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EXHIBIT : A Look at Alzheimer's Through Loving Eyes

February 06, 1992|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Rick VanderKnyff is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

The two figures sit at opposite ends of the couch, staring ahead at a television set that flashes faded images from their shared past. The old woman smiles vacantly, but her husband's face has no discernible features; all shadowy suggestion, he is literally unraveling.

This scene, titled "The Six O'Clock News," is rendered entirely in laundry lint. Artist Slater Barron often uses her gaily colored medium of choice in humorously whimsical installations, but when the subject is her parents--and their slow dissolve at the hands of Alzheimer's disease--the properties of the lint serve to create a different effect.

"The Six O'Clock News" is a room-size installation that dominates "Eye Remember--I Forget," an exhibit at Rancho Santiago College of works by three artists who address the subject of Alzheimer's. Standing within the living room that Barron renders in the installation, with its soft edges and unfocused, almost Impressionistic colors, is meant to emulate the blurred world that Alzheimer's patients inhabit.

"I think the lint has a dreamlike quality to it," Barron says. "I find it a very appropriate medium."

"Eye Remember--I Forget" is a scaled-down version of an exhibit that was created last year at El Camino College in Torrance. Curator Susanna Meiers says the idea for the exhibit evolved after she saw the work of John Trees, whose father's decline is documented in a series of mixed-media images and assemblages collectively titled "The Rest Home Series."

She found the work "so moving," Meiers says, that she researched the subject of Alzheimer's disease and tried to find other artists who address the subject. Alzheimer's, which affects an estimated 2.5 million adults in the United States, is a degenerative brain disease that results in impaired memory, thinking and behavior. There is currently no cure for the disease nor effective treatment of the mental effects.

Meiers' search led her to Peter Reiss, who has created an extensive series of photographic portraits of Alzheimer's patients, and to Barron, a longtime Fountain Valley resident who now lives in Long Beach. A selection of Reiss' photographs, along with works related to Alzheimer's disease by Trees and Barron, comprise "Eye Remember--I Forget."

It was in the late '70s that Barron and her family first noticed that "there was a strangeness going on with my mother." The memory loss and personality change were eventually diagnosed as Alzheimer's.

Barron paid so much attention to her mother's condition that it escaped attention that her father was growing quieter and more distant. He, too, was later diagnosed with Alzheimer's. "He faded into the background," Barron says, "and that's sort of what I let him do."

It was in 1983, about the time that her parents were moved together into a nursing facility, that Barron conceived the idea for "The Six O'Clock News."

"I went to work one day and suddenly that entire piece was in my head," she recalls. "I started to cry, and I said if it makes me cry, then I need to do this."

Meiers says the piece, and the show in general, "met with lots of really interesting response." Some students, especially those whose parents or grandparents were effected by Alzheimer's, cried because of their identification with the subject.

The installation, which has been shown five times since its creation, still has a strong emotional effect on Barron. Her father died four years ago; her mother died the night before the opening at El Camino.

She found it impossible to enter the installation, which incorporates some of her parents' actual furniture, at the exhibit's opening, Barron says: "I just couldn't go in that night."

What: "Eye Remember--I Forget," sculpture, painting and photography related to Alzheimer's disease.

When: Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m to 2 p.m. (also, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday); Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Ends Feb. 26.

Where: Rancho Santiago College Art Gallery, Fine Arts Building lobby, 17th and Bristol streets, Santa Ana.

Whereabouts: From the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway, take the 17th Street exit and head west. Turn left into the school parking lot just past Bristol Street.

Wherewithal: Admission is free.

Where to Call: (714) 564-5615.

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