WAVEFRONT Issue Winter 1985
CONVERSATION WITH RUDIE BERKHOUT
In August 1985 Rudie Berkhout was engaged in the artist-in-residence
program at Walter Clark's (Global) holography lab and it was upon the
occasion of his visit that Al Razutis conducted this conversation 'as
interview'. The following text has been edited by Razutis for the
purpose of brevity. However, it does identify some of Berkhout's
concerns towards the development of his art as a realization of what
might be termed the 'aesthetics of harmonic functions', as evidenced in
both art and life experience.
I didn't want to begin chronologically, so I am not going to ask
you how you started in holography because that is probably the worst
question to ask anybody
Rudie Berkhout: Good.
AR: What are you doing now in terms of your changing attitudes
are they changing? Or are they reflective of a constant interest in a
RB: It is a process of constantly looking for that aesthetic.
A.R.: But you have a style that is a form of holography that someone
could identify as being 'your work'...I mean...
RB: Is that true?
AR: I think so. I'm perhaps not the best critic to comment on
your style, because there are people who know your work very well.
RB: You see it is hard for me to look objectively at this and I
don't take the work apart, because if it feels good, if it is ringing
and harmonizing it is a composition, a visual composition that has a
beginning and an end, a up and a down. There are stories to tell in
whatever form it takes.
AR: What kinds of stories are you referring to?
RB: Whatever stories are in the viewer's mind...I just try to
give hints, clues. I try to set up possibilities.
AR: As general correspondences or something specific that you
want to provoke in the viewer?
RB: Well...nothing specific. Just excitement for life. That's a
very general one. It is the amazement .. I see it like a record or a
soundtrack...make a song, make a balance.
AR: When you speak of harmonies, do you mean musical as well as
conscious, where the viewer and yourself harmonize together?
RB: Not compositionally, no. It is just that the imagery harmonizes
somehow When there is a right color balance, there is a chord being
struck there. And then, depending where you are in space versus the work
that changes...if there is good movement to it, and if the placing of
the imagery in space makes sense, it leads you in there, or out there...
AR: So this is concerned with the environment you were talking
in our earlier conversation as being very concerned and meticulous in
the way you present your work. You would like the viewer to see it in
the best circumstance
AR: And this is one of the reasons you are not interested in
group shows as much as in presenting your work yourself...so that you
have a complete access to the viewer?
AR: Well, control can be good or bad. I don't think your work is
slamming people over the head.
RB: No. No. I mean control over the installation. That's what I
want. After that there's no control...just inspiration. Maybe.
AR: In looking at your recent plates (the ones made in Vancouver),
there are several characteristics that these plates suggest. One is the
use of semiorganic subject matter, things that look like bones or
fossils or natural elements that arise from 3 process of organic
development, and the second is the landscaping effect in composition
which reminds me of Yves Tanguy's surrealist paintings which presented
landscapes of bone- like forms. It was precisely the cultural
familiarity with landscape art that made his metaphoric objects so
'natural'. It seems to me that there is a similar interest in your most
recent pieces, an interest to develop metaphoric content based on the
'naturalized' (in landscape), as distinct from the technical perfect shapes which
are inherent in geometric solids.
This comes back to my first question. Your early work tends to concern
itself with the perfection inherent in geometric shapes, geometric
solids, space defined in terms of matrix lines. And that is really a
very different aesthetic than the aesthetic of organic interplays.
RB: Yes, that's true. I'm trying to be more personal
AR: Does that reflect on your experience here?
RB: No. The landscapes that I have been doing for the last year
and this year are very organic, and they are totally away from the
abstract geometries which can be very impersonal
AR: Abstract geometries tend to implicate 'high tech' interests
of holography...holography as a creation of very recent technology.
RB: To me it is just the beauty of geometry. And the geometry
that is possible in holography is a different one.
AR: As opposed to?
RB: The usual geometry of usual space. It is different.
AR: What about the limitations of rainbow holograms, limitations
affecting the visual field which must be sampled by moving up and down.
This is something very different from the white-light reflection process
which presents the image in a much more physical manner, as if you could
touch it. Are those two types of holograms representing concurrent
interests of yours?
RB: Well, what I am doing here is exploring what reflection
holography is. What it can do. What it cannot do.
AR: But this is something you have explored before?
AR: You have never made reflection holograms before?
RB: The last ones I did in 1975, as 4 x 5's in a class.
AR: In New York?
RB: I took a class where Dan and Sam are now, from someone in
the basics...how to make reflection, how to make transmission. . .
AR: Do you do any work in laser transmissions?
RB: No. The laser transmissions that- I have are all strips.
AR: Which are masters for the copies?
RB: I never record a full one.
AR: Is there an aesthetic reason for this?
RB: Financial...and space.
AR: One of the things that f fascinates me is that there is a
phenomenal interest in white-light transmissions, an interest which your
work probably also generated in part. One sees many of the shows today
dominated by white light transmissions.
RB: Physically they are just more powerful. You focus the energy
in doing the second step, and besides you use the full spectrum of the
light that is falling on the hologram. It is more efficient. And they
physically stand out. The transmissions will always get more attention
AR: But they have this garish quality about them because they
are wavelength selective.
RB: They can be garish. They don't have to be.
AR: How do you minimize or offset garishness?
RB: Just make a composition that harmonizes. As a comparison, if
you play the piano or synthesizer and you put your arm on the keyboard
like that as opposed to trying to play a chord or a melody.
AR: Is this where in your work the multi-colour strategy comes
into play in the white-light transmissions?
RB: That is where you have more
frequencies and you can harmonize. You need frequencies to
to create overtones...colour overtones.
AR: Are you a musician
RB: I play the piano.?
AR: Is this a classic training?
RB: A little bit, but not much of a background really. I just
kind of fiddle with my electronic Yamaha. A wonderful instrument.
AR: Do you compose on the piano?
RB: A little bit.
AR: I was wondering about your analogies to music. They didn't
seem to reflect a strictly conceptual interest.
RB: No, connection.it is a natural
AR: Why do you limit your work to unique pieces or limited
RB: Each of my pieces has a limited edition of nine.
AR: What is the reason for that?
RB: It is a beautiful number, it harmonizes with the universe.
AR: And they are nine identical holograms?
RB: No. Well, they are the same, but sometimes they vary a little,
depending on when I do them. I do three f irst, and if they are sold
then maybe I'll do the next three or the next six depending on my
circumstances at the time...
AR: Do you announce in advance that this is a series of nine?
RB: No. They're all like that. I don't have to announce it.
AR: So the collector already knows. . .
RB: Yes. It's written on them one of nine, two of nine
AR: Does that affect your pricing?
RB: They get more expensive. Number nine of nine is nine thousand,
and number one of nine is three thousand. The first five are three thousand, and then
the price goes up.
AR: So it encourages people to buy early.
AR: Economically, you're able to support yourself as a professional
through the sale of your work and you don't have to work f or commercial
interests or teach or any other diversion...
RB: That's right.
AR: How did that occur?
RB: I just decided that.
AR: But surely there was a point in making that decision, that
had you not sold your work
RB: In 1979 I made the "Twelve Milliwatt Boogie" and "Two Photon
Studies" as white-light transmission holograms, there were three pieces.
And the first two I did in a limited edition of nine. And I sold one or
two in '78 which was very very amazing to me, because it was a high
price, I thought. . .
AR: Nobody would buy it?
RB: Yes. But they bought it.
AR: Were these collectors or museums?
RB: There were museums, the Museum of Holography bought some
work, and some people in Germany, and through Eve (Ritscher) I sold some
pieces to a collector in England. So I decided to give up my job at the
holographic company at the end of '78 and with two thousand dollars
started my own lab.
AR: Do you consider your work related to any one else's work?
Are there other people's work that you see as sharing issues in common
with yours or do you feel you are uniquely positioned?
RB: Well, I feel connected to Dan Schweitzer and Sam Moree quite
AR: In terms of aesthetics?
RB: No. Working in this field and doing our own thing, and
supporting each other.
AR: What about European holographers? You are European
RB: I am European
AR: How does that connect with your work? Most European artists
seem to be fanatically political..
AR: (Laughs) Yes. There's a lot of political art coming out of
Germany, there's a lot of political art coming out of Italy...
RB: You see I'm not very connected with the art world. I'm not
really thinking of my work as art work, I just like to make something
beautiful, exciting, special...to celebrate life. And if that happens...
AR: It happens to be called art.
RB: Yes. But I don't know where it fits in. It seems to be exciting
to some people so it keeps me going, following my dream. That's the
AR: What about people that write about your work?
RB: There are not that many people writing about it.
AR: Do you ignore the writing?
RB: I have seen very few things written about my work. It usually
describes the theme
AR: Just an illustration in words of the work?
RB: Yes, but it is usually not what a critic feels but what he
sees, and he begins to analyze it. And I'm more interested in feelings.
AR: Let's say this interview is published and there is a reader
or groups of readers who have never seen your work, or maybe one
installation, or perhaps only through photographs. Their curiosity might
be towards how you can translate into words, or into practice, concepts
like harmony, words that are normally abstract. If you could remember or
describe how you composed a certain piece that you could identify
RB: Well, you see I am not starting with many preplanned ideas,
I just play with the technique, see what it can do, what it can give me,
what kinds of specialties are there. So, during the time that I have
been here (Vancouver) I have been experimenting with different ways of
recording in the reflection mode to see what it is doing, to see what
visual clues I get.
AR: And this is conducted on small plates or fragments?
RB: It is conducted on the 8 x lO's that you have seen.
AR: That can be a very expensive proposition, if you get into larger
RB: That's the only way I do it.
AR: If you were working in meter square reflections?
RB: I am not planning meter square reflections (laughter).... if
I am working with white-light transmissions I have to make the piece to
see what I am doing, and in the process I experiment with different
masters, making different compositions, but still I have to see what the
outcome is because there are so many things in-between that change
perception. Like I made only two pieces this year in New York, and I had
one piece last year production is low, because I want something very
AR: In terms of your experiments in processing, are you
experimenting with chemicals, where you would try this bleach, try that
kind...this developer, that kind
RB: No, I stick to one process.
AR: So you are leaving that as a constant.
RB: I don't have time to go into chemicals, I can only handle so
much at a time. There are a lot of set ups that I have built here, a lot
of different systems...so I stuck to the same chemistry. And the whole
system is not stable as it is and I used the same chemistry, so you can
AR: The 80's are featuring a very competitive holographic scene,
based on big bucks, mass production and embossing techniques, a move
towards high profile production, which is definitely contrasted by your
own restrained quality production.
RB: I am doing the best I can... but I think what is happening
is great. But somehow I feel that you and I are in totally different
worlds. (He offers coffee and says that the recorder can keep running. )
AR: That is what makes it interesting.
RB: (Laughs) The way I approach things and think about it and
the way you...
AR: I am interested in the political arts, because I have seen
the inf luences of writing, historicizing, curating as having an impact
at every level of art production, especially the economic aspects of it,
or people's abilities to continue doing work. As I mentioned in our
previous conversation, I am very opposed to prescriptive art criticism.
There is also a grant funding base, both in the U.S. and Canada, which
supports only a certain kind of art production, a support that is based
on reading value into certain kinds of work which is why I write and am
interested in the politics of art and political art.
RB: Well you see, I decided not to have anything to do with it.
I do my own thing...I have applied for grants, but I have never gotten
them. I sit on the board of the New York State Council to give
grants...It was nice, in a way I like that better.
AR: To give the grants away?
RB: It's nicer to give them away than to get them. Besides I'm
doing all right and there are a lot of people in New York that really
AR What about social concerns? I'll harp on this a bit, because
it is my 'political line'. What about the concerns that other artists,
who may be deserving of financial grant support, are not getting support
or recognition? Do you feel that intervention on their behalf is outside
of your artistic activities?
RB: I think that's a possibility and they do it in Holland where
they give every artist who comes around money or buy their work, but that is pretty
AR: In what way?
RB: Well, you pamper him, you pamper the shit out of him. Can
you imagine what kind of shit work you get? After a while it is really
killing. And of course there is good work coming out, but there is also
a lot of sleepiness coming out. I think the living, the experience of
living and dealing with this world and making it very special, that is
important. And this is what I try to share with my work, and I hope that
my work talks like that, without using words. It vibrates and harmonizes
on a certain level.
AR: But the world is also, by everyone's notion, a pretty dangerous
RB: Not by mine.
AR: You're not worried about the political situation?
RB: Well, there are a lot of things that I'm worried about, but
I also believe that there is a reason for all these things to happen,
which I may not understand. I believe in the ultimate good of all the
things that are happening. And it might go through a phase of utter
destruction and sadness and death, but ultimately it is only getting
better and better. And it's only m y perspective which perceives this as
such. I cannot, maybe, see the larger scale where the destruction or
catastrophe can be a very fertile and fruitful event, because new things
AR: But that is very strange from a European perspective, where
the catastrophe of World War 2, which you and I missed by a year
RB: But that's why I think like that...certain changes cannot
occur without destruction.
AR: But some of the terms of the destruction that we are talking
about. . .
RB: You were talking about a dangerous world and I took that to mean a negative view
against the individual.
AR: But atomic holocausts are not of the order of cyclical
RB: I see them as things that are essential for us in terms of
realizing an awareness of having to deal w ith these things ...by having
to face up to it, by having this discussion, by having these political
struggles. It gets us into a different awareness because it is so real.
But the possibilities that we have through it are tremendous
AR: If we survive.
RB: Yes, but at the same time it is our free will, it is our
options that is what makes it so special to live now.
AR: After seeing what propositions are being forwarded by
fundamental sects, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and others, in terms
of a desired Armageddon and salvation
for the chosen few, the 144,000 acceptable ones, and knowing
that the rest of the world is excluded from these kinds of religious
'final solutions', it is hard for me to understand how destruction would
RB: There is the possibility that we can overcome it, as a next
phase...if we can overcome this and live together on this planet, we can
face other challenges.
AR: But there are artists in Europe and the U.S. who f eel that
their art is tied to a political concern, that they can affect, through
artistic means, a political process.
RB: Yes, I understand that totally. But it is not what I feel. I
feel that sharing some of that harmony as a sample, as a possibility and
living it myself in the way that I feel that the world can live...that's
my connection, living it as I would like to see the world ideally
(later in the conversation)
AR: We started out with the questions of aesthetics and got into
politics, and now we're back to aesthetics
RB: These limited editions (referring to his work) can travel to
different parts of the world and symbolically my thoughts go out there,
even physically and I haven't done mass production because I find it too
limiting. I cannot show what I want to show.
AR: But you can take a master, and using today's technologies
duplicate it so that you have five million copies.
RB: But it looks different. It is not the same.
RB: Yes. So far I haven't felt the need.
AR: Why are the embossed holograms generally lacking in depth?
RB: Because they don't plan them with any depth. They do it because
the light sources are usually lousy. For my work, you have to look at it
with the light source that I make. I make my own lights, with my own two
hands, as part of the piece. That's the way the holograms have to be
illuminated. Otherwise, you cannot see the full depth of f ield.
AR: Is your second lab geared to a particular format?
RB: It is designed to make one meter masters and two foot square
AR: And you have been working in these sizes?
AR: Did you design the lab yourself?
RB: I built it. Most of it. I bought some parts.
--We continued to talk of lasers, optics, limitations of mounts,
the problems with the Clark Vancouver lab optical mounts, processing
errors which turned out to be fortunate 'effects' in his recent
reflection plates, dichromates and their limitations (their flatness and
lack of depth, their colour limitations), the walks Rudie took on the
beach to find objects which suggested something to him for further
holographic work, and then it was time for Rudie to meet his social
obligations with other Vancouver holographers.