Artwork Spotlight

Art Spotlight: Gabriel G Torres’ Haus of Dust

Note: Be advised there is potentially triggering content in this piece on drugs and overdose.

In the Art Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works could range from short stories to visual art, music, and more!

Today, Gabriel G Torres (they/them) is sharing their show and game from their multi-faceted project Haus of Dust. Before we delve into the project, a little more about Gabriel in their own words:

“I am [a] community artist, catalyst, and interdisciplinary director from Colombia. I have engaged and created works in Colombia, Hong Kong, and New York City, where I live now. I am currently interested in the intersection of community-based practices and storytelling.  How can we create powerful stories that go beyond representation? And how do we use such stories as [a] catalyst to engage and aid the communities we represent?”  

Haus of Dust is a layered project with many elements. Check out this video from Gabriel to see part of the installation and learn more about the game. Gabriel gives more detail on the projects below as well.

Gabriel participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, expanding further on the installation and game:

Tell us a little about yourself. What first drew you to art?

One of my aunts is a musician. From an early age, I was taught violin. Nonetheless, I am very bad at it… I was always taught of art’s ability to transform the world and make it a better place. To me, culture has always been the only way I can express the weirdness, the oddness, the alienation I’ve felt. Over time, I’ve used it as a conduit to release and heal what I know I need to surrender to expand and grow as a human!

What is the background on the Haus of Dust project? What’s the story of the installation?

In the installation, we are invited to the Abysm, a bar between the living and the dead, where a goddess, MC, has curated an open mic with souls who died of “*Trigger Warning* overdose. These souls tell us their stories before they are able to transcend. A houseless man struggling with meth, an indigenous goddess who has been abducted, a Dominican shaman cleaning the coca leaves from the dust, and a young man who calls themself Dust, ephemeral and galactic. After we hear their stories, we find out they are written by a boy trying to cope with his trauma. Then, the souls tell us how they were created to be invited into a ritual for healing. 

What inspired you to create?

I had currently gone through an overdose… I had tried outpatient programs, and nothing was working for me. The only thing that was left (in my mind) was utilizing poetry and artistic expression to release what I didn’t know how to release.

What was it like to stage the installation?

God, this was… a journey. It was supposed to be a theatrical show, but covid-19 happened, and we had a residency, so we were like…. Hmmm, maybe we can explore this as an installation, and we did. It took us three days non-stop, four designers and myself, eating pizza and working.

The costumes and visuals are striking. What goal did you all have in mind?

An ethereal poetic morphing lyrical ghost story, flowers, symbols of the magical land where I come from, and the world within us all. Light as the essence that makes us who we are, galactic spatial magical dust shining through sharp light. 

Haus of Dust is also a game. Tell us more about the idea and game objectives.

Yes! As the project developed, we also wanted to deal with how to help people struggling with substances who [to give them an alternative to reaching out for] access the substance.

What’s the science behind the game and experience?

Joshua Friedman, a Ph.D. student and researcher from Columbia University, was talking to me one day about the wheel of awareness, a method Dan Siegel created for sensory learning. We took on the research and, with Raghav Bashyal (Developer) and Juan Daniel Velazques (Artist), created a series of mini-games with the prompt: “If you were about to reach out to your dealer, could you play something in your phone instead?” We conducted initial research as an improvement of the outpatient program at The LGBT Center with very positive results. 

You can find more on the science behind the game here.

What’s next for the game?

We are currently looking for support to itinerate and continue growing the project. Our dream is to create a game that goes to clinical trials and becomes an FDA non-invasive tool to treat people with addiction who are in recovery. 

Is there a meaning behind using the spelling “Haus?”

Haus as a way to honor the queer ball Culture in New York City.

The third part of the project involves a garden. What are the community and the space like?

This is in concept only at the moment, but we aim to build a garden with Loisaida INC, a Hispanic cultural center on The Lower East Side, to provide space for people struggling with substances to gather without stigma, grow veggies, and cook in Loisaida’s new commercial community kitchen! 

You can see more of Gabriel’s work on their website and view some photographic prints on The Layered Onion store. Thank you for sharing your story and work, Gabriel!