Sliding Doors

Anita Thacher, Anteroom, 1982, 35-mm color slide projection, brass doorknob and plate, sound, 108 x 144 x 3".

WORLDS COLLIDE in Anita Thacher’s radiant Anteroom. The 1982 installation has been exactingly re-created at Microscope Gallery, using all but obsolete analog technology, specifically two slide projectors synced by a Tascam that uses audio tape to queue the slides changes. I’m beginning with the technology because the analog “imperfections” enhance the particular physicality of the piece, which not only is ravishing to the eye but also elicits an associative, elusive, and unstable sense of one’s own interiority.

Thacher, who died in September, began her career in the early 1960s as a painter and soon moved to experimental filmmaking, and then to installations where she could fully deploy her brilliance as a colorist and her sophisticated compositional skill in three-dimensional spaces. She was both a traditional modernist—Cubism and Surrealism inspired most of her still and moving pictures—and ahead of her time, in that lens-based and time-based art were poor relatives in the museums and galleries of the ’80s and remain so today. No matter. Anteroom captured my mind’s eye and has stayed in my memory more intensely than any paintings or passages from any of the films I saw this year.

Anteroom comprises 160 35-mm slides that depict, when projected, a life-size architectural space. Central to all the images is a wall that is isomorphic with the wall on which the work is shown. A door, off-center in the wall, is ajar—sometimes just a sliver, sometimes far enough to see a narrow corridor and another room beyond it. At one moment, the door opens wide enough to reveal this interior room all the way to its back window and the view of city buildings outside. The wall on which the slides are projected has a brass doorknob bolted to its flat surface. It is the actual three-dimensional object in an illusory three-dimensional space. As often as not, there is a slight mismatch between the actual doorknob and the image of the doorknob, which reminded me of part of a description that Michael Snow wrote about Wavelength (1967), that it is “about illusion and fact, all about seeing.”

The sequence takes just under twelve minutes. The slides are connected by slow-lap dissolves; as each image fades in, the preceding one fades out. The crossfades impart continuous movement to the still images (they change as they become brighter and darker), as does the music by David Byrne, rearranged from The Catherine Wheel (1981). Most of what could be called the action in the piece takes place in front of the wall. A young woman moves in what becomes a dreamscape of objects, light, and shadow. Free of gravity, two wooden chairs hang in the air, as do two pitchers and a bunch of reeds. The space is broken up by irregularly shaped blocks of colored light that cast multiple shadows. (When the slides were shot, they were lit by beams from hidden, empty slide projectors, their lenses covered with colored gels.) At one point the wall is covered with a starry midnight-blue sky. In some images, the woman passes through the door from this ambiguous anterior space (the “anteroom”) into the corridor—the liminal space behind the door—and gazes into the room across the way.

Ephemeral and cataclysmic, the visual world that Thacher creates is almost inexhaustible in its complexity and beauty. Like a dream, it maps desire—that of the maker and the viewer alike.

Anteroom is on view Thursdays through Mondays, or by appointment, through December 10 at Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn.