There are some pieces of art that seem to transport you with a sheer force of nature, that move through you violently like a storm, drenching you in emotion, jarring you awake, tugging at the corners of your consciousness. There are others that carry a softer and slower power, that warm up to you, spilling across your senses like honey in the sun, humming with a quiet precision and astonishing attention to detail. It’s rare to come across a piece of art that exists fluidly at the intersection between the two, that feels both wildly larger than life and whisperingly meticulous at the same time. Enter pop art duo Dosshaus, the creative collaboration of artists Zoey Taylor and David Connelly, who merge painting, sculpture, photography, fashion, video, and performance in order to examine the intertwined relationship between high and low culture.
The Inglewood-based pair, who have built an impressive following for their unusual and highly stylized installations, use their art to bring to life a fantastical and whimsical alternate reality, a dimensionally shapeshifting and optically bewildering universe crafted entirely out of one of the most mundane and ever-present materials in the world: cardboard. For years, the duo has fashioned costumes and assembled detailed tableaux out of cardboard hand-painted in blurring shades of black, white, and gray, reimagining classic scenes and reinventing themselves as iconic artists and rockstars, all in their signature monochromatic, two-dimensional style. Their latest project, Paper-Thin Hotel, which opened April 7th at Corey Helford Gallery, is their most ambitious and otherworldly yet.
From the moment you enter, passing beneath a black and white sign blaring “Vagrancy” instead of vacancy, the exhibit immerses you in an alternate reality that feels both fractured and familiar, accompanied by the unshakeable feeling that you have somehow stepped into an illustration. The Paper-Thin Hotel (whose name is ostensibly lifted from a Leonard Cohen song) is an installation made up of four exquisitely detailed rooms in a 1960’s flophouse hotel, inspired by the iconic and storied Chelsea Hotel, a place where the great artists and writers and musicians of our time lived and worked and loved, a place that remains synonymous with creativity and art and beauty, yet haunted by disillusionment and broken dreams, as well as the ravages of poverty and drug use.
Part voyeuristic experience, part painstaking artistic feat, every single item in the Paper-Thin Hotel, from the room key to the typewriter to the costumes that the two artists wear as they move through the exhibit in character, is an individual sculpture made from cardboard and painted to look like a comic book come to life. It’s almost a familiar scene – everything is in its rightful place and no detail has gone overlooked, but once you start to fully notice the careful depth of detail it swallows you up, subverting your perception of reality, examining the everyday minutiae of our lives from a different dimension, in a way that feels both serious and joyful, both a commentary and a celebration.
Beyond a stunningly immersive aesthetic joyride, the paper thin walls of the Paper-Thin Hotel grasp at a hidden depth regarding the inexplicable duality of the human experience. Dosshaus’ work has never been afraid to deal with duality – their choice of material exists at the crossroads of trash and art – but each room in the exhibit opens into a unique narrative world fraught with complexities that extend beyond a simple peek into the inner lives of the inhabitants of a low-budget hotel.
Room 101 is the Honeymoon Suite, messy with the afterglow of impassioned romantic love, yet dedicated observers can pick up on certain items (a stash of cash, a gun) that signify that all is not as it seems. Room 105 is eclectically and fantastically decorated, insinuating wealth and gaudy taste, and it is not until you spot the prescription bottles and hidden drug paraphernalia that their reason for being here comes into deeper, darker focus.
Though you never see the inhabitants of the three rooms, you feel the fullness of their lives and the dualities that color their existence. Through Dosshaus’ diligent orchestration of the things we fill our lives with, we are privy to each character’s paper-thin dreams and desires, the things they fear and the things they love, all leaping out vividly in spite of (or perhaps because of) the monochromatic, two dimensional renderings. Some people believe that the definition of love is paying attention, and Dosshaus’ truly monumental focus on even the most minor detail feels a little like love, and a lot like an exploration into the heart of the strange duality of human nature: the lightness and darkness, the secrecy and the vulnerability, the trash and the treasure.
Catch “Paper-Thin Hotel” at Corey Helford Gallery (571 S Anderson St #1, Los Angeles, CA 90033) from April 7th – May 15th.