Planted in the woods like an extraterrestrial monolith, both completely alien and perfectly at home in its environment, lies Image Continuous, a mirrored, eight-foot-tall cube with a sky-reflective circle in the middle. On view at the Edith Farnsworth House in Plano and part of David Wallace Haskins’s “Landscape + Light” exhibition, Image Continuous was conceived in 2010, but kept unfinished until Haskins found the ideal site for the sculpture.
“It was important that it be surrounded by nature, and that it sat in a glade so that it could really disappear into the landscape. As I passed the opening in the woods on the way to the [Farnsworth] house, I immediately knew I had found the place,” he says. Image Continuous is made with pyrolytic coated glass, and Haskins explains that the reflection on it comes from the surface of the glass, not from its backside. The silver is actually baked into the glass itself and is therefore surprisingly clear.
All the better to appreciate a disconcerting view of the surrounding trees reflected on the cube, juxtaposed by a central circle that reveals the sky. The scene evokes a mirage almost, a dream: two opposite yet very familiar worlds surreally brought together, causing perplexity and amazement in equal measure. “My work is about shifting our perception, helping us see with new eyes that which we have either ignored or become desensitized to. I have always found reflective surfaces are an excellent way to shift our vision, to bring about a reorientation by way of disorientation,” he says.
Haskins, 46, has been fascinated by reflections since his formative years in west suburban Elmhurst, where he would gaze at the sky reflected in the rain puddles. “Looking back I recognize this was the moment I began to see the world differently, upside down, if you will, and it has continued to inform my life and practice to this day,” he says. It is not a coincidence that his biggest influences are artist René Magritte as well as Yves Klein, whose works, according to Haskins, were also “famous for bringing the sky down to the pictorial plane.”
The experience of viewing Image Continuous is complemented by the neighboring Edith Farnsworth House, located on a bucolic 60-acre property along the Fox River. An iconic home built by Mies van der Rohe between 1949 and 1951 for Dr. Edith Farnsworth, it is currently owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. According to the organization’s executive director, Scott Mehaffey, the Edith Farnsworth House has received over 100,000 visitors from all over the world since its opening to the public in 2004.
There are plenty of reasons to venture on the 58-mile trip to the house from Chicago, besides the pleasant drive itself: the venue promotes multiple exhibits, talks, and events, and will soon showcase more works by Haskins, its current artist in residence. Image Continuous borrows its title from one of Edith Farnsworth’s poems, which Haskins conscientiously researched.
“She was an iconic pioneer in the fields of science and art, and this house wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her,” Haskins says. Haskins also pays homage to the designer of the house himself, van der Rohe (also known as the creator of the glass skyscraper). Haskins’s sculpture is made with tinted skyscraper glass, using exactly half the amount of glass used to glaze the Edith Farnsworth House: a whole ton of it.
“David Wallace Haskins: Landscape + Light”
Through December 2022: Wed-Sun, 9:30 AM-3:30 PM, at the Edith Farnsworth House, 14520 River Rd., Plano, 630-552-0052, edithfarnsworthhouse.org
Haskins sees similarities between his work and that of the modernist architect: “Mies was a master of light and space, and was in many ways one of the true fathers of the Light and Space art movement, of which my work is often associated with. But what that really means is that he was a master of getting to the essence of a thing, of stripping it down so far that something you didn’t know could happen, happens. And this is something he did without compromise, with a singular vision. And he found a way to turn that vision into reality again and again, and as a self-taught artist no less, which is inspiring to me because I am self-taught as well. I know his work is divisive: people love it or hate it. But I have always found it to be soothing to my busy mind. It feels very Zen to me, so I enjoy it. And my work shares a similar desire to strip away what’s nonessential and get to the heart of something, to arrive at a kind of multiplication by way of subtraction, which is what all great poetry does.
“I think it’s a very difficult thing to do well, but when it happens, it creates something special in us, a kind of space. It widens something in us that needs widening. And that is something I think we all need more of, and I do hope my work can in some way participate in,” Haskins explains. He adds, “It is also interesting to note that Mies helped usher in a golden age of glass. As the father of the glass skyscraper and the contemporary glass house, he really set the course for the next hundred years of glass architecture. Almost every city around the world looks the same: a mountain range of glass. We live in the age of glass—there is nothing we experience today that isn’t delivered to us by it. It’s how billions of us see, thanks to eyeglasses, it’s how we interface with every computer, smartphone, and watch. It’s how we see out of our cars, our homes and offices, how we see into the universe at the macro and micro levels, and it’s how the Internet travels around the globe, through actual glass fiber optics. Glass is the material of this age.
“Because of glass we can become more attuned to our world at home and afar, and the more we feel connected to it the more we care to care for it. Nothing helps us feel closer to nature in our living space than unfettered views of the landscape and light. But all this comes at a price, and that is the price of killing birds by the billions, because to a bird, our windows are solid air, and their fragile heads are easily damaged upon impact. I don’t think we should stop striving to make homes and buildings more entwined with nature, as I think it is essential in order to help us thrive mentally and emotionally, and ecologically, because if we can’t see and feel connected to the landscape and light of the living world we are doomed to destroy it. But we must find a way to do so while also caring for it, and that means making glass visible to our bird brothers and sisters. I am currently working with some researchers in Austria who are testing some special film that is visible to birds but invisible to our eyes. If all goes well with the tests, we hope to apply it to Image Continuous soon.”
Image Continuous is one in a series of works Haskins has dubbed “skycubes.” An earlier skycube Haskins created can also be found adjacent to another Mies van der Rohe home—it is on permanent display next to the McCormick House at the Elmhurst Art Museum. The area has a special significance for Haskins since he lived just across the street in his youth. The museum is also the place where he had two glorious solo exhibitions, the first entitled “Presence” (2016) and the second “Polarity” (2018). For those who missed them, the video archives are highly recommended. Even though this seminal skycube is made with a steel frame and has a square opening in the middle, the two sculptures share a similar idea: creating an opportunity for the viewer to contemplate the sky, and how it relates to us and everything it permeates.
“The sky, or troposphere, begins at the ground and rises ten miles high,” Haskins says. “All of this planet is at once rooted in the earth while living and breathing in the sky; they are intertwined, interrelated, and interdependent. What we do to one we do to the other. Here we see and feel that connection in a way that is no longer conceptual, but is personal and real,” he adds.
Interconnectedness is at the heart of Haskins’s work, something he learned while caring for Tom, an elderly man he lived with for 20 years. “My life with Tom really led me into a huge perceptual shift. It brought me into a deeply embodied understanding of what it means to live a life of interdependence, attuned to what I often refer to as the interrelational nature of reality, something we have been taught as a society to ignore. I’ve gained as much or more from living with Tom than he has gained from me, that is for sure. It’s been my greatest joy and honor to know him and help him for 26 years. I highly recommend people caring for others in need.”
Since 2017 Haskins has lived with his wife, Brittney Dunn, a fellow artist and designer, in a sunny apartment in downtown Wheaton. He still oversees Tom’s care and keeps on creating work that beautifully conveys our shared reality, drawing the viewer into a space of profound humility and vulnerability where they can hold space for the other—be it “a shaft of light, a tree, an animal, a reflection that allows you to see yourself as if for the first time, a friend, a stranger, a lover, or an enemy— to see yourself in them and they in you,” Haskins says.