In “Haikus & Doo-Dahs, Tiny to Titan,” Dewane Hughes’s exhibition of large-scale steel sculptures and maquettes on view at the Dallas Farmer’s Market, the Texas-based sculptor provides the viewer with a new perception of the market and its space. Hughes’s use of steel, an industrial material, highlights the Market’s unique status as a space devoted to the fruits of agricultural labor that happens to be situated in the midst of one of the largest urban areas in Texas. The Market itself functions as a kind of in-between space as it operates as a zone between industry and agriculture, metropolis and farmland.
The particular character of the Market’s site is significant because, for Hughes, the experience of art occurs in the existential space that exists between the viewer and the sculpture. This dynamic space spans both interior and exterior as seven maquettes and two floor pieces are installed in the Harvest Lofts lobby while five large-scale works are dispersed throughout the Market’s grounds. As a result, Hughes presents viewers with multiple opportunities to have authentic, meaningful visual and somatic encounters with various works of differing sizes that are all united by the common element of steel. Through their formal properties and their installation throughout a bustling outdoor marketplace and a stylish indoor space the sculptures provoke active, engaged responses rather than mere passive appreciation from the viewers.
Hughes is fascinated by language and the nature of communication and finds particular inspiration in the theories of Marshall McLuhan and Noam Chomsky and the writings of the Beat Poets, including Allen Ginsburg, Lawrence Ferglinghetti, and Herbet Hunke. Indeed, in a way, Hughes’s works function like visual poetry and he invokes this literary form in both the exhibition’s title and in the title of one of the outdoor works, Haiku 3.0. This work which was, perhaps, inspired by Jack Kerouac’s innovative adaptations of the genre, visually reinterprets haiku’s focus on evocative images and the associations between them. Like its literary counterpart, Haiku 3.0 suggests meaning to the viewer rather than overtly describing it. The precise arrangement of the steel forms and the careful selection of the colors—pale blue and yellow in this case—is as significant to Hughes’s message as the viewer’s apperception that the subjective conditions of his or her respective reality result in a particular experience of the work.
The word “doo-dah” of the exhibition title and the outdoor work, Doo-Dah 2.0, attests to both the universality and the relativity of language as it simultaneously signifies everything and nothing, the specific and the unnamed. Like the word that comprises part of its title, Doo-Dah 2.0 is open to interpretation. In order to infer the work’s signification, the viewer is required to have a visually and physically meaningful encounter with the work, to have a substantive conversation with it. For Hughes, neither the site, nor the work, nor the viewer is a self-sufficient, passive entity. Instead, the existential space that exists between the art and the viewer is the ultimate subject of the exhibition and the viewer is invited to participate in the construction of that meaning through a visual investigation and somatic exploration of the works and how they affect the perception of their surroundings. Indeed, the experiential journey of signification suggested by Hughes’s works exhorts viewers to construct an active form of artistic experience informed by the knowledge that human perception of the sculptures and the sculptures themselves are shaped by the ambient space just as the creative influence exerted by the artist and his works affect essential contributions to the lived, experiential space of the viewer and the viewer’s responsive involvement with the works.
By Kaia Magnusen