Los Angeles

Simone Forti, Big Jump on Back, 1975–78, integral hologram, 56 3/4 x 20 x 13".

Simone Forti, Big Jump on Back, 1975–78, integral hologram, 56 3/4 x 20 x 13".

Simone Forti

Musing on virtual reality in the pages of this magazine in 2017, Douglas Coupland remarked, “When a new technology triumphs, it allows the technology it’s rendered obsolete to become an art form.” Surprisingly, in that same text, Coupland characterized the use of holograms in art—except “by Simone Forti and a few others,” whom he characterized as deploying them “to great effect”—as a “flash in the pan.” While holography has only hesitantly been embraced as a valid art medium (and rarely as a triumphant technology), the question is not so much about novelty as about the depth of an artist’s engagement with the technique. The apotheosis of holography in art was nowhere more apparent than in this selection of seven holographic works by Forti: “Time Smear” challenged such casual dismissals of the medium while revealing how artists masterfully utilize (and often push forward) new technologies even as their practical and potential applications are in development (and not yet obsolete, as Coupland suggested).

Between 1975 and 1978, Forti created these precisely crafted holograms with Lloyd G. Cross, a physicist who developed the process of combining holography and cinematography to produce moving 3-D images. Cross translated individual film frames of the artist’s choreographies into a series of vertical lines etched into Plexiglas and illuminated with laser light, which when viewed from a certain angle appear to stereoscopically reconstitute the original moving image. Many of the resulting works were first exhibited at Sonnabend Gallery in New York in 1978 and had not been seen since.

Displayed on minimal wooden bases at the Box, each of the seven sculptures was electrically illuminated from below, creating a legion of glowing, aquarium-like objects, each containing an image of the young Forti animated by a rainbow spectrum of light. To “activate” each hologram—that is, to see the linear, cinematographic motion of the tiny dancer captured therein—one was required to stretch, stoop, or bob and weave around the sculpture, as the pictured movement appeared inscribed onto the moving bodies of the viewers themselves. The abstracted body flickered, soft at the edges, like a flame; when Forti debuted these works, she lit them with candlelight.

Forti’s established approach toward dance—which incorporates understated, improvisatory gestures and was conceived alongside artists such as Robert Morris and Yvonne Rainer—seems well suited to a medium that at once encompasses film, photography, and sculpture. In fact, the artist considered her early “Dance Constructions,” 1960–61, to be as much sculpture as performance, predicated on an understanding of the body as a formal composition in space. Her 1961 dance construction Huddle, for example, which was performed for the hologram Huddle (all holographic works 1975–78), involves a group of dancers interlocked as a hunched-over unit while one body dislodges itself and climbs up over the pile. As a hologram, the work simultaneously refers to a live performance, a conceptual sculpture, a plastic art, a photographic document, and an optical illusion.

Other works on view exploited the more enigmatic qualities of holography: Big Jump on Back—if viewed from left to right—depicts the crouching artist jumping and landing in a plank position, then rolling over onto her back and eventually settling with her legs in the air. Due to irregularities in the technical process, the artist’s body is rendered momentarily distorted during the sequence, dematerializing entirely into an inchworm-like array of wavy lines and multiple limbs. This glitchy body blur is what the artist calls a “time smear,” and as a warping of holo-cinematographic 3-D time-space, it demanded nuanced looking, an intimate dance of temporal subtlety with an object. In a moment when big data drives so much of our experience of time, these lovely, smeary objects importantly spoke to a virtuality derived from a very different reality.

Catherine Taft