WAVEFRONT Issue Spring 1987
THE HOLOGRAPHY OF MICHAEL SOWDON
by Melissa Crenshaw
MODERN POLITICAL MOTIFS give one the impression that the future
and survival of this world rest solely in the hands of powerful men
itching to press the big red button. It is as if we are expected to
believe that evil is sporadic and ideologically based.
Such ideas disintegrate as one comes face to face with Michael
Sowdon's recent body of work, titled:
'For our Friends Everything,
For our Enemies Nothing, And the Indifferent, the Law"
President Alfredo Strozner, Paraguay
Aided by a Canada Council grant, Sowdon executed his metre-square
film rainbow holograms at Holographics North in Vermont, with technical
assistance from Dave Stephens and John
Perry. The work premiered at Interference Gallery in Toronto on
Oct. 4, 1986.
The figurative content of the work necessitated the format size.
The work depicts human figures recorded in real time with a continuous
wave argon laser. As Sowdon planned and expected, the scenes composed of
real people didn't record as reflective objects, but left black voids
replicating human form and volume. Another element of the work was
interferometric recording of heat waves rising from the figures as they
were caught in violent action - creating striking heat displacement
We have no visual record of what happens during the millisecond
in which incineration and death occur. Sowdon's holograms leave one with
the impression of what might perhaps occur. It's startling and terrible,
and one does not leave the gallery with anything resembling
exhilaration. The terror of that last helpless moment, coupled with the
individual terror captured within the small wars of Sowdon's images,
makes one ask disturbing questions about what the hell is going on with
The shadowy voids left in the deep scenes are perhaps the best
visual representation of the lack of consciousness and lack of spiritual
direction that seem rampant in our global societies. Desperate scenes, mutual self-destruction,
one on- one. The idea of global genocide is repugnant to all of us, but the slow,
methodical destruction of individuals
appears to be a fact we have all decided to live with as long as we can.
As well as scenes of people caught in their last acts of life,
the holograms contained text painted on back-lit frosted glass. All
except the Strozner quote were found urban graffiti.
One hologram depicts the stabbing of a woman. Her outstretched
arm attempts an offense, the long fingernails appearing clawlike yet
totally defenseless against the male figure and the knife initiating its
thrust towards her body. Here the heat displacement effects are most startling, as
we see waves emanating from her open mouth - a silent scream. The text reads: "Life
doesn't give a rat's ass who lives it."
Another hologram depicts the volumetric outline of a spike-coiffed
punk, head turned to the sky, tongue sticking out at some unseen enemy,
middle finger gesturing upward. The text reads: "Jesus hates you."
Another piece shows a hooded figure and a hanging noose. Is this
figure the hangman or the victim? The text reads: "For our friends
everything, for our enemies nothing, and the indifferent, the law."
"My intention was to portray a nuclear holocaust by recording
live human figures as blackened three dimensional bodies blasted by
Sowdon's work reminded me of a photo taken in the aftermath of
the Hiroshima annihilation. At the moment of incineration, a man was
sitting casually on the steps of a building near where the bomb was
dropped. The faint outline of his lower torso was somehow etched into
the surface of the steps.
Pushing the technology to such limits produces some images which
are less successful than others. In a couple of holograms, the figures
were not clear cut, the outlines a bit confusing, requiring some explanation as to
their intent. However, for the most
part, the body of work succeeded in conveying each message. There often
seems an abundance of arbitrariness in holography. Format, scale and use
of color sometimes have no real effect on the final image and add
nothing to its ability to convey a particular message. In this work,
Sowdon has clearly synthesized the tools available to the holographic
artist. Each element supports the intent of the other. Nothing appears
arbitrary or the result of some uncontrolled application of technology.
Perhaps people attending the opening on Oct. 4 had expected scenes
of the annihilation of innocent people and the
more passive members of society. Not so. The gallery was quiet
and sombre as they studied the images, witnesses to all the little wars
that go on and that are the ultimate precursor to self-annihilation.
This show was no fun. It made one think. Considering all the
novel destructive applications we have found for our new technologies,
it was an interesting counterbalance to see technology used to draw
attention to the darker potentialities. Sowdon had the guts to show us a
side of life that is often disregarded as we focus on large issues and
big wars. His work says it is all happening now, in our cities and our
neighborhoods - millions of little buttons being pushed every day.