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Daniel Arsham Built a Blue Zen Garden in Atlanta

A colorful new series of works comes to the High Museum of Art.
Images taken by Guillaume Ziccarelli.

Last September, the artist Daniel Arsham starred in a documentary wherein he detailed the experience of seeing color for the first time, using special glasses that alleviate his red-green color blindness. The revelatory moment inspired him to apply color to his previously monochrome Future Relic sculpture series, casts of everyday objects like cameras and guitars as decaying relics.

"Even though I'm able to see a wider range of color with these lenses, it's not like I'm making rainbows," says Arsham, suggesting that his use of blue and purple on jackets and sports equipment at Galerie Perrotin's "Circa 2345" last fall was ultimately a modest decision.


Arsham innovates in his use of materials, inventing impressive new processes to add crystalline calcite, amethyst, and steel to the eroding details of his sculptural casts, which are typically made of plaster, cement, volcanic ash, sand, and glass. "The foundation of the techniques I use is well-established within art history, but the materials I use are not traditionally used in those ways," he explains.

Arsham's new exhibition, open now through May 21, 2017 at Atlanta's High Museum of Art, maintains these aesthetic developments with the first-time additions of performers and audio narration. Titled Hourglass, the two-floor exhibition consists of three installations: a traditional Japanese Zen garden with blue sand, a purple amethyst cavern of sports equipment, and a set of rotatable hourglasses filled with crystals that pour over Future Relics.

"I've been thinking about archaeology a lot over the last ten years in relation to my work," says Arsham. "This idea of continual burial and uncovering is where I'm trying to get with the individual pieces."

For audio heard throughout the first-floor hourglass installation, Arsham recorded a mystified child reciting a monologue about the discovery of these unrecognizable artifacts. Periodically, a performer appears to rotate the hourglasses.

On the second floor, the voice of an adult narrator describes the zen garden, as if to be the more knowledgeable, grown-up version of the child. Another performer rakes the garden, who Arsham describes as "a scholar or hermit in the future."


"When you get upstairs, you realize that the whole space itself is a continual cycle of time, this hourglass," says Arsham. "This is my first venture and experiment in using this kind of dialogue and narration over an exhibition, but they're more so poetic monologues."

The zen garden, as a new reference for Arsham, speaks deeply to this new expression of time. "One of the most striking things about spending time in Kyoto and the south of Japan is that there are so many temples that have remained almost exactly the same for decades," he says. "The gardens, the position of the rocks, and the raking of the sand has occurred for hundreds of years, unchanged, every single day. These buildings, although they feel like they're in the present moment for us, essentially cross time."

"There are no technological interventions in the temples," Arsham adds. "The only change is the people."

Click here to learn more about Daniel Arsham's Hourglass at the High Museum of Art Atlanta.


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