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August 26 - October 15, 2006 at CSULB, University Art Museum, Long Beach

by Shirle Gottlieb

"Pirámide del Sol: A Monument to Invisible Labor," 2002, polypropylene plastic baskets, 6 1/2 x 9 x 9".

"The Shelter" (detail), 2000-06, silk-
screened ink on glass; steel structure
is mounted with 300 etched glass panes.

"The Shelter," studio view of structure
under construction to house etched glass
panes (above), 125 x 67 x 152".

"American Desert #2," 2006, mixed media installation with DVD/video, two rooms: dimensions variable.

Nighscope Series, "Nightscope #11,"
2001-03, digital pigment print, 17 x 24".

In addition to the brilliant concept behind "Pyramide del Sol," the mere sight of Louis Hock's "Monument to Invisible Labor" will hit you between the eyes like a bolt of lightning.

Created from six-thousand green plastic berry baskets that are stacked in the shape of Teotihuacan (the Pyramid of the Sun) and lit from within, it stands over six feet tall and 9 feet wide dead-center in the gallery.  A staggering image with a powerful subtext, "Pyramide del Sol" communicates its message immediately, even before viewers read the signage:
“It took 300 years for slaves to build Mexico City's great pyramid, but less than four years for stoop laborers to pick 2.5 million tons of strawberries that the baskets represent.”

For the past 20 years, Hock has been recognized in both galleries and public spaces across the nation for his controversial films, videotapes and installations.  A UC San Diego art professor since 1977, his body of work has been informed by the destructive clash of cultures on both sides of the United States/Mexican border.  Also on view is "The Nightscope Series," a group of 12 shocking photographs that are being shown together for the first time.  Here again Hock's attention is on the plight of immigrants and laborers.  By using thermal-imaging cameras (devices that rely on radiant body heat to make pictures instead of reflected light), Hock captures figures in flight as they attempt to cross the border illegally in the dark.

Developed during the Vietnam War to track the movement of the Viet Cong, these special cameras are now employed by U.S. border patrols to detect undocumented immigrants who are unaware they are being photographed.  The glowing green pictures in this series (together with visible gunsight cross-hairs) are eerie and very disturbing to say the least.

A third installation, "The Shelter," represents another of Hock's concerns, one that addresses the Shroud of Turin and its centuries-old controversy.  Believed by millions of people to have wrapped the dead body of Christ, the Shroud is one of the most publicly familiar of all sacred religious icons.  In spite of scoffers and modern technology, no one has proved or disproved this claim one way or the other.  Which poses a metaphysical question:  With so much unknown about its origin, how does such an object become a potent symbol?  For many, sheer faith has created this "miracle," a revelation that's beyond doubt.  For others, its a "signifier," a subject still open to cultural/spiritual/physical examination.

"The Shelter" is Hock's thoughtful solution to this dilemma.  A walk-in structure that resembles a small backyard greenhouse, it offers a quiet place of contemplation about any subject you choose.  Sitting inside, you look out through 300 panes of glass, each one stained with the image of Christ's face as it appears on the Shroud.  You might find yourself in an altered state similar to that induced by meditating, chanting a raga, davaning, or counting beads.  What you feel will depend on who you are.

Last but far from least is "American Desert," two mixed-media installations being exhibited for the first time.  In one room, various distorted versions of desert landscapes range from old Roadrunner cartoons to the romanticized phony landscape of Hollywood westerns.  In the second room, you walk through projections of a film that resembles a mirage on the Sonoran Desert.  A video moves across the back wall accompanied by a three-dimensional sound track.  Composed from nine images of walks Hock took through the Arizona desert, it follows paths that were originally laid by early Native Americans, Conquistadors, and Gold Rush miners.

Still used today by boundary surveyors, border patrols and northbound immigrants, Hock’s mesmerizing panoramic installation paints an indelible picture of Western United States history that is unlikely to be forgotten.