Louise Bourgeois’s holograms at Cheim and Read.
Holography is a curious technology: at once of the past and of the future, charmingly quaint but also coldly precise, marked by old sci-fi dreaming about the aesthetics of tomorrow. Equal parts kitschy and surreal, it’s sometimes eerily beautiful, seeming to deconstruct itself in its present absence.
From the Greek holos (“whole”) and gramma (“message”), the hologram is like a private communiqué, delivered across space and time while respecting the conventions of neither. Unlike a photograph, which records only intensities of light, a hologram produces a three-dimensional view of an object by re-creating, through diffraction, the original light field. (In this way, a hologram is perhaps more like a sound recording than like a photographed image.) Because they require precise lighting conditions and the viewer’s active complicity to achieve their full effect, holograms have a kind of romance to them—the same intimacy borne of circling an object at dusk or twilight and emerging with a memory that isn’t quite yours.
A show of holograms by Louise Bourgeois, on view through February 11 at Cheim and Read, mounts a persuasive case for holography as an artistic medium, or at least as her artistic medium. Made in the late 1990s, when Bourgeois was among a group of artists approached by C-Project, a now defunct New York holographic studio, the suite of eight holograms functions like a miniseries staged across eight small screens, a drama unfolding in eight vitrines. The gallery’s press release invokes “a Beckettian sense of slapstick horror,” and there’s something in the stark red of the images—the result of the base color of the plate used during the hologram-making process, deliberately preserved by the artist—that suggests an affinity for the monochromatic, vaguely postapocalyptic absurdity of the playwright’s late oeuvre. But the more time one spends with Bourgeois’s holograms, the more they reveal themselves as saturated and dense and hothouse. One presents a bell jar domed over miniature chairs, a hellish snow globe that insinuates the poetry of Sylvia Plath. The whole thing is a bit of a “mad girl’s love song”: a doomed family romance, the masochistic pleasures of unrequited love, an airless turn inward.
And yet, it may be more precise to see the holograms as a distillation of the principles everywhere evident in Bourgeois’s work. Over her remarkable and remarkably long career—she died in 2010, at ninety-eight—she remained faithful to her key concern with the vulnerability of the body, its insatiable need for love and protection. The holograms are finely wrought, intensely detailed apparitions, apparently frail but encased in glass. They need you to love them and see them, to nurture them into being, to absorb their charged surfaces. In return, they yield sensations nearly tactile in their dimensionality. The experience is immersive, and though there are recurring motifs—the dollhouse furniture, the disembodied bodies—no plot intervenes in the obscure gratification of the story.
When the New Museum displayed holograms made by six big-name artists in 2012, the show was called “Pictures from the Moon.” (Two of Bourgeois’s holograms were included in that exhibition, the only holograms made by a woman artist.) That title spoke to the alien attributes of holography; the laser beams integral to making of holograms; the ways in which holographic images can sometimes seem like telegrams from outer space, a Star Wars/Star Trek incidental. But it’s hard to imagine that Bourgeois’s holograms come to us from the moon: they are, for one thing, too warm-blooded, too lusty. They emerge from the artist’s molten core.
In their blurry materiality, the holograms are at once a token of faith and a refutation of belief. Bourgeois was, famously, an insomniac, and her holograms, perhaps more than even the drawings she made during sleepless nights, speak to the hypnogogic state, the phase at the portal of sleep filled with hallucinated visions and whispers. Too witty to be straightforwardly nightmarish, the holograms cast their red eyes on the gallery and lend the impression of a brothel filled with wundercamera. You don’t know, quite, what will happen to you here.
“I’m afraid of power. It makes me nervous,” Bourgeois once said, words quoted as the conclusion of her obituary in the New York Times. “In real life, I identify with the victim. That’s why I went into art.” Bourgeois’s holograms are mysterious crime scenes from the victim’s perspective. They pulsate with secret wisdom and insight, and with the fear of suffering for it.
Yevgeniya Traps lives in Brooklyn. She works at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, NYU.
All photos by Matthew Schreiber. © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY.