3 Questions

3 Questions With Holographist C. Alex Clark

A graduate of Santa Fe University of Art and Design, artist and holographist C. Alex Clark took a love of photography and upped the ante into holography (that’s holograms, y’all) following a chance encounter with holographic artist August Muth in 2014 at the CURRENTS New Media Festival. This week, Clark presents a sort of retrospective of their last five years’ worth of creation. At the upcoming Inventory of Reflection (5 pm Friday, Jan. 27. Free. form & concept, (505) 780-8312), find sculptural work, wearable work, framable work and many points between—all showcasing Clark’s love of the hologram. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Can you explain what holography is and how it works for those who might know the word but not quite understand?

There’s a lot of stuff out there that has the word hologram on it that isn’t even close. So, there are a few different kinds in the realm of actual holograms. To differentiate it, and I’m gonna drop a big science term: nonlinear diffraction grating wavefront reconstruction. You know those rainbow stickers? That’s a linear diffraction grating. Nonlinear is doing the same thing, except for instead of splitting the light into a spectrum, like a prism, it’s actually splitting the light into more complex shapes and three-dimensional forms. A wavefront reconstruction is saying that when you make the hologram, there’s wavefronts of light that are captured, and when you view the hologram, the light is reconstructed. Essentially what’s happening is that you’re making a sort of mold of the form of light that’s coming off an object. In everyday life, we don’t actually see things, we see the light bouncing off of things. Sort of the same thing happens when you’re making the hologram. We shoot a laser at an object, and...that is captured by an emulsion, and that lets us have a broader range of colors. It’s...making a light fossil, or a mold of the light. If you have an object and pour silicon over it, make a mold of it, you can turn out several copies of that object. The same thing is happening, we’re sort of making this mold of the light, and when you shine light on it again, what you’re seeing is the actuality of the light that was coming off of that object in that moment. It’s like looking at the object without the object being there.

There’s verbiage on the form & concept site about how your pieces react to light the way a photograph might. What does that mean?

They’re both methods of capturing an image, but the metaphor I like to use is: If you think about looking at a black and white photo, it’s like looking at a window with the blinds drawn—a 2D representation of the three-dimensional world. Your mind is putting together those patterns of light and dark into a dimensional image. A hologram is like pulling up the blinds and you’re seeing all of the depths and the complexity of the world; you can look around the corner of something. But my real goal with holography is to get it off the wall. Throughout the history of holography, it’s been, ‘Look at the hologram I spent six months making! We’re going to put it in a black metal frame!’ I’m thinking about how to incorporate objects that are more relatable to people—making it more fantastic, but more accessible. When people see holograms, it sort of goes over their heads; not like they’re dumb, but it takes a minute to learn how to perceive the thing. My goal is to find these ways to make it a little more intimate so you want to spend time with it, get to know the thing, see the hologram.

Exhibits obviously don’t need connecting tissue, but have patterns emerged in looking over your work?

I’m more interested in the spectral quality of the hologram, but I think it’s going to be interesting to see everything up, and to see how I’m coming back to the representation of the image. In the past, most of what I’d been making was all about rainbows and light, but I guess it being such a technical medium, it’s sometimes hard to know how to incorporate artistic self-expression. I think over the last two years, I’ve definitely been leaning into how holograms can be part of expressing my queer identity. How do I incorporate queer theory? The obvious is ‘rainbows are gay,’ but one thing I find really beautiful is we can make these really specific colors with the hologram that you can’t reproduce with any other medium—specifically magenta or fuchsia, which is a perceptual color; it only exists when you put blue on top of red. Starting to shift the thinking from the spectrum as a linear thing, thinking about gender, sexuality; we’re trapped in this linear thinking of...but now the spectrum is like a circle, a sphere, a spiral. A third totally different thing that’s not even on the spectrum.

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