Chicago

Elyn Zimmerman

One of science fiction’s appeals is its imaging of the outskirts of time and space. In these realms beyond reason we may feel like observers, intruders, or nervous wrecks, all because the strange stillness of distance between our present and those alien possibilities allows us to experience, even commune with capacities and inhibitions that everyday activities hold in check. Dispossessed of such constraints, the products of monotony, we gain possession of our own otherworldliness, our power to penetrate the superficial constructs of our lives.

In one spacious gallery, enclosed except for a doorway, ELYN ZIMMERMAN designs an outskirts environment from which dramatic simplicity seems to spirit us into a zone where curiosity compels us to continually resituate ourselves. In the center of the room she constructs a narrow, rectangular, six-inch deep pool. Two overhead spotlights in the otherwise dark room light opposite sides of a square pillar that rises near the far end of the glassy surface. Sleek beams of light, shadows cast on the walls at either edge of the pool, and the column itself all reflect in the water.

The piece’s linearity seems succinct, as if Zimmerman intended to emphatically clarify, through repetition, the room’s conservative structure. However, shadows, reflections, and streaks of light, not being solid, undermine the “reality,” the apparent serenity of linear tautness. Moreover, with closer examination and freer understanding little glistenings on the pool’s black edges are noticeable which are slimily rubbery yet oddly radiant, as if thinly overlayed with ebony gems. Also a low hum can be heard which suggests not some electrical mechanism but rather the confluence of subtle though cosmic energies and an invisible animation, the molecular motion of all things that seem still, can be seen.

As we walk around, the pool and the surroundings become less and less what they initially seemed to be, the linoleum floor alternately appears to be wet and slippery, then not solid. We seem to glide, as if assuming a more graceful form, and with it a naturally elegant mode of locomotion.

As I was imagining this transformation someone strolled in, stirred the water with one finger and left. Cilialike shadows rippling around the post pulsated up one wall, across the ceiling, and down the facing wall, then seemed to stream back and forth. Outland messages whose meaning, volatility, and instability infused me as the room itself seemed to undulate and I felt the waves of change within myself. Then . . . overwhelming stillness, like that of a temple/tomb.

I know that I sound rapt, but Zimmerman’s piece, like a secret chamber or a consecrated spot, encourages imagination, reflection, and enlightment. Indeed the room “imitates,” reflects and illuminates itself. It is a monument and memorial to its own possibilities and to ours. For instance, the radiant pillar emerges from the darkness, traditionally symbolizing the unconscious. In fact when we enter the gallery we are literally and figuratively in the dark, and the longer we stay, the more we “see the light.”

This is not altogether pleasant. To gaze into the water, with the pillar at a distance plumbing the blue-black pool’s depths, is to stand on the brink of another dimension, to queasily contemplate destiny, the unknown, death.

In California and New York since the early ’70s Zimmerman has created similar illusionary environments that magically reveal uncommon vistas in routine spaces. This makes evident Zimmerman’s capacity to animate a place’s “soul,” and consequently a viewer’s. It relates to some ancient grasp of existence whose transcendent aspects are akin to the outlands of science fiction.

Joanna Frueh