They wrinkle, ripple and breach the viewer’s concept of reality. 

“Architectural transformation is something I experienced in a very violent and fast way during the storm,” he says, perched on the bay windows of Galerie Perrotin and looking out as dusk sets in over the skyline. “A lot of the pieces I do that manipulate architecture do so in a much more quiet, contemplative, slow and peaceful way. 

Architecture is obviously a significant influence in your artwork, so much so that you founded Snarkitecture… what exactly is that? 

It’s a conceptual design and architecture practice that in many ways operates between art and architecture. This started because I was working on a project with Hedi Slimane. Whenever I’m doing work in a gallery or museum, like with what I’m doing for Future Archive, it’s very free. I’m able to do whatever I want. But when I’m working in a public space, or on a larger scale project, there are other considerations like building code that make things not always possible. Snarkitecture really started as a way to bring an architect into my studio and allow those larger gestures to happen, within building code, within these sets of rules and departments. 

Tell us about Future Archive… 

This show brings together different bodies of work from the last year and a half, I would say the link between all of the works is that I’m taking things that everyone knows and has an expectation about, and altering their perception of it. so in the case of the figure that appears to be concealed behind a wall, it’s a transformation of the surface of the architecture, making it act and feel, do something that it shouldn’t do. 

The two white pieces in here, the camera and the payphone, are part of a larger body of work that takes items of communication, such as phones cameras, from our recent past – things we don’t necessarily use anymore – and makes them appear as if they have been uncovered in some future archaeological dig. 

Part of this is through the erosion of the material or object and the other part is the transformation of the original into this new material. These pieces are cast in crystal, a material that has a relationship with time and geology. 

What do you think people will make out about this generation from what they do find in the future? 

For me it’s less about trying to predict and more of an invention, it’s an alternate story and in some way it’s a fantasy about our current moment and how it can be perceived. I’m less interested in saying, for instance, “oh, this thing is antiquated or outdated” and more interested in presenting an invented future. 

What’s the thrill in reinventing or reforming something that already exists?

I suppose that my job as an artist is to take people out of their every day experience, to transform their notions of the every day, their experiences and I do that by taking things that they already know and creating these very subtle shifts. Some of these pieces are so quiet you could almost walk into a room and not necessarily notice they were there.  They have this kind of uncanny power about them that is provocative in a darker way than the pieces look on first inspection.

Did you have a pretty wild imagination as a kid? 

I was very interested in photography as a child, specifically black and white photography. That, to me, was art. 

You’ve worked with a lot of mediums is there anything you particularly enjoy? 

It’s always the newest one that’s the most fun.

And what would that be right now? 

Film. I’ve been working on a film for the last year that will premier at Art Basel Miami Beach. This is a film that creates takes one of these objects and follows the discovery of it in a potential future and creating a narrative around that. I was able to work with some amazing collaborators on this, as film is a medium that you’re not able to do by yourself in many ways.