Review of Tom Eatherton Exhibition at Percept

by Melinda Wortz

Art News
Volume 81/Number 3
March 1982

Page 138 THE NATION re-created installations by Tom Eatherton at Percept opened and operated by Hal Glicksman.

Tom Eatherton's three installations at the Percept Gallery are entitled Trip (1972), 138/ ARTNEWS I , Rise (1970) and Point (1980). Like James Turrell's pieces shown last year at the Whitney Museum of American Art, these have been re-created for a new generation who never saw the originals. It is unfortunate that in the home town of light and space installations, neither institutions, corporations nor private collectors-with very few exceptions-have been willing to fund permanent installations of this work. The hope that someone might be inspired in this direction is part of Glicksman's motivation in re-creating the works.

Trip, originally installed in a storefront in Venice, California. consists of three square windows constructed in an interior wall. Their translucent plexiglass ''panes'' frame colored light that modulates from orange to red, moving from left to right. The quality of the colored light is eminently mysterious, looking like a substance, but impenetrable because of the plexiglass. Nonetheless the colored light alters our awareness of the space in which we stand. rendering it more visual and tactile than usual, as a result of being reflected through several layers of light-filtering materials behind the plexiglass. (This piece is similar in feeling to Turrell's City of Arhirit,. the last installation in the Whitney exhibition, which used a window to articulate the ambient light of an interior space.) Of course Eatherton's piece would have been dramatically more mysterious in its original public setting than it is in the cloistered setting of the gallery, where it is no longer easy to surprise the viewer. Metaphorically the use of glass to unite us with, as well as separate us from the environment has a rich history in art and literature. notably Marcel Duchamp's Large Glass.

A perceptual surprise does take place upon entering the environment Rise, so named because the elliptically curved walls seem to be floating above the floor, suspended in blue light reflected from ordinary blue light bulbs installed out of sight behind the walls. Not only do these white curved walls appear to be glowing with light in the otherwise darkened room, but they also appear to be breathing-up and down. in and out. Especially at the two extremities of the elliptical space. where breaks in the walls allow one to walk through, the edges of the structure seem to move toward and away from each other. Although common sense logic tells us that the walls are obviously stationary, our senses suggest a supernatural occurrence. Which are we to believe? Is the reality what our intellect reasons to be the case. or what we are experiencing? Which is more valid, compelling, revealing-objective ''truth'' or inexplicable mystery? In the Western world we usually opt for the former. Eatherton's Rise brings us face to face with another way of knowing the world.

The most recent work, Point. is an eight foot-square screen that displays a computerized pattern of light moving through a grid of hundreds of tiny red diodes. The various formations are simple. alternating, allover patterns divided into either four or nine squares within the larger frame. Out of these hundreds of flashing red lights various configurations emerge and disappear, sometimes as geometric shapes sometimes as movement, like falling rain or rising mist. The combinations take more than six months to repeat. Within the dot matrix the human eye forms larger and smaller patterns, searching for a gestalt. But closure is elusive in the continually moving field, all of whose parts cannot be comprehended at once, except during certain segments of the allover field cycle. This piece also imposes a perceptual dilemmaŃshould one try to identify the order at work or see the whole without analyzing its relational parts? The former effort is taxing, the latter experience relaxing.