Los Angeles

Eric Orr

The ideal way to furnish an esthetic experience would be, in me ’umble opinion, to put the subject quietly out with a benign injection, cart the limp corpus off to the gallery, bring him/her instantly around (but miraculously without trauma), permit the subject whatever time (alone) needed to soak it all in, repeat the hypodermic, return the body to a soft leather chair at the club, and allow him/her a pleasant ascent into a consciousness flavored only with esthetic memories. Unfortunately, we require and art grudgingly accepts a real world continuum, so we both trundle a lot of baggage into an exhibition; and, the “emptier” the art, the more insinuative the luggage. Eric Orr’s superb but abbreviated version of his lowest light translucent room (U.C., Irvine, 1973) needs a little distance for decompression. First, there’s a lobby piece outside the room—a 12’ x 15’ rectangle of inch-thick fine, white, wind-raked, commercial sand with a 100-pound Willow Creek rock plunked into the center. A Lightolier framing spot makes the thing glow within its borders. Second, there’s a woman in traditional Japanese dress serving ceremonial tea to viewers preparing to enter Zero Mass. It reads a little hokey, but by the time you walk shoelessly in, you’re sufficiently unwired from the streets of lower Hollywood.

Zero Mass, which you reach through a short, black hallway curtained at either end, is upon entrance a dark room. Ten seconds later, you begin to smell out a space; in 20, you detect a lightening of the atmosphere and you can pick out the dark lumps, like bruises on the air, which are your fellow spectators. Within a minute, your pupils are the size of ripe olives and the room is revealed as uncannily clear and bright to your opened head—save that estimates of distance are impossible. (I thought there was another 15 feet of room beyond the paper wall invisible six inches away, which is weird, since even on a cloudless night flight, I can tell visually, without kinesthesis, when the fuselage is pitching.) And that’s it. Orr as virtuoso, Maria Nordman as poet, Robert Irwin as pedagogue, Jim Turrell as researcher, and Michael Asher as dogmatist, are all about the same business, which you’re left to mull as art (i.e., whether Asher overcomes his asceticism, Turrell his orneriness, Irwin his rhetoric, Nordman her instructions, or Orr his prettiness). Postpartum, Zero Mass makes the sand piece in front seem as nasty, weighty, physical, and specific as a Serra.

Addendum: I said to a friend after he’d flubbed my pass on the basketball court, “It’s guys like you who make me look bad.” He replied, “Yeah, guys like me, and mirrors.” Much of the import of Orr’s piece is extraformal and I’m a little afraid left alone in it because all my had bile cries to surface, and there’re no secular distractions to prevent it. The couple in there who constituted the sitting lump were engaged in Orr’s monologue on spiritualism, a modulated intonation on Krishna’s analogies (milk poured into water is lost whereas churned to butter it retains its identity, thus the value of disciplines churning like music and art, etc.), and my unreasonable irritation (I hate “other worlds” whose “truths” amount to comforting sops) enlarged with the size of the holes in my eyeballs. Why does everybody want to get hooked into things which will take them out of the world which is, as Wittgenstein says, “all that is the case”? On the other hand, says my second pint of bile, why does art have to be consistent with the shit of the world? The irritation caused by the rubbing of those two questions made me ferret around in Zero Mass for telltale signs of physicality—tears or smudges or light leaks, because, I suppose, I’d rather start with banality which eventually rises to transcendentalism (a Dove watercolor), than begin with ethereality ultimately exposed as plywood. Your reaction would be different.

Peter Plagens