Outside City Limits’ gallery doors, four wall clocks display the time in four different cities: Oakland, New York, London and Dubai. The ticking clocks illustrate a world of hustle and bustle — a place where the global economy, business deals and international phone calls depend on a solid understanding of an eight-hour difference between time zones.
But across the gallery threshold, that hustle and bustle becomes muffled. Time melts away. Feet relax. Bailey Hikawa’s The Empty Temple asks something of viewers even before they enter the solo show, with a polite sign requesting that shoes be removed.
Inside, the gallery floor is covered with pieces of solid-colored, differently textured carpet and artificial turf. Strips of black carpet outline a circuitous path of right angles that leads visitors on a preordained journey through the gallery. The Empty Temple at once resembles a cat’s version of heaven, an agoraphobic’s garden and a meditation center’s waiting room.
Evenly spaced throughout the “maze” are Hikawa’s carefully crafted sculptures, sitting on the carpeted floor and on carpet-covered pedestals and mounted to the gallery walls. The objects are as inexplicable as they are mesmerizing, including a peach ceramic cone, a totem-like structure wrapped in black pleather and a stuffed goose hanging upside down from one corner of the ceiling.
The dissonance between shoeless feet softly crunching on artificial turf and the sight of an oversized latex rubber ear is both a treat for the senses and a starting point for absurd conjecture. Is this a prosthesis for Van Gogh? Is there a Mr. Potato Head somewhere missing a crucial part?
Despite its banal, soothing tones of cream, Band-Aid beige and dark green, the path through The Empty Temple is tinged with horror. Sacrifice, a column of stacked slices of white bread, is unsettling for its excess of gluten. The Pointer, an oversized, elongated white ceramic hand on a black shag pedestal, boasts three fleshy plastic fingers.
Another hand, this one cast from latex rubber, lies inert on the floor, conjuring images of The Addams Family’s Thing or Ash’s murderous appendage in The Evil Dead. And mounted in the wall nearby is The Void, a single fake eyeball that peers bloodshot and lidless into the gallery. Its stare is final proof this plush and contemplative setting is just a staging area for horrors yet to come. White carpet, after all, always spells future disaster.
The Empty Temple requires visitors to fully engage with the installation through touch, sight and (if you’re finely tuned to the aroma of stale bread) scent. Body parts and other elements of the uncanny further the exhibition’s otherworldly atmosphere, creating a hermetic environment somewhere between The Secret Garden and The Shining.
You don’t have to tread the preordained path within Hikawa’s Empty Temple — in fact, if you do, you’ll miss some wonderful underfoot textures — but you should ignore the relentless ticking of those four entryway clocks and spend some quality time in this carefully crafted installation. You’ll find it’s far from empty.
The Empty Temple is on view through Feb. 20, 2016 at City Limits in Oakland. For more information visit citylimitsgallery.com.