WAVEFRONT Issue Summer 1987
MAKING SENSE OF TIME AND SPACE
Problems at Montreals
Images In Time and Space PROMOTES ITSELF AS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT
INTERNATIONAL HOLOGRAPHY EXHIBITION OF THE DECADE.
AFTER VISITING THE SHOW AT MONTREAL S EXPOTEC, I WILL REMEMBER
IT AS THE LARGEST HOLOGRAPHY GHETTO EVER ASSEMBLED. THE EXHIBITION HAS
SERIOUS FLAWS ON EVERY LEVEL. IF ANYTHING CAN BE LEARNED FROM THIS
I0,000-SQUARE- FOOT MOUND OF SPAGHETTI, IT IS THIS. THE PRACTICE OF
HOLOGRAPHY IS FINALLY TOO LARGE TO BE REPRESENTED UNDER ONE ROOF.
The Flawed Theme
In putting forth a critique of this exhibition, I will refrain
from naming the cooks who spoiled the broth. It was a group effort. It
was an administrative fiasco supported by a holography community too
hungry for recognition to keep its own best interests in mind. Curators
and designers, caught in the muddle, served too many masters... and were
the masters of none.
The premise that triggered an avalanche of errors was the notion
that the entire history of holographic art and science could be gathered
together into some critical mass and that the result would (or could) be
coherent enough to WOW a mixed public. Although the intentions are
admirable, the task was formidable and the public was cheated out of a
world of wonders they wanted, needed and deserved. And they probably
don't even know it.
Sure, there were 170 or so very fine works (not counting the
cornucopia of holographic baubles that blocked the exit). Certainly, the
people came in record- breaking numbers and relished each image. Many
patrons left excited and anxious to recommend the experience to everyone
from second cousins to long-lost scout masters. Perhaps the whole
civilized world will soon flock to see Images in Time and Space. But
even if the show is a statistical success it is still a badly botched
The marriage between art and science is profoundly important in
today's dehumanized society. Holographic practitioners from both camps
have welcomed their counterparts enthusiastically, producing a fertile
sharing of technologies and aesthetics. But there comes a time when both
artists and scientists must recognize that their public functions serve
opposing purposes. The artist creates mystery. The scientist creates
objective truth. When the two purposes are confused in an exhibition
such as Images in Time and Space, the audience is left in the lurch.
Like two waves in nearly opposite phase, the collective energy
In Images in Time and Space, there is no clear separation between
the functions of art and science. The works which have great
significance in the development of the technology are not delineated as
such. There are no diagrams, lessons or examples which chronicle the progress of the
science. There is no family tree of important ideas, no classification guide to types
of holograms so that the audience could learn for itself the simple
distinction between a transmission and a reflection plate. There are no
clear pointers to the future of holographic ideas--in short, no teaching
and no informed speculation.
Likewise philosophy and aesthetics are never explored in the display
of the artistic works. Certainly, many holographers carry on a dialogue
with painting, photography, film and sculpture. There are holo
surrealists, expressionists, conceptualists, cubists... There are unique
"isms" yet unnamed within holography. When will curators and
holographers start to take their expressions seriously?
The problem is partly in the exhibition design itself. The design
provides no overview of the purposes and intentions of related works.
All holograms are identified with identical label formats--name, date,
producer, technique, statement, etc. Like an epic daisy chain of
postcard messages, the total effect falls short of its potential.
Imagine structuring the history of holography out of 170 randomly
sequenced paragraphs, written by nearly as many authors and organized
into an editorial whole by nobody in particular.
I would have enjoyed the presentation more if the scientific works were in separate
space, with its own environmental ambience. These works should have been accompanied
with clear didactic panels designed to educate the public as to the advantages of
different techniques, along with a chronological flow chart describing their evolution.
There should have been a videotext (or slide demonstration) designed to instruct
public in identifying various qualities in holograms.
Once the education was finished, the viewer could then move into
a section designed specifically for artistic works. This area should be
devoid of technical explanation. (How many painters would list the names
of their pigments beside each painting?) Even the labels should give no
indication of technique. Why demystify the mystery? Art should
misdirect. It should hide technique to better let the magic survive.
The artistic environment should be spacious, magical and
meditative... perhaps a different color ... a gallery rather than a
science class. Every effort should be made to preserve the emotional and
aesthetic intent of the work. Installation pieces should be awarded the
solitude they deserve. They should be lit as carefully as the subjects
of the holograms themselves. Holographers are deeply concerned with the
beauty of light, yet the lighting quality of this exhibition is thoughtless and undramatic.
Holographic "pictures" should be grouped into choruses of harmonic thought rather
than be left to quibble and babble relentlessly like chipmunks on a scratched 45.
But the thematic problems of Images in Time and Space are even
greater than the simple-minded and garbled dialogue between art and
science. This exhibition also proposed to show us holographic history
and prehistory, and commercial applications. These endeavors demand yet
other spaces, each with its own separate and appropriate quality. As it
is, Images in Time and Space is laid out in a loose chronology, sort of
starting with Gabor (Lippman comes later for some reason) and finishing
with a kitschy display of pop baubles and beads. Are there no inspired
thinkers in this field? I'd rather leave the exhibition hearing their
thoughts than buying their earrings. After 40 years, one man's genius
becomes another man's frivolity. Some chronology!
The Traffic Jam
Holography demands a unique sense of exhibition design. This
audience simply moves to a rhythm different from any other. First of
all, different pieces need to be viewed from different vantage points,
and through different spatial windows. In moving away from one image,
the viewer should find himself naturally within the proper viewing window of the next
piece. But if the audience must crane and bob and weave its way among holograms of
various quality, the overall traffic pattern must be simple and linear.
Images in Time and Space has been designed on a triangular grid.
This hightech, Fulleresque solution probably looked great on paper but
it's a disaster when the space is filled with real people. The effect of
an angular beehive maze on an audience concerned with craning, bobbing
and weaving is highly disorienting. Most of us locate ourselves easily
within the rectalinear layouts of our cities and architecture. Keeping
track of rectangular space and distance is second nature. The complex
floorplan of Images in Time and Space works against the notion of
holographic chronology and doesn't accommodate mood changes which
reflect the intention of the works. Upon entering the show, I vowed to
"always turn left" in order to maneuver through the maze. After a few
hours, I still found whole sections I hadn't seen. I came to the
exhibition with a group of Montreal friends. After leaving Images in
Time and Space, we attempted to discuss our reactions to various pieces.
Time and time again, a single phrase was repeated in our conversation:
"I never saw that one."
There is a wave machine and a display
of laser tubes, both without glass covers. The hands-on approach
is not appropriate when the display is fragile. Not only does it pose a
safety hazard, but the mere presence of breakable items in a family
exhibition poses a hazard to the overall enjoyment of the experience.
Parents have enough to cope with without watching their kids poke around
expensive glassware. Both displays lacked sufficient explanation to make
them really educational and I was left with the impression that the
decision to include this material was made by the Committee for the
Preservation of Sleep.
Along with a general lack of tutorial graphics, other aspects of
the graphic design were ill conceived. The labels for individual works
were badly lit. The only indications of chronology were the date on
these labels, but who in the audience could be expected to remember all
those dates while trying to appreciate esoteric technology? Especially
when the labels were barely readable. In this predominantly dark
environment, back-lit labels could have worked very well.
The show finishes with a "Holo- boutique" which offers many
rainbowed things for sale. But I didn't see much educational material
there either. Education should have been the primary purpose of a
presentation by the National Museum of Science and Technology. It
Holographic artists always take pride in low-budget solutions to
high-tech problems. Where was the glorious celebration of homemade
technology? There could have been a sand table under glass but there
wasn't. Short of that, there could have been a photograph of an optical
bench (remember photography?) but there wasn't.
But some of the low-budget/high-tech aesthetic did permeate the
exhibition display like an annoying 60-cycle hum. Modular frames with
strapped-on track lighting supported walls of carpet that sway in the
breeze of traffic and overhead fans. The whole ambience is grey and the
construction is strictly inspired by a trade fair mentality. The notion
that future architecture will consist of tubular tinker toys is a tired
one. There was an opportunity here to break the cliche but the
opportunity was ignored.
The exhibit of integral holograms is out of order due to a bad
choice in motors. While waiting for the missing pieces, these displays
remain partially complete, adding their meaningless voices to the overall visual noise.
Turntables that didn't turn should have been returned to the workshop
rather than left to capture audience attention as crippled contraptions
The laser-illuminated 4"x5"s (especially historical works) are
illuminated by lasers too small and spreading lenses too dirty to do
them justice. When will holographers learn that a two-inch circle of
squiggly light with a half-inch hole in the middle is not good enough?
Inevitably the audience understood these works to be much more crude
than they actually were.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the exhibition was the
criminal lack of climate control. The curators went to great lengths to
collect fine examples of historical work. The holographers will never
retrace these important experiments again. Indeed, many of the works
were not created to the highest archival standards to begin with.
Nevertheless, the greatest care must be exercised to preserve this
All holographers fear the damage created by high humidity. Many
of the film holograms at Images in Time and Space are warping in their
frames. The reflection plates shift color as the weather changes.
Expotec is located a few feet above a large body of water. Summer
temperatures will certain turn the site into a sauna. Whether the
holograms will survive this torture is cause for speculation. In any
case, the fluctuations of diffraction efficiency in certain works are
not explained to the audience. On humid days, they will simply judge the
medium based on dim red holograms. This is not entirely the fault of
(AST) INC. Holographers should be smart enough by now to make their
The Uninspired Press Kit
There is no catalogue to accompany the exhibition and the brochure
is feeble. The "press kit" repeats much of the information in the
brochure along with a nearly useless exhibition list. There are no
installation photos available at this time. Although many inspired
artist statements do appear on the poorly lit exhibition labels, none
appear in the press kit. Apart from xeroxes of the National Geographic
article, there are no quotable notes,no bibliography, no glossary of terms and no
chronology. It should come as little surprise to holographers that they are constantly
misrepresented by the media. What can the poor, ignorant reporter do but pray to
his muse for a zany, zappy headline?
The Orchestra Is Out Of Tune
There is a great difference between a bunch of nice people and a
team. Many of the problems of this exhibition could have been averted if
some informed and inspired leadership had coordinated the production.
The work should begin with a rigorous examination of purpose. No premise
should be assumed without the opinions of many experienced consultants.
Art, science, history and practice are all valid concerns, but in
holography the borderlines are easily blurred. Each area of exploration
requires a different methodology. Each territory must be understood
through its own language.
I understand from talking with members of the installation crew
that reference angles were not correctly designated on the contributor's
reply forms. This only causes delays in installation schedules and saps
energies better spent on finishing details. Because the display of every hologram
has inherent difficulties, each work should also be accompanied by some description
of angle of view and
correct viewing distance. Planning the traffic flow will certainly fail
without such advance information. Holograms do not occupy wall space.
They occupy the room's volume Design cannot proceed along traditional
routes (blueprints leading to construction and installation) unless the
designer has some clear idea of the field of influence of each work.
Holographers, as a rule, are maniacs for detail. Every aspect of
technique is controlled with superhuman precision. Each optical
configuration and process has an elaborately conceived rationale. But
many holographers also share a single glaring deficiency. It is the lack
of creativity regarding the display of their works. They leave display
decisions up to inexperienced designers. They shun any collective action
regarding control over the representation of the medium as a whole...
and they wonder why the masses misunderstand.
The Lost Chemistry Of Showmanship
At one time, there was talk of an exhibition of commissioned works.
This would have been vastly preferable to the present show if only to demonstrate
that great minds works as well with conceptual challenges as with technical ones.
This spark of genius seems to have been smothered by the PR notion that biggest is
The holography community continues to situate itself in a ghetto
of its own making. Holographic artists should more boldly associate
themselves with philosophies and aesthetic concerns. Technical
achievements, no matter how astounding, are always secondary to the
gesture of art.
Likewise, physicists should demand that their work be understood
within the correct technological framework. The practice of holography
is not a noisy, incoherent and amorphous discipline. The community
itself must define its various directions and insist on their integrity.
The Politics Of Collaboration
Because the expertise of exhibition developers cannot be taken
for granted, holographers must begin to exercise a collective political
will. Some of the finest holographers in the field have identified
frustrating and recurring problems. These problems must be examined by
the entire holographic community openly and without malice. The genius
of these visionary artists should be employed to coordinate a patient
response to the understandable ignorance of producers, designers and
promoters. Exhibition organizers rarely develop their projects
fully informed about the nuances of the medium but their function in
the scheme of things is vitally important.
Emotional tantrums by disgruntled holographers produce only more
confusion and defensiveness. Nothing constructive is gained. Time is
lost. Talent is wasted.
Vindictive boycotts are equally unsuccessful, resulting only in
the suffocation of curatorial power. Limiting the choices of available
works merely inhibits the development of a comprehensive aesthetic
theory. The public is robbed of a chance to view an important work and a
potentially engaging holographic exploration is reduced to nothing.
Where the issues are based on censorship or malpractice, such boycotts
may be just)fied. But using the boycott tool as a gesture of ego simply
avoids the very real and most difficult task of working through a
All Is Not Lost
Images in Time and Space was not a total disaster. Arts curator
Sydney Dinsmore made a valiant effort to establish an impressive
holographic collection in Canada. Certainly the purchase of holograms
outright was an enormous benefit to a community constantly struggling
for cash. We can only hope that these works will survive the weather,
the traffic and the bureaucracy. We can only insist that they finally find a home
within an institution which respects their value.
Even though aesthetic directions have not yet been examined
thoroughly, an interesting critique of the art is still possible. The
administration needs only to lure a competent brood of critics into the
exhibition. This seduction is difficult as long as the press kit speaks
the language of pop science. But it's not too late to expand the promo.
Undoubtedly, the general public was satisfied even as they remained
ignorant of the greater possibilities. There is still time to rethink
the exhibition design and work out some of the bugs. The maze should be
clarified before the next installation. There is still time to produce a
small catalogue and to introduce clear educational values within the
science sections of the exhibition. The artistic environments can be
made more sublime by opening up the spaces and using light more
dramatically. Labels need not be lost in the darkness forever.
Much of the raw material for a better exhibition is already
here. The administration simply needs to take a hard look at the
exhibition's purpose and find the will to correct its errors. I'm
certain that many members of the holographic community have constructive
suggestions to make. A collective critique would be useful, but if (AST)
INC. doesn't solicit it, there is no reason why holographers shouldn't
take up the initiative themselves. Now that the preshow pressure is off,
some fine tuning could go a long way toward giving the paying public the
exhibition it needs, and the holographers the exposure they deserve.
At the very least, Images in Time and Space should force
holographers to break bad exhibition habits. A formal conference on the
topic would be useful. Some notion Of viewing space must become attached
to the documentation of all holographic works. Display and conservation
standards need to be formalized in print.
An attempt to anthologize a body of aesthetic opinion would be a
fascinating start toward moving the craft into the realm of Art.
Curatorial guidelines may be difficult to establish, but nurturing an
awareness of collective concerns certainly will do no harm.
Just as coherence is essential to making holograms, it is also
the key to making sense.