Leonardo Thinks

Holography as an Art Medium by Louis M. Brill

Historical Opinion by Louis M. Brill

Louis M. Brill summarizes the evolution of artistic experimentation with holography…
Holography as an Art Medium

As holography has developed into an art medium, it has opened a new realm where imagery is composed and conveyed within a three-dimensional space. Among its various descriptions, holography is often referred to as the ‘window of the future’. This is an apt description, for art holography presents a ‘canvas’ on which the way an image is composed in space plays as much a part of the artist’s statement as does the final scene. Holography, by expanding image content into the three-dimensional realm, offers artists new ways to communicate critical ideas visually. Furthermore, as an art medium it has given us a sharpened perspective with which to view the world around us.

Although holography is often compared to photography, it is more important that we notice holography’s unique qualities and how it differs from other media than to point out its similarities to what already exists. Of all holography’s three-dimensional visual qualities, by far the most interesting is the interactive relationship it establishes between viewer and subject matter.

Images that project in space seem to inspire viewers to touch them, a temptation that few resist. Are they really there, can one feel them? No one believes that the images exist, as evidenced by the fingerprints that are left on the film plate, mute testimony to viewers seeking a complete experience of the hologram. Many times viewers encounter holograms so realistic that they express doubt as to whether they are seeing just an image of light or a real object in a glass case.

When one looks at a hologram, other interactive relationships also come into play. Often it is necessary to view a hologram from several angles in order to see the entire scope of the image. Because holograms are diffraction gratings, when one views them from different angles, one can see the image in a wide range of colors; often one finds that, as a hologram changes color, so does its meaning. Viewing the image from several different angles can also create several different viewpoints of the same image.

Thus one aspect of holography’s power is the visceral connection it has in drawing people to see it. Much as viewers are challenged by what they see, so are the artists who explore, work with and shape the medium as an expressive palette of statements.

As holography continues to evolve as an art medium, it continues to define itself, both as a technological process and as an expressive art form. Even as our authors speak of their pioneering efforts to create holographic imagery of great impact, this imagery changes in context as new technological breakthroughs expand its artistic possibilities. Breakthroughs in achieving realistic color, increasing the dimensions of large-format holography, creating reduced-image portraiture, and using holographic embossing processes to reproduce animated and computer-graphic imagery all lend themselves to expanding the expressive capabilities of the medium. Ultimately, these become the tools that assist artists as they strive to present images of significance and lasting importance.

What is the full measure of holography? Is it the issue of realism-holography’s ability to intermingle with reality? Is it holography’s potential as a three-dimensional canvas from which the image projects into space, extending from the flat surface of its recording medium? Or is it the creative efforts that come forth from the artist practitioners of the medium? Perhaps its greatest measure lies in the eye of the beholder, who can appreciate a holographic statement more for what it says than for how it works. More to the point, perhaps its success can be measured by the growing number of artists who recognize holography as a creative medium and continue to produce new works. As holography enters the 1990s, it is artistically still a young medium, but one that is growing as artists, museums, gallery owners and the public continue to explore holography, both for what it says as an expressive format and for its visual language. Clearly, holography is introducing a new visual aesthetic, one that is orienting us in new directions and teaching us innovative ways to experience three-dimensional imagery.

The greatest artistic challenge comes not so much from new technical breakthroughs, such as better lasers and more efficient recording films, as from the holographic artists themselves, who are gaining recognition for their efforts within art communities throughout the world. Although holography as an art form is acknowledged and collected, its highest accolade is the recognition conferred on it not only by the special holography museums but also by the traditional modern art galleries and museums. It is a recognition earned, not because these are holographic works, but because they are works of art that have succeeded in communicating some universal truth or in creating a statement that is conceptually challenging-in other words, holography has been used as a means rather than as an end in and of itself.

The voice of holography is less a metaphor and more a solid series of expressive visual statements by its practitioners. In this issue of Leonardo, we have assembled an international group of authors who express their creative relationships with light and sculptural imagery within a three-dimensional volume of space. Clearly, theirs is an informed voice, for our authors have explored the medium not only from an artistic point of view but from historical, technical and philosophical perspectives as well. This thinking expands the personal and historical observations of the first two decades of artistic exploration within holography. We present this journal as a statement of what has been realized and as an inspiration of what is yet to come.
ISSN No: 1071-4391
Author: Louis M. Brill, Guest Editor
Originally published in: Leonardo Vol. 22, No. 3/4, Holography as an Art Medium: Special Double Issue (1989),pp. 289-290.
Print: ISSN 0024-094X, Online : ISSN 1530-9282, DOI: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1575380
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