The “Light as Medium” show at Ann Street Gallery in Newburgh proposes that light is not just the conduit of information, it is information itself. Light structures the way we go about our world, even if the way we go about that world suggests we apparently think it hides in the shadows. And the very fact that all this is incorrigibly true—that light is the thick of it—only makes that fact more true. “Light as Medium” makes all this material through a body of work anchored in holography and photography: It’s all about light as the medium for disparate processes that come together to outfit the spectacles we all see.
Light pictures the slightly passed, the recently gone, the long dead—our illuminated views of our experiences are always a step behind those experiences. Light is the source and means of our anthropological investigations, of the mystical that envelops us. Light carries us beyond this moment. So no surprise then that the show includes beautiful photography. The surprise, however, resides in the sort of photography on display and that much of the show is given over to holography—that seeming schtick move developed in Post-War physics labs, popularized in the '70s, that adorned far too many comic books in the '90s.
But that’s the thing: holography is anything but schtick. Holography is the embodiment of light as medium, light as the precision anchor for the physics that makes our world possible. Holography comes alive from the perfect employ of lasers, diffracted to create both dimensionality and the sense that the object pictured holographically exists within that frame, that wall, because no matter where we turn, how we look, the object looked at changes in view, as if it were looking back at us.
Indeed, the work of the renowned master of holography Rudie Berkhout is on display both as you approach the show, inside the main gallery space, and in the back gallery. Berkhout, born in Amsterdam, came to the United States and came to own the medium and put out distinguished work that ranges far beyond that which people associate with holography. One of Berkhout’s last pieces made just before he died, displayed on the right by the door as you walk in, is elegant and resonant. You feel you can work your hand up the piece as if it were a large wearable piece of jewelry. The back gallery is festooned with Berkhout's imaginative riffs on the known, the planetary, and the universal. In particular, Orbiter #1, projected against the wall, is no less than a planetarium in miniature set aright 90 degrees off the ceiling. In other words, it’s a magic show by another name.
The other holographic works on display assert their place within recent Western art history. Susan Cowles Smith’s work riffs on Modernism and Modernism's rather more classical past. It’s all of a family resemblance to this art business; the differences lie in how those resemblances are employed to speak, look back at us. Mary Harman points to the spectral essence of what passes for life for most of us.
The photography on display shares an equal interest in process, in employing light as a tool. Amanda Means’s works are giant Polaroids. Immediate photographic-recording satisfaction! Eric Johnson’s work looks back on the history of photography; in particular large format wet plate work—the kind of process that yielded the pictures, say Mathew Brady’s, you see picturing the Civil War. Now, we know those images descended to us an orgy of death; later the wet plate process had its own popular turn and pictured the well to do of the late 19th and early 20th century. Those people are now long dead. The interesting thing about Johnson’s work is that his subjects, though seemingly ancient, are in fact his friends and family, healthy, kicking around, well and alive. Johnson’s work, as much as Berkhout's, points to the things that channel back at us, through marvelous and mundane tricks of light.
So, yes, do go check out the show at Ann Street. It’s up until August 17th. And if you happen to be interested in the processes behind the holography and photography on display, there will be an artists’ talk at 1pm Saturday, August 10, at the gallery. Eric Johnson will be talking about the historical features of the process behind his work. He’ll make the roots of photography come alive again. Susan Cowles Dumith will talk about the ways her process relates to turns in recent art history. Linda Law, a Beacon-based digital holographic artist and a cultivator of recent works in holography, will talk about the ins and outs of that medium. Finally, Michael Gabor, the proprietor of the Newburgh Art Supply store, a photographer, and Rudie Berkhout’s former art assistant, will talk about Berkhout’s outsized presence in holography.