We Talked to the Archaeologist from the Future About His New Show

Daniel Arsham discusses his newest architecture-defying installation, ‘The Future Was Then.'

by Sophia Callahan
21 March 2016, 6:00pm

All images courtesy of Daniel Arsham and Galerie Perrotin

The artist and futurist Daniel Arsham's latest exhibition, The Future Was Then, is currently at Savannah College of Art and Design’s (SCAD) Pamela Elaine Poetter Gallery in Savannah, Georgia. This totally immersive installation encourages the viewer to enter a long and narrow space that allows them to move through various wall excavations and discover smaller enclosed areas in which they can view some of Arsham's past sculptures, figures that look as though they’re emerging from walls.

The torn down faux-concrete walls begin with a large rectangular hole and end with a figure-like shape. These wall sculptures juxtapose the emerging figures that are placed inside of each different space that these walls create. This balance of space being added or taken away adds to a tactile experience that strips the viewer of context and pushes her into Arsham's imagined world. This exhibition continues to explore themes of our place in space and time, and the human figure being exposed or engraved, that are present in much of Arsham’s work.

The Creators Project talked with this “archaeologist from the future” about his initial inspiration for this show, what experiencing the installation is like, and his thoughts on the future.

The Creators Project: What were some of the initial questions you asked  yourself when making this piece?

Daniel Arsham: This work has been something I have been thinking about doing for a long time. The work is really about an architectural transformation in large scale. The space at SCAD is 300 feet long and 15 feet wide, so when I got there I asked myself, "What kind of piece would work in such an unusual venue?" I went back into my notebooks and found a drawing for a work that would excavate holes into a series of walls. The idea started there.

In the wall extractions, how is removing the figure different that forming it, as you do in many of your other pieces?

There are two things this work does for me: First, it is a transformation of a perfect cube into the figure of a figure and it is a large scale shift. When you look through the cube you can think about architecture. Second, you see a silhouette of a figure but when you get to the other end, you realise the figure is 18 feet tall. It is an optical illusion and an architectural manipulation that was only possible in this kind of venue.

Do you think this installation bleeds into your Snarkitecture work?

There are always similarities in terms of tone and form between my work and the work I make with Snarkitecture. The difference is that the work with Snarkitecture always has a function.

What’s it like to walk through the various wall excavations and rooms?

It is a very unique experience and I was quite surprised the first time I walked through it competed. There is an illusion where it seems like there are multiple mirrors reflecting the images of the erosions in the walls. However, when you walk past you do not see your own reflection. A number of people had the same impression. It is quite a jarring feeling.

How do you think the experience of walking through these rooms affects viewing your figure work on the walls?

The series of walls created natural rooms that are around the size of a small gallery. When I was laying out the exhibition I realised that I could create small galleries in the space that you would not see when you enter. It is only as you walk through the space that you notice the other works.

How did the materiality of the walls inform this installation?

Architecture is made to feel solid. It is made to feel permanent. This is a quality that is imperative to the experience of architecture. Whenever I can disrupt that it is a good thing. I am able to provoke many different things with this kind of work.


The installation itself is progressive in the sense that one walks through various rooms and the shapes of the excavations change into something. Is this related to human progress?

This work for me is not about progress. It is about destruction and growth and where they are able to meet in the middle.

As the title of the show is The Future Was Then, how do you think perspective on the future changes? What is your perspective on the future now?

The future is a projection of what we think is lacking in our own time mixed with our hopes and fears about progress. I am fascinated with the future because of its ability to encapsulate so many different ideas. The present and the past can only be what they are, the future is open.

The Future Was Then is on view at the Pamela Elaine Poetter Gallery at SCAD until July 24th. See more of Daniel Arsham’s work on his website.


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