Eric Tillinghast’s water installations are sublime—minimalist, sometimes kinetic experiences that play with the magnificence and purity of the liquid form. But for Life Is Beautiful, the Northern California artist will add a little of Las Vegas to his site-specific work, “Sump Lux Fountain.” The 30-by-60-foot reservoir will sit like a tray in the courtyard of the Town Lodge Motel, shooting water plumes as high as 25 feet, through the mechanics of sprinklers and pumps on intermittent timers.
Describe the Life Is Beautiful work for us. I really wanted to respond to Las Vegas in a way that was more appropriate than stark minimalism. It’s sort of an homage to the Bellagio with homemade hardware, yard sprinklers. It will be relatively elegant, but there’s humor, too, a messy, over-the-top fountain that will be on a timer. My new work in general is going in this direction, this kind of messy fountain.
Why have you used water as a medium all of these years? Nothing I had been exposed to interested me. There was this one material that hadn’t been beaten to death over the centuries. It felt like new terrain to me. That was enough of an impetus. We’re so inundated with it as a part of life that we don’t stop to think about it. So for me, it was to try to take this common thing and recontextualize it and put it in a gallery in these elaborate containers.
As material only or subject, too? It began as a material for making art. Over the last 10 years or so, it’s become a subject matter about the ideas we have about water and the meaning we give it. And there is the history—the religions and belief systems that incorporate water. In every culture in the world there are stories and myths that snap it. The more I looked into it, the more I realized the universal experience.