WAVEFRONT Issue Spring 1987
INTERVIEW WITH SALLY WEBER
IN OUR CONTINUING SERIES OF DIALOGUES WITH ARTISTS, AND IN OUR
ATTEMPT TO DEVELOP A THEORY OF ART HOLOGRAPHY THAT IS REPRESENTATIVE OF
ARTISTS VIEWS, THE FOLLOWING EXCHANGE VIA MAIL, PHONE AND DIRECT
CONVERSATION TOOK PLACE BETWEEN AL Al RAZUTIS AND SALLY WEBER BETWEEN
SUMMER 1986 AND SPRING 1987.
SALLY WEBER IS A HOLOGRAPHER WHO BEGAN IN THE LATE 70S AND STUDIED
WITH HARRIET CASDIN SILVER AND DON THORNTON AT THE CENTER FOR ADVANCED
VISUAL STUDIES, MIT. SINCE THEN, SHE HAS PRODUCED A NUMBER OF
ENVIRONMENTAL AND ARCHITECTONIC PIECES WHICH DIRECTLY INTEGRATE
SUNLIGHT, AMBIENCE AND ARCHITECTURE WITHIN A GIVEN INTERIOR OR EXTERIOR
ENVIRONMENT. HER WORK TENDS TOWARDS A KIND OF MINIMALISM FOUND IN
DIFFRACTION GRATING HOLOGRAPHY OR H.O.E.S, AND IS RELATED AESTHETICALLY
TO THE CONCERNS OF DIETER JUNG, ANOTHER ARTIST WORKING WITH
WEBER S PIECES, HOWEVER, ARE UNIQUE IN THAT HER BODY OF WORK REVEALS
AN ALMOST CONSTANT PREOCCUPATION WITH LIGHT (REDUCED AND ABSTRACTED),
TRANSITION (LIGHT, ENVIRONMENT, SPECTATORSHIP) AND THE HUMAN ENVIRONMENT
(ARCHITECTURALLY CONFIGURED OR NATURALLY GIVEN). AS SUCH, HER PIECES ARE
A NATURAL BRIDGE TO THE MORE ESTABLISHED MODERNIST AND POST- MODERNIST
ART FORMS (MINIMALIST SCULPTURE, LIGHT SCULPTURE AND NEON ART).
WEBER IS CURRENTLY WORKING ON A LARGE, SEVENFOOT-HIGH BY
36-INCH-WIDE PANEL (GENERATED AT ADVANCED DIMENSIONAL DISPLAY) WHICH IS
TO BE ILLUMINATED BY THREE WHITE LIGHT SOURCES, RESULTING IN THREE
INTENSE COLOR ARCS PROJECTING OUT FROM THIS H.O.E.
SHE IS ALSO CURRENTLY WORKING WITH THE ADVANCED ENVIRONMENTAL
RESEARCH GROUP INC. (ALONG WITH ELISABETH KING, RICHARD IAN, DON
HENDRICH GERRITSEN) ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF INTERIOR (OFFICE,
ETC.) HOLOGRAPHIC DIFFRACTIVE STRUCTURES, WHICH THE GROUP INTENDS TO
MARKET IN VARIOUS ARCHITECTURAL APPLICATIONS.
The synthesis of intention, materials, form end site develops
rapport. An idea can dictate materials, form, site end scale but the
genesis of tine idea end its intent develop slowly out of pushing
oneself. Sometimes I think that we are the medium for "ideas".
The individuality of each site suggests new ideas as well as
presenting problems to be solved. Outdoor sculptures, unless bolted down
or mace of bronze or steel, are at the mercy of the public. Holograms
are not vet robust enough to survive "out there" without vandalism.
However, temporary installations always involve the unexpected.
Al Razutis: You have said that light is the most universal of
symbols. In your work, you're invoking probably the most ancient of
symbols--light--in a context considered to be most contemporary (coherent
light). Is holography and its use of coherent light related to that
ancient symbology you refer to or is it something else altogether?
Sally Weber: I'm concerned more with how light affects us--not
just the effect of light as a symbol, but the effect of color When you
play around with coherence and coherent color, you're looking at light in a slightly
different way. But they're so related
that I don't know if you can dissect one from the other, and that's part
of my question. What is this light? Is it any different? When I'm
playing with sunlight and working with creating an atmosphere out of
light and the coloration of atmosphere - which relates to what Turrell
and Erwin are doing in environmental art--how does that affect us?
Granted, installations I've been involved with haven't gone to a scale
which changes the whole magnitude of place.
Okay, but some installations are not informed by symbolic systems.
For example, it could be as simple as an environmental gesture made by
an architect when someone says "I need windows here because the natural
light faces this way, " or, "I need an environment to give me certain
pleasing cues which are not systematized within any kind of symbology,
i.e. the one that comes to us from antiquity, that passes through the
various schools of psychology." And I'm thinking about Egyptian
conceptions of light as being related to creation and--
Religion. The Egyptians changed and realigned their buildings
periodically when the heavens changed. They made things that seem to
relate to the earth and to the passage of time in a way that we don't.
Stonehenge, for example, is based on an interest in creating
some sort of a calculator, as has been speculated. Your pieces seem not
so much aimed at deriving a basic knowledge, but at eliciting an
emotional response on the part of the viewer.
That's quite true. That's why I work in abstracts, mostly. Abstract
music can solicit certain kinds of response simply by the kind of music
that it is. I'm working with color or with light in that way, trying to
get to the purest essence of what is this stuff and what does it do to
us. Light has been affecting us for a long time. It has to. We are part
of it in some respects. Nothing grows on this planet without light, so
of course it's going to be basic to a lot of our symbolism, to the
symbolism of cultures far earlier than ours, and it will continue to be.
How can it not?
But that question still exists in terms of what coherent light
It's just our type of light.
Well, it's a pretty bizarre type of light.
It's a new form of light. It's also a light that's being used or
has the capacity, like electricity, to change technology. Light will continue to change
the technologies of ours and future generations because of the interconnections with
fibre optics, with computers, with new
technologies using light. It's very interesting to think of the
possibilities when all these forms get connected and light is driving
things. The more light is used in energy work, the more you start to
make people more aware of the potential of sunlight. We're not using it
anywhere near the capacity it could be used.
Are you attempting to invoke a systematic symbology? Do you have
a personal code which has to do with antiquity being refiltered through
your own romanticism?
I don't want to refilter anything, but you can't deny certain
parallels unless you want to distinctly avoid them. It's a case of
recognizing what other civilizations have done and recognizing that
maybe they understood a lot more about the world they lived in than we
traditionally wanted to give them credit for. Only recently, since the
mid-seventies, has work in archaeo- astronomy started to deal with the
orientation of buildings and what other cultures were intending to do.
They had to be aware of their environment because they absolutely
depended on it. If they didn't know when the crops were supposed to be
planted, they died.
That's pragmatic. The ancient Egyptians were not only pragmatic
about the seasons, using calculations to determine when flooding would
occur in the Nile, but also had a particular veneration of the entire
creation principle of their own cosmology--Ra, which was the sun. Do you
have a cosmological interest in solar and coherent light sources?
I don't know what to call it, but I guess I would pick sunlight
as a symbol of life.
What about coherent light?
Coherent light? No. I haven't really thought about coherent
light other than just as the refinement of colon As in dissecting or
microbiology, you have to look at a little bit of it before you can get
a sense of the entirety.. What kind of light does helium cadmium put out
and how does that affect us differently? How do you feel when you see
that color as opposed to some of the lines in an argon or helium neon? I
suspect that 20 years from now people will find there are very adverse
affects from working with some specific wavelengths to the exclusion of
Some wavelengths, for example the deep UV found in unshielded mercury vapor, can actually
fuck you up by changing your RNA.
Yeah, as does working in labs where you're looking at very
high-intensity, refined coherent light for extended periods of time in
very dark rooms. Your eyes must do two things at once, which causes
headaches, stress and a number of other reactions if you're working with
extremely high-powered lasers. The power source itself puts out
different kinds of ozone. We are affected by these things whether we
like it or not. I don't know if it's just coherence, but I don't know
who else has really dealt with coherent light specifically. I don't see
it as an antithetical component, setting up a black/white relationship
to sunlight. I see it more as a component, and a very interesting one,
in that we can suddenly delve into this world of light and explore it in
a way that we haven't been able to before.
What is the relationship between the Bauhaus, your work and
The Bauhaus was trying to integrate both application and decorative
arts: how something is used with its design. There was a synthesis of
how the design functioned and how it looked, from something as simple as
a teapot, to architecture. A whole aesthetic came out of that which
influenced architecture,' stripping away some preconceptions about what
ornament did or added, and getting down to the bare necessities of what
Within your work, the waterfall piece (Focalpoint, 1982) for
example, how does that piece fiat t within that conception you've just
articulated, as opposed to your outdoor piece (Lightscape, 1982), which
features curved forms, basically praying the spectrum ? Are there
different applications or do you see your work as fully interactive
functionally and aesthetically?
I was looking toward two very different things with those
installations. Lightscape, the first installation I did using
holography, was designed for a specific environment, and I used elements
from the surrounding architecture--curves - curved buildings by Eero
Saarinen. Also I integrated the curve of the arc of the sun which
crossed that landscape during the day.
Did it use space in relationship to the viewer?
Of course, because the distance the viewer was at determined what color they were
seeing, and as
they moved toward it they saw the installation go from blue to various
colors: reds, oranges, yellows and greens. The closer they were to the
arcs, the redder the spectrum, and in its own way, it was very
simplified. Those were all the same hologram - mass produced by me. I
whipped out millions of them and put them together to make a modular
structure wherein light was the changing element. The structure itself
was very simple.
But could it have been on a distant, grassy plain irrespective
of what buildings were around it; without people around it?
It could have, but it would have been too small in some sites.
It needed something to bounce off because it was so simple. Focalpoint
was designed for a different reason, to experiment with focusing with
light and what would happen if the primary spectrum was focused on the
ground and therefore migrated in accordance to the sun. I never saw that
gradation of color to a point where the spectra itself makes white light
between green and pink, and I was interested in the projection of
magenta and that color of magenta light which I just personally like.
People know what the usual rainbow colors are like--the primary spectrum
--but the secondary spectrum--the secondary higher orders-- are not often
utilized. I was very interested in the integration of color and water
and light and movement and how that could be combined in one unified
body such that it would open up the viewing angle. The glass pipes were lenses basically--so
that the viewing angle wasn't just directly in front of the sculpture, but opened
up the viewing distance by another 100 degrees. As you walked, you saw the sculpture going from just very thin lines because of the lensing of the water pipes catching
the gratings on an angle, to full view and out again. And then the sound, of course,
was part of it.
How long was that piece up?
It was up for about six weeks at MIT (that was a thesis project
actually) at the Whittaker Medical Science building. Then it was
re-exhibited for three or four months at the Museum of Science in Boston
as part of a 3-D show in '83/84.
How does your aesthetic translate into the holographer's darkroom
technique 7 One detail of your work may have 20-by- 30 inch
configurations, within which will be what appears to be a spectrum. Why
is the spectrum limited to that ? Is it an accident, is it deliberate,
or are you working against certain limitations of the medium--and what are
Ok, let's take Focalpoint, the water-fountain sculpture. It had a
focus in that you could see the entire installation in one color at
about 10 feet. When you stood in the focus spot - you almost couldn't
see the thing because it was so bright. As you walked back, the color
relationships changed. You saw much more spectra the further back in
space you got. Also, between 10 and 20 feet on the floor, there were
spectrums thrown across that migrated in line with the sunlight that
crossed the floor. So there were multiple layers happening at once.
Were you able to calculate all these things ?
When I did Focalpoint I had a lab. When I did the two installations
at MIT I had a lab to myself, so I worked out those installations in
So you engineered it in your mind first?
Yeah, they were trying to teach me tricks. No wonder they thought it
couldn't be done because most of the stuff I do is with the higher order
and nobody has the calculations for that stuff. Nobody wants to deal
with it, so I have to look and see if it's going to work. I was just
doing it place by place by place by place in the lab, then taking it
outside and looking at it: back and forth, back and forth. So I knew
what was going to happen, but I had three or four months in the lab.
What about the viewer? When I mounted my first abstract pieces,
they became uninteresting after a while because I didn't get any viewer
response. Viewers would look at this material and not know what they
were looking at.
Well, I'm running into that one now with an installation. Because of
the water, Focalpoint worked pretty well. People like entertainment.
People like water. Also, water adds a really nice element to light. When
I was at the Museum of Science, it was really nice. Kids would try and
pitch pennies down the pipes from the upper balconies. Needless to say I
wasn't thrilled about this, but there wasn't much I could do about it.
One day when I was there, a whole group of grade 6 kids came through.
After having been primed on science all day in the Museum, one of them
looked at it and said, "Hey, look, a spectrum of stars." That blew me
away because he had connected with it on certain levels. You don't know
how people are affected. I hear more comments afterwards then I ever
hear during an installation. I never hear a thing about it because I've
never had a review.
I do like working with the public in that you don't know what
the response will be. People will read work or not read work depending
upon their own interpretations. Sometimes I'm very surprised at how that
perception can deal with some of the deeper issues I've been dealing
with. Public work has to have a very broad appeal. Gallery work can be
much more aesthetically oriented conceptually because a more specialized
public will be coming through. In an office building or the atrium
of a shopping center, people sill respond just to the basics: color,
light, water, sound-- simple elements. They won't spend a lot of time
analyzing an image, or be interested in its structure, how it works
together, and what kinds of concepts I'm dealing with. It's got to be a
gut approach, and I'm very interested in appealing to people through
emotive response--you hit them through the gut or the middle and not as
much through the head. However, other installations I've done have been
much more intellectually based.
Let me pursue one aspect of your work's formal properties--what
you refer to as its spatial dimension. You have said there's a spatial,
sculptural quality to light, and what is immediately apparent in your
work as opposed to that of most other holographers is that you don't
deal with concrete representation as a spatial property of light.
No, I don't think there's any point to it. Because there is finally
the ability to get away from the materialistic object, from the thing
sitting there in space. There's finally the ability to transform that
thing into something else, to play around. If it doesn't have substance,
why try to make it look like a three-dimensional object? I don't see the
Well, we live in a world of three- dimensional objects. I assume
this is why holography has been so obsessed with 3D wavefront imagery
I don't see the point. Suddenly you can begin to dematerialize
things. You can look at life and the transformation
of an object into, if you will, a nonobject, or something more
than we generally see. You can work with suggestion, you can work with
innuendo, you can work with two things at once.
But you're not working in an area that mediates between the two.
You're working in a process that almost rejects concrete objecthood and
you work in an area that is much more...
I work in a metaphysical area. There's no question about that.
It's tied to an idea conveyed in painting in the '20s and '30s--to
evacuate all superfluous elements from the art and go back into a pure
form and the essence of a medium.
Yeah, and Suprematism.
...and de Stijl--most of them were interested in theosophy.
We're going to talk about space and light again. You've rejected
I wouldn't say reject. I don't think that's appropriate.
Parsifal--that installation used objects, granted. It doesn't use objects
to make objects. It's really trying to deal with: what is a maze? That
questioning point in your mind when things have not quite solid)fied. If
anything, I'm usually trying to play on the edge where there aren't
quite words, there aren't quite definitions, things haven't come to an
absolute state, time, place all the time. They're still in that fuzzy
zone where you're feeling, and maybe that's part of the point: the
experience. Later we translate that into our good old objective reality.
So it's prelinguistic7
But it's felt.
A psychologist would say that's preconscious--the state between
dream and waking.
Right. That's it exactly. It's a visionary state where things
are not quite as they seem. They're not actual. It's a metaphoric state
where things are still in the processes of dream.
Ok, what exists in that state' this question concerns itself
with content now more than form. Surely not nightmares and things that
are horrible to conceive of In your case it seems harmonic...
Well, it had a lot to do with light.
A certain kind of light.
But a certain content based on order, symmetry, harmonious
At this point it's very simplified. The next installation is a
focus of three lines of light in space. They'll be one-by-two metre
holograms. I'm pushing all this stuff to the final minimal point so I
can finally see what this light business is about. Then I'm sure the
whole thing will change. I haven't a clue what kind of work I'm going to
do after this. I might go back to making apples. I don't know.
Right now with my work I'm going into scary stuff places I haven't
been and not necessarily representative of my own mind. I'm doing a
series on incest, not because I'm committing or involved in incest, but
because I live in a world that is dominated by that-- Vancouver in
particular. It's one of the incest capitals and what incest survivors go
through is pretty horrendous to contemplate. I see aspects of holography
being influenced by that, when we talk about getting preli nguistic and
things becoming. This is an area Edvard Munch might have liked to and
did explore. The unconscious is not a very pleasant place.
You're moving into the shadow.
But in your work you seem to be drawing out really harmonic,
pleasant things at this point. Things that are inspirational from a
Well, that's just where I am. That's why I don't know where I'm
going. This next installation takes that to the final point. But, you
see, the trouble with minimalism is that you get to the point of being
Well, it ends up with a black square, doesn't it? Or the white
Yes, and that's the problem. I'm ending up with a line or a series
of three lines that you see as white light when you are in line with
them. Now, that has a hell of a lot of connotations, but it also has a point of being
sterile. So if I want this installation to work, I have to go back to sculpture,
drawing, and all sorts of other things in order to get those concepts across. I find
that in holography it's impossible to take it to that final point, ripping out the guts
so all you have is the skeleton.
The trouble is, most people can't handle the skeleton. The skeleton of a
concept. The skeleton is like the Suprematist square. You get it down to
the most refined point and most people go, huh? Because they're used to
all the gloss.
But that also implies that art forms--and this would be an art
critic's view of an art medium--would aspire to a certain direction, a
certain development and chronology, process, whatever, and in this
particular case, if you go toward purity, it's called teleological,
where it finally assigns itself an ultimate cause. Kant believes in a
priori conditions, i.e. the mind is organized by a priori principles.
That's why he was interested in mathematics as one of the pure sciences.
It affirmed for him the notion that knowledge is derived through
combinational rules which are a priori, and everything that occurs after
that is reason's attempt to fit itself into those categories. Now,
that presupposes a transcendental reality and transcendental purity
of form and content which is all synthetically organized in what he
called a schema. If that's the case in the art that you 're referring
to, then it does, by necessity, end up at a certain point like blackness,
whiteness or reduction to what is an attempt to become a priori but
would never become so because you're dealing with material things. So,
that is the case then, right?
Well, to a certain extent. I play with materials, and I guess
I've always worked with materials. I'm a sculptor. I try to work out
what language that material uses. It's taken a long time to get to a
point where I wanted to say something. For a long time I used the
material to say something. What's strange about working with light is
that you can't ever work with the light itself. You're working with
lights, with holography, with film -- you're working with all these other
You can't materialize light.
Yet holography gives you the ability to materialize light in a
very different sense. It allows you to make something into a form that
appears to be out in space. Now that is pretty interesting.
Well, that's magic stuff
It's nothing too glamorously new, but it's still conceptually a
What you're talking about, isolating essences, is what I consider
the modernist preoccupation. Other writers have echoed this over and
over--that modernist painters. sculptors, etc. were all interested in
this process and this is where minimalism became a necessary ingredient,
etc. From an art-historical, critical perspective, aren't you repe.ating
the modernist experiment with holography?
No, because I'm not trying to cut away all its references to
past, present and future. What you're allowed to do though is say that
it's referential, that it has connections. I don't see sculpture
unrelated to its environment. It's much more referential. The work and
the place have a conversation. The work has something to say to that
place and the place has something to say to that work. I'd like to see what happens
between the two. They can compete with each other; they can
contrast and become a very starkly different scenario, or they can
combine in a way which makes you much more aware of the place--the
negative space of the place.
Sculpture somehow becomes negative and the space itself becomes
positive - the space between the wall and the window, if you will. That
becomes the active area. When sunlight and changing light or changing
color comes through a place and people see something different every
time they walk through, it repersonalizes places that have become either
architecture or areas they can't relate to. I'm trying to bring person,
and respect for person, back into a place. I think it's really
important. Most places are not built for people. They're made to impress
Your new piece attempts to explore truth, and the truth value of
the piece is not to be derived from ord inary logic. It has to d o with
what Kant called transcendental logic. Now, ordinary logic abstracts, so
ordinary logic would have to do with your compositional schema, and it's
easy to discuss. "Transcendental logic is the logic of truth which
involves the application of a priori forms or rules of thought to
sensuous content." I.e., if you choose a line, or if you choose a
triangle, or if you choose a circle, that is related to perhaps what C
G. Jung would have called archetype. But that is what Kant would have
called a priori. How is that therefore implicated as a truth value in
your piece itself .. which is a philosophical question?
Well, what are you saying? Am I trying to deal with truth in working
with light? What you're really asking is what's the basis of the
symbolism and am I dealing with using light as a representation of
truth. I haven't been thinking about it as truth. I suppose on some
levels it's a question of what holds things together if there's going to
be any kind of common bond. Maybe in my own personal philosophy, that
might be some form of energy, and the simplest representation that I can
think of for that is light. So, it's totally idealistic. Now whether
that is truth with philosophical ramifications, I don't know. I don't
think I have the understanding to deal with these questions yet. I'm not
even sure I've formulated the complete question. That's part of what I
expect the process to do.