WAVEFRONT Issue Spring 1987
by Al Razutis
Bill Molteni is certainly no stranger to the
international display holography community. He has pioneered
many production and display techniques, notably full-color and black and
white holographic stereograms and achromatic animated holographic
portraiture. Molteni has worked with the Polaroid group, in conjunction
with Stephen Benton, to develop what some term the most advanced
discoveries in new holographic recording techniques. Currently, Molteni
is Associate Scientist with Polaroid and is involved in the research and
development of the new photopolymer film for holography.
The above credentials are perhaps one of the reasons why Molteni
was given a retrospective by Interference Gallery director/curator
Michael Sowdon. The Toronto exhibit ran from Dec. 13, 1986 to Feb. 28,
1987. The show was far more interesting from a historical perspective
than one which implicates an aesthetic use of the medium. This
retrospective, as Molteni's curriculum vitae suggests, is primarily a
technical- display show featuring some of the "firsts" in display
holography recording techniques: one of the first computer- generated
holographic stereograms (Starwars), an early color computer-generated
stereogram (Digital Rose, in collaboration with Mingace and Benton), a
number of two-color reflection holograms (notably ZYoyo), one of the
first achromatic transmission holograms (Stripes), reflection
stereograms and more.
Molteni's work is historic, in the way that early photography is
interesting from an historic point of view; content is completely
secondary (even incidental) to technique and medium. Formal exploration
of the aesthetics of the medium is also lacking. All of the above in no
way takes away from Molteni's technical stature and Molteni himself
probably would be quite content to let his work, and its place in the
history of technical evolution of display holography, stand in a context
which is consistent with the original intent.
As a fine arts critic, I'm not too excited at Starwars (it resembles
some early attempt by Atari to generate geometric graphics), Mask (a
pre- Columbian facsimile of no aesthetic consequence), Crayons
(literally crayons, mimetically arranged), Dad (a nice snapshot), or any
number of other examples of his craft. If this were the
early or mid-seventies, I might say something critical with regards
to how display holography has been misunderstood as art by curators and
holographers and how toy locomotives have become a pseudo-aesthetic
standard for fine arts evaluation. I might even explain why curators and
art critics in the rest of the art world are not going to be impressed
by crayons or masks while they ponder the calamity of postmodernism.
A trip to the contemporary arts museums would be in order for those who
need further illustration as to the vast gulf between holography and the
rest of the arts. But this is the late '80s and holography is big enough
to accommodate the differences between art and technical display, and big
enough to celebrate both.
Thus, a black and white stereogram (one of the earliest) like
Dali' can be celebrated as a technical achievement (the miniature
portrait that it contains of the artist working) and as a historical
signpost (holography intersects with Dali). But as an aesthetic
achievement (surrealism) it is hopelessly out of date.
But the venue (Interference), the curator (Sowdon) and the gallery
press release lead to speculation on several factors, most of which have
to do with the gallery's conflation of the term "display" and "art"
(which was applied liberally to Molteni's work). It seems that a fine
arts gallery of holographic work, Interference, has undertaken the task
of historicizing display holography. This decision is meritorious on one
hand, for work such as Molteni's would not be available through any
other venue and one may presume Sowdon was motivated to bring it to the
Toronto area because of the lack of other holographic exhibition spaces.
However, I must take issue with the curator for his inability to
differentiate this work as technical or to properly contextualize this
work as anything but "holographic artworks". Sowdon himself, on the
occasion of a recent Chicago symposium on the arts, publicly denounced
fine arts holography on the basis of arbitrary curatorial standards or
indiscriminate groupings of art works, which he said was symptomatic of
much of current exhibition practice in North America.
Molteni's retrospective, while legitimate on its own terms and
perhaps more suitable in the Smithsonian or the N.Y. Museum of
Holography, is a curatorial anomaly in the fine arts context of
Interference, where issues of what is vanguard or most important are yet
to be fully explored. To be safe with history or the "big names" of art
is to be ultimately conservative and one would hardly expect this to be
the new direction at Interference.