Canadian Art, Winter 1991
Five miles separate Jerry Pethick's home on Hornby Island from his studio in a nearby valley, but the trip can take about 40 minutes by bicycle. Likewise, the distance between Hornby and B.C.'s lower mainland, while only a short hop by plane, is really measured in ferry crossings, three to be precise. Time has a way of creating space between otherwise proximate locations, par ticularly in this part of the world. This quality of being wofids apart hints at the separated realities that are replayed in Pethick's recent two-part photo/sculptures. As he notes in his journal, "If to alter gravity is unmanageable, then perhaps spatial reconstructions can equalize the overpowering pres ence of material itself and create another set of relationships."
Jerry Pethick began to create a new set of relationships in late 1986 with his first large- scale "array," Roof to Heaven Too. In this assemblage and the series of works that followed it, Pethick elaborated a system of multiple-part photographs that create a nearly palpable reality in three dimensions, using the simplest of means — the standard-size prints available from one-hour photo-processing shops. Each photographic array is presented in combination with a sculptural element that draws its impact from the raw physicality of its recycled materials.
Pethick's interest in alternate realities spans more than two decades. Initially driven by his holographic research, he tired of the limitations of the complex viewing apparatuses that the medium demands. In 1973 he abandoned his research at the San Francisco School of Holography, which he co-founded in 1971, and two years later returned to Canada. He moved to Hornby Island and soon gravitated toward his earlier experiments with Fresnel lenses (large lenses, used in search lights and headlights, with concentric grooves on their surfaces). Pethick began producing composite images made up of grid-like matrixes of serial photographic images. "Perception and resolution — what DO we see and how DO we see it," as Pethick has noted in his journals; this is his continuing fascination.
Homeship/Faux Terrain, one of the most recent of Pethick's "arrays," combines 202 four-by-six-inch colour prints, each printed from individual exposures that systematically scan a landscape. For this work, the land scape scanned is a canal in Venice, California. Pethick was interested in the artificiality of the locale with its grid-like system of man made canals, a synthetic facsimile of the Ital ian city. Each photograph of the canal used to make up this overall view is aligned on the wall in a grid of alternating offset rows (sim ilar to bricklaying). Placed on a log and sup porting a single-strip fluorescent fixture is a sheet of plate glass situated approximately 10 inches in front of the photographs. It holds 202 individual Fresnel lenses, each attuned to one photograph. The resulting integrated photographic image creates a unique space, a fabricated reality that comes to seem more real than the space it inhabits.
Towering over and ahead of the "array" is an oddly rectilinear aluminum form supported by a circle of cordwood: two boat hulls riveted together into a single volume. Dispersed across its surface are industrial products like records, a washing machine drum, a television tube and numerous other reclaimed ready mades. (Other Pethick creations include a 10-foot-tall replica of the Venus of Willendorf made of burned-out lightbulbs.) Pethick's scavenging process remains a mystery even to himself. Currently, for example, he has 80 propane tanks from gas barbecues piled up near his house, the abandoned remains of an earlier project never realized.
Pethick, though, is more interested in for mal than iconographic matters. Homeship /Faux Terrrain is his attempt to create an illu sory space with the material density of the world of objects. As in all of his sculptural "arrays," Pethick sets up in a spectacular manner a deliberate confusion between the "here and now" and that which can only be experienced as a "then and there."
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