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Reel Life: you ought to be in movies

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In the late 50s visionary film artists in San Francisco experimented with customized projectors inside a planetarium. Jordan Belson aspired to fashion "a pure theater appealing directly to the senses." Psychedelic light shows soon followed. In the 60s a Chicago club called Electric Circus hired film and design students who tried to simulate hallucinations.

No nostalgist, Tom Gray has recently developed a new method for multiplying the facets of film experience.

The trouble with normal movies, as Gray sees it, is that "for two hours you're a part of someone else's environment, but it's only two-dimensional and it's never interactive." With his installation Projected Light, Gray creates three-dimensional texts where viewers can explore a world of fluid light.

Gray, a 30-year-old from Arlington Heights, is finishing up a double major in industrial design and graphic design with a minor in filmmaking at the University of Illinois. But he's just beginning to research his newly-made-up medium of environmental cinema. In Projected Light spectators can walk through a maze of curtainlike screens. Picked up at Gray's local fabric shop, these large translucent sheets of white nylon reflect images projected with an array of slide and movie projectors. Gray's three-dimensional montages can be watched from afar or viewed from within the field of screens. As you move through the diaphanous membranes you figure into the overlayed imagery, reaching ever-changing vantages and adding movements seen by spectators on the outside.

Gray originally came up with his environmental cinema last fall, when he created a walk-through environment for a class in advanced typography. Using a less successful plastic sheeting, he spelled out messages in typefaces that varied in legibility, depending on how the reader moved among the screens.

His new installation will be on view at the Immaculate Projection, a party featuring film, video, and performance to benefit Chicago Filmmakers. It's tonight, June 7, at 8 at Filmmakers, 1229 W. Belmont (281-8788). Admission is $10 at the door, $7 in advance, and the take will be used to improve the theater, particularly with the installation of 35-millimeter projectors.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bill Stamets.

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