PRINT September 2018


Simone Forti, Solo No. 1, 1974. Performance view, Sonnabend Gallery, New York, September 1974.

TWO YEARS before Princess Leia appeared in a flickering blue projection in Star Wars and an actual hologram was used in the science-fiction film Logan’s Run (both 1977), the artist, choreographer, dancer, and writer Simone Forti had begun a collaboration with the holographer Lloyd G. Cross to create moving, three-dimensional holographic versions of several of her dance pieces. Three of the resulting holograms, made between 1975 and 1978, were included in Forti’s retrospective at the Museum der Moderne in Salzburg, Austria, in 2014; this past spring, seven were exhibited at the Box in Los Angeles, including several that had not been seen since a 1978 show at Sonnabend Gallery in New York. One of two iterations of a work titled Striding Crawling,1977,is on viewat the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until March 2019 in “3D: Double Vision,” an exhibition that positions holography within broader histories of stereoscopic media that have often been sidelined by art history.

Simone Forti, Huddle, 1961. Performance view, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, May 16, 1982. Center, top: Simone Forti.

In a 1979 edition of Holosphere magazine, Forti explained that the holographic iterations of her dance works allowed her to “focus in on one move,” making it possible for the viewer to find “many things to see” within a single complete action. In an interview, she has spoken of their similarity to haikus. Take, for example, the work in the lacma show, which Forti has presented in live, videotaped, and holographic forms from 1974 to today. In performances of the work, Forti walks, drops into a crawl, and then strides again without a break in momentum. The holographic versions of Striding Crawling, by contrast, isolate a single transition between “standing erect and lowering oneself to the floor,” as Forti put it recently. In this form, the piece unfolds as a loop rather than a narrative progression. As the viewer proceeds clockwise or counterclockwise around the Plexiglas support, the image of Forti moves correspondingly backward or forward, growing larger or smaller depending on the viewer’s proximity. Sometimes the hologram disappears altogether or seems to slow to a standstill. All the while, a small change in position—even something as slight as a turn of the head—produces transformations in green, yellow, blue, and red.

View of Simone Forti performing with Angel, 1976. Artists Space, New York, October 1976. Babette Mangolte.

Invented by the Hungarian engineer Dennis Gabor in 1947, holography was at first heralded in both Western and Soviet contexts for its information-storage abilities. New breakthroughs were made in the 1960s with the aid of lasers and the development of holograms viewable in white light, including “rainbow holography,” which the imaging scientist Stephen Benton invented in 1968—a technology that was initially designed to facilitate the transmission of holograms over TV signals and is now commonplace, appearing for instance, in the image of a flying dove on Visa credit cards.

The idea of holography as a technological form of art was, at the time, a leitmotif of discussions of the medium. Benton saw holography as uniquely situated at the “intersection of art, science, and technology,” while Cross proposed that, for artists, holographs could function as “conceptual daydreams—things that cannot be built, painted or sculpted could be holographed.” The new worlds holography opened up are evident, for example, in the artist Harriet Casdin-Silver’s Glass Balls, 1978, for which she recorded glass spheres that previously held gases like helium and neon in the lab with five different laser beams to create an illusion of infinite, dizzying depth. The physicists themselves often made artworks, too, or collaborated with artists: Benton, for example, worked with Casdin-Silver to produce a series of abstract works utilizing multiple exposures, “Cobweb Space,” in 1972.

Simone Forti, Angel, 2003, graphite on paper, 11 × 81⁄2".

While such holographic works were sometimes intended primarily as futuristic technical demonstrations, Forti took a different approach. In holographing singular actions from her own dance performances, she emphasized a continuity with nineteenth-century image technologies, titling one of her holograms Homage to Muybridge, ca. 1975, and evoking a link to the nineteenth-century technology of the zoetrope—a cylinder with slits through which the viewer may glimpse drawings or photographs that create an illusion of sequential motion.

Crucially, however, Forti’s holograms involved not the coordination of eye and hand promoted in early optical toys but a coordination of eye and body. Reviewing the 1978 Sonnabend show in Artforum, Leo Rubinfien noted that Forti’s image was “phantomlike and elusive, liable to change shape or color or disappear altogether when one stepped even an inch to the side.” Unlike photography, holography was received as a spectacle requiring both time and movement—mirroring, in a fascinating way, the bodily attention in time that is intrinsic to dance improvisation. But if it is the viewers who animate Forti’s holographic images, their circling of the holograms never actually doubles her dance movements; the mimesis is asymmetrical, offbeat.

Simone Forti performing with Angel, 1976, during “Three Evenings on a Revolving Stage,” Judson Memorial Church, January 1976. Photo: Charles Dreyfus.

Making these so-called multiplex holograms was a complicated process. Cross filmed Forti performing on a rotating platform, requiring her to move very slowly, and limiting each sequence to forty-five seconds for the 360-degree holograms (and shorter durations for holograms not filling an entire Plexiglas cylinder). The processed film was then put into a purpose-built holographic printer comprising a projector, a laser, a beam splitter, and various kinds of lenses. Using this device, each individual frame (representing a change of about a third of a degree in the viewing position) was then embedded into a holographic film and carefully mounted on the Plexiglas support. When the resulting hologram is illuminated from within, the viewer sees thousands of vertical slits, resembling television scan lines, within the Plexi’s curved pane. Each of our eyes registers a slightly different sequence of the marginally overlapping slits, and our brains fuse them together stereoscopically to create the image of a body in motion. Unlike the photographic stereogram, in which we see two photographs whose perspectives are combined to create the illusion of depth, Cross’s method produces a sequence of holograms that the viewer can approach “in the round” without being confined to a fixed position.

Simone Forti, Big Jump on Back, ca. 1976, holographic film, Mylar, Plexiglas, halogen light-bulb, wood, steel tubing, electrical power cord, 56 3⁄4 × 20 × 13".

Holography was received as a spectacle requiring both time and movement—mirroring, in a fascinating way, the bodily attention in time that is intrinsic to dance improvisation.

Long before Forti started making holograms, the relationship of dancers to objects in her “Dance Constructions,” 1960–61, or her adoption of the movements of animals in works such as Solo No. 1, 1974, foreshadowed the dimensional effects of holography. Forti’s works based on observations of animals in zoos explicitly hinged on modes of rotation, a theme she returns to again and again. It appears, to take another example, in the description of a roller rink in Washington, DC, in her 1974 Handbook in Motion: “The music was playing, and while traveling very fast around the rink the skaters were also dancing very slowly, creating a double dynamic.” Forti interprets this double movement as a kind of “harmonics, resonating from centered action.” Describing “Illuminations,” 1971–, a collaboration with Charlemagne Palestine in which she circles the room while Palestine plays piano, Forti likewise speaks of “delicate balances of natural phenomena of harmonics of momentum” and describes a “centrifugal force leaning in as I was being pulled out.” If Forti’s formal interest in rotation and double movement led her to observe the circling actions in protests as a method of maintaining group energy, her animal-movement works put pressure on the hierarchy of human and animal in Muybridge’s influential “Animal Locomotion” series of 1883–87. Forti’s embodiments of the transitions in animal movements, improvisation, and compulsive repetition form the basis of her explorations of dance “within and against cultural structures of ‘normal’ human movement,” in art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson’s words.

The complex vocabularies of space and movement in Forti’s dance works resonated with the discourse taking place around the holographic image at the time. People were searching for a new language to describe holographic technologies. Cross, for example, used the idea of “n dimensionality” to distinguish between 3-D, which can be measured in width, height, and depth, and holographic space, where “new vectors [can] appear at any point.” In 1970, Cross and several colleagues collaborated with the Finch College Museum of Art in New York to put on an art exhibition titled “N Dimensional Space”—which featured, among other things, a holographic version of Robert Indiana’s LOVE, 1970, and samplings from Bruce Nauman’s “First Hologram Series: Making Faces (A–K),” 1968, and “Second Hologram Series: Full Figure Poses (A–J),” 1969, both produced using the latest laser technology that made it possible to record “live” subjects and not only static objects.

In Forti’s words, “I had some duende in a box.”

In the show’s subsequent tour through the US, “N Dimensional Space” happily expanded to include works by many of the women at the forefront of holography. Among them were Casdin-Silver (who was then best known for politically acute kinetic environments such as Exhausts, 1968) and Margaret Benyon (who was a painter before she began working with holograms in 1968), both of whom embraced holography for its feminist potential as a new tool of visual communication. They were also drawn to holography’s ability to invoke “unfamiliar notions about space” (as Benyon put it), experimenting with multiple exposures to produce holographic objects that appear simultaneously in the same space or in other ways challenge fixed singular perspective. Casdin-Silver’s subsequent works Phalli, 1975, and Equivocal Forks, 1977, played with holography’s ability to project images both toward and away from the viewer, using a collection of dildos in the former and protruding forks in the latter to mount a gendered critique of the Duchampian readymade.

Simone Forti, Solo No. 1, 1974. Performance view, Sonnabend Gallery, New York, September 1974.

While holography has had a rich, widely popular, and deeply international history (holograms by Casdin-Silverwere, for example, shown within the group installation Centerbeam at Documenta 6 in 1977), holographic art was never really taken seriously as art, even if figures as various as Louise Bourgeois and James Turrell continued to experiment with it long after the novelty had worn off. In the ’60s and ’70s, critics largely dismissed holograms as gimmicks, denigrating their “special effects” as kitsch. It probably didn’t help that, when Salvador Dalí started making multiplex holograms, the most famous of them was a 1973 tableau, in 360 degrees, of the rock star Alice Cooper standing uncannily still. In a 1975 New York Times review titled “Holography—A Technical Stunt,” Hilton Kramer compared the “rainbow hues” of multiplex holograms with the “cheapest kinds of picture postcards” and dismissed the format for its “combination of peep‐show realism and juke‐box color.”

What stands out about Forti’s holograms, in this paradoxically thriving and marginalized history, is how they relate intrinsically to her dance practice: She embraced the multiplex process to make subtle works that, in many senses, pushed against the narrative aspects of the technology itself. Forti has said she became a dancer because she was good at reading movement—even describing herself as a “movement artist.” In translating dance movements into animated holographic images, her approach went to the heart of holography’s capacity to reveal stillness and movement as something other than a binary. Today, moreover, Forti’s holograms call into question the increasingly widespread idea that advances in technology entail a progression away from the body.

Simone Forti, Solo No. 1, 1974. Performance view, Sonnabend Gallery, New York, September 1974.

Simone Forti, Solo No. 1, 1974. Performance view, Sonnabend Gallery, New York, September 1974.

Simone Forti, Sea Lions Sunning Fullness of Throat Sensuous Quality (Animal Study), 1968, graphite on paper, 11 × 8 1⁄2".

In fact, as if in response to the accomplishment that Cross’s three-dimensional moving pictures represented at the time, Forti’s holograms exploit their technical limitations. When one moves around these works, a second, harmonic hologram sometimes appears, and from certain perspectives Forti’s hands begin to stretch and blur thanks to what holographers call “time smear,” visualizing that we are seeing a composite image recorded at different times. As Forti once wrote, these glitches in the holographic recording of her movements allow “glimpses into the immediate future of the moment in view,” which “appear as displacements in space.” But as she suggests in her 1978 book of poems, Angel, they also generate something weirder. Here, Forti describes a hologram also titled Angel, 1976, in which she performs a condensed dance movement consisting of an inhalation and exhalation:

The arm was wrong because it did not hold symmetrically with the action of the other arm but smeared along lagging behind while surely originally I had moved my arms together while turning on the turntable before the turning camera recording my slow action of deep intake of breath opening the hinges of my shoulders, arms moving back unfeathered but remembering. That part was there, the arms went back alright, counterbalancing the for- ward leaning form, but with the outrushing of breath compressing the bellows of ribs and belly, closing the shoulder hinges, the arms swooped forward, the left passing through a time warp giving the sequence a whole other look, a whole other intention of its own.

Forti initially speaks of something “wrong” in the representation of her movements, but the end of the poem conveys both the thrill and the strangeness of such moments, in which the 3-D image seems to ripple in waves and collapse into the 2-D structure of the Plexi before flickering into a 3-D hologram again.

Spread from Simone Forti’s Handbook in Motion (Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1974).

The very first time it was exhibited, Forti showed Angel in a context that positioned holography itself as a kind of movement study. This debut was part of “Three Evenings on a Revolving Stage,” which artist Jean Dupuy organized at the Judson Memorial Church in New York in January 1976. The event featured an artist roster including Palestine, Vito Acconci, Olga Adorno, Julia Heyward, Nam June Paik, Peter Van Riper, and Richard Serra, among others, each of whom was invited to present a work on a small stage turning at two-and-a-half revolutions per minute. Forti arrived with a suitcase and took out three bricks, which she used to prop up the Plexiglas cylinder bearing Angel. She illuminated it from within using a candle, and the platform’s rotation animated the hologram for viewers sitting on the floor. In an unpublished recollection of the event, she recalls: “I sounded my voice like the sound of a train passing with whistle blasting, miiieeEAAAOoouuu. I lit the match high over my head, then lowered it to the wick as the house lights dropped out. There it was, a tiny angel made of light, turning in place and flying, though upright and with one arm lagging.” Applauding Forti’s presentation in SoHo Weekly News as the “most magical moment of the evening,” critic Robb Baker marveled at how Forti “stepped back to look at a tiny image of herself dancing down the middle of the turning cylinder.” In the artist’s words, “I had some duende in a box.”

Forti’s holograms call into question the increasingly widespread idea that advances in technology entail a progression away from the body.

Angel was shown in different ways after the Judson event. For its presentation in April 1976 in “Through the Looking Glass,” the inaugural exhibition of New York’s Museum of Holography, Forti projected 8-mm film footage of the breathing movement onto the ceiling and performed the piece live alongside her two-dimensional (filmic) and three-dimensional (holographic) image. And the following month,for the performance and installation Some Images at the Fine Arts Building in New York, Angel functioned as the source of illumination while she read poems from the book of the same title, which not only features a photograph Van Riper took of the hologram on its cover, but also includes images by Babette Mangolte of yet another performance with Angel, which had taken place the previous month at Artists Space in New York. Forti’s integration of documentation into these performances might be seen as a means of enfolding various moments of her own practice by bringing together multiple perspectives, times, and places through a layering of live choreography and different kinds of reproductive media.

Simone Forti, Slant Board, 1961. Performance view, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, May 16, 1982. Simone Forti.

The centrality of the time smear in Forti’s holographic works also teases out a related kind of multiplicity that was already at the heart of holography itself. Take the 200-degree hologram of Forti’s iconic Huddle, ca. 1976. In the live version of the piece, from 1961, six or seven participants bend forward in a circular pattern with their heads down and limbs entangled. One or two individuals at a time intuit the right moment to climb on top of the others, cautiously using linked arms, necks, and shoulders as leverage. The climbers then lower themselves to the floor and rejoin the cluster. Forti has described Huddle as a work that came out of her desire to feel the weight of her body on the ground after her move from San Francisco to New York. In the translation to a hologram, however, the blurring together of rainbow colors and undulating forms in the time smears makes it difficult to discern the individuals within the group. In a stark contrast to the promise of immersive media, one has to look, hard, as if viewing a daguerreotype.

Simone Forti, Striding Crawling, 1977, holographic film, Plexiglas, polymer protective covering, candle, candle dish, bricks, 25 × 18 × 18".

Borrowing Forti’s terms, one might describe this as promoting a “dance state” for the viewer: a “feedback that stimulates one to move, brought by the experience of the movement itself.” The dance state, less passive than mere enchantment, is a heightened mode of attention that activates motor intelligence. However tempting it might be to narrate ’70s-era holography as a direct predecessor of present-day VR, Forti’s works in the medium point somewhere to the side of immersion. The idea of asking viewers to slow down and value multiple perspectives visually, rather than simply amplifying sensation, has always mapped onto political claims about how to look anew. If these holograms, trapped in their cage-like Plexi structures, suggest that technology imposes on us the compulsive repetitiveness of animals in captivity, they also point to the necessity of improvising movements that introduce new states of mind.

Harriet Casdin-Silver and Stephen Benton collaborating on a hologram, ca. 1972–73.


The author would like to thank Simone Forti for her generous interview and emails; Richard Bloes from the Whitney Museum of American Art and Seth Riskin from MIT for staging the holograms in their collections; Gloria Sutton for presenting a version of her catalogue essay for “3D: Double Vision,” including a section on Forti’s holograms, at the College Art Association conference in 2018; and Catherine Vu for her meticulous work with Forti’s archives; and Tom Gunning, whose “Poetics of the Moving Image” project opened up the field.