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`Half Light': Is it `real life' or video? Multimedia exhibition explores two and three dimensions

``Half Light,'' by Curt Royston, is described as a ``multimedia installation.'' That's an accurate term, but it doesn't suggest the wonder of this ambitious work. Here's just one of its visual feats. The viewer sees, on the right-hand side of the exhibition space, a three-walled room containing a piano, a stool, a table, and a few more items, all vividly painted. It's like a stage set, or maybe a large and colorful sculpture.

In front of this, however, the viewer also sees a TV monitor showing an image of the same room. What's three-dimensional in real life is only two-dimensional on the video screen, of course, and looks more like a painting than a sculpture. The viewer is thus confronted, in a witty and unmistakable way, with the chasm (usually unrecognized or ignored) between ``real life'' and the video images that so often serve as substitutes for it. As a bonus, Royston implicitly notes video's bias toward painterly rather than sculptural representation.

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And there's more. A dancer steps into the exhibition space, three-dimensional and very much alive. Then she moves into the televised room and becomes part of the flattened video image. Now the viewer must choose between watching her ``live'' in the room-sculpture or televised on the TV monitor.

And it's not an easy choice. Under most circumstances, one might readily choose a live artist over a secondhand video image. Yet there's something magical about the sight of a moving figure rambling through a two-dimensional space that looks in most respects like a painting. One's allegiance is torn between life and video - proving that Mr. Royston's multiple trompe l'oeil is working slyly and well.

Royston's sculptural combination of room and TV monitor is called ``Blue Room'' when seen on its own. When dancer Lisa Fox is on hand to add the live-performance element, the result is called ``High Noon.''

This tableau and performance are only two elements of the complex ``Half Light'' installation, though. Also present are two additional live-and-televised environments, called ``All Our Hands'' and ``Eyelight,'' as well as photographs and a painting with related themes and images.

Encountering such a concentration of interconnected works, one may simply revel in their elegantly yet unpretentiously contrived surfaces. Or one may ponder the implications of so many perspectives on the relationship between life, art, and technology. Either way, one must admit that Royston puts on quite a show, as both artist and thinker.

``Half Light'' is on view through Nov. 29 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, as part of the ongoing New American Filmmakers Series. The series opened its current season with a group of films by Su Friedrich, including the new ``Damned If You Don't,'' which was also shown at the Museum of Modern Art recently. A narrative study of homosexual attraction, it draws heavily on familiar experimental-film devices and lacks the historical urgency of ``The Ties That Bind,'' her previous major work. Also on the program were early Friedrich films that conjure up dreamlike images and visual rhythms of surprising strength.

The series will continue next year with a rare and important retrospective of Andy Warhol's films.

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