There’s a mountain of trash coming to Chandler, where mutant cacti will soon invade as well. They are the brainchild of Daniel Funkhouser and Sarah Hurwitz, two artists skilled at making large-scale works of art with quirky materials.
For several months, they have been collaborating for an exhibition entitled “Futureland, Arizona”, which runs from January 10 to February 15 at the Vision Gallery. The show was created after Peter Bugg, an artist who manages the space and is the city’s visual arts coordinator, suggested they work together.
It was not a hard sell. The artists have known each other for almost a decade, from their time as members of the artist collective Eye Lounge in Roosevelt Row. They are both fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race and organized viewing evenings together. And they have a deep respect for each other’s work.
“He’s one of my favorite artists,” Funkhouser says of Hurwitz. Funkhouser says he especially enjoys his large-scale installation pieces, praising their strange materials and irreverent quality. “She likes to be upbeat and funny, but there is also a personal aspect to all of that, so it hits your heart but it’s also universal.”
He has plenty of examples to share, from a sushi conveyor belt to unconventional portraits of US presidents. Then there’s the funky mushroom that Hurwitz made for an exhibition in 2011. Funkhouser helped install them, as he’s also a preparer for Scottsdale Public Art. “There is courage in everything she does,” Funkhouser says of her fellow artist.
For “Futureland, Arizona,” Hurwitz designed a giant garbage mountain that will serve as a selfie spot for gallery visitors. Funkhouser, who often works with laser-cut acrylic, has made giant clouds that will also be part of the installation. An 8 foot by 20 foot mural serves as the backdrop for this part of the show. “It’s dark and gloomy, and a little ironic,” Funkhouser says.
Also look for several light-based pieces, including Funkhouser’s red and white neon on flashy Las Vegas tourist signs. They also played with LED lights, colored gel filters, and other options. Light has long been a key part of Funkhouser’s work, including a piece of public art shown at Practical Art in 2016.
The Chandler exhibit has evolved organically, over the months of sharing, comparing and exchanging ideas, designs and materials. “We worked with a loose outline, but we’ll adapt various elements once we see how it all fits together in space,” he says.
The two artists created pieces for a mutant cactus garden, using materials including plastic and fiberglass. Their size varies from about one to six feet. Viewers will also see fungal flowers, peel off the wall and sink to the floor. “It’s pretty weird and weird,” Funkhouser says.
There’s even a field guide for the cactus, where Hurwitz’s talent for illustration kicks in. “He explains what each cactus looks like and how it was born,” she says. A cactus, for example, came out of a spectacle store. Several copies will be available in the gallery for viewers who wish to explore fictional stories while making their way through space.
Bugg let the artists come up with their own concept, which made it easy for Hurwitz and Funkhouser to incorporate their own passions, while also exploring common elements in their work. “Peter saw similarities in our styles, including a more is more mentality,” says Hurwitz. “We both like to use bright colors and there is a bit of silliness in our work.”
Hurwitz suggested making a life-size diorama of a place, and Funkhouser came up with the concept. “I just wanted to do something science fiction, so I approached Sarah about a future Arizona with plants and animals that had mutated over time.”
Turns out, Funkhouser is a huge fan of speculative sci-fi writing, including works by Kurt Vonnegut and Greg Egan. “I’m interested in science fiction that tests our ideas about who we are and what reality is,” he says. This is an influence that will be evident throughout the “Futureland, Arizona” exhibit.
Even so, they don’t go for a blunt social commentary. “We’re not trying to be too political or anything,” Funkhouser says. “We didn’t want the exhibition to be overtly linked to climate change; it is an exaggerated idea of that.
That’s not to say there isn’t a message in their media. “With most of my work, I want it to be fun, but I want to be sure there is a deeper reaction,” says Hurwitz. “I’m always aware of how much trash I make, and there is irony in pretending trash for an exhibit.”
“Futurland, Arizona.” Vision Gallery, 10 East Chicago Street, Chandler. January 10 to February 15. Artists welcome: Friday, January 11, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Free. visiongallery.org.