Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Museum of Holography

Sometimes, not often, I go through work-eat-sleep periods, where I feel like life is drudgery, and I have little time or energy for anything but to go through the motions. This is one of them.

By the time I get home, I'm good only for eating unhealthful food too fast, drinking a cup of tea, and reading perhaps a couple of pages in a book—on a better night. By Friday, I'm knackered. By Saturday morning, it's a struggle not to keep going back to bed.

Yesterday morning I lost the struggle. After eating breakfast, I crawled back into bed until noon, when I woke up long enough to set the alarm for another hour. When it went off, the only thing that kept me out of bed was a phone call from J. As he'd mentioned before, he still wanted to visit the Museum of Holography, said to be the only one in the United States, the more so because the Chicago Reader ran a story about its owner, her financial plight, and the possibility that the museum may close permanently. We'd tried to go at least once before., but we'd arrived 15 to 20 minutes after closing. This time, he was determined to get an earlier start.

It didn't look like the blowing snow was going to help, but we made it there surprisingly quickly and, even more wonderful from his perspective, we found a parking spot almost directly across the street. He'd been panicking, as he does, because he thought we'd have to drive around a while and then spend time walking. We had more than an hour to pay the $5 admission and to explore the museum's four galleries—indeed, plenty of time, as it turned out.

I imagine many people think of holography as a bit of a 1970s fad, a technological wonder with seemingly few obvious practical applications and whose novelty soon wore off. In fact, Dennis Gabor won the 1971 Nobel Prize (Physics) for his 1947 invention of the technology, described here.

When you observe them from an optimum distance (two to three feet, you are told), holograms appear to be three dimensional images. In the first gallery, a pair of binoculars trained on a bird's nest made both of us reach out to indicate with our hands how far the eyepieces appeared to protrude into the gallery space. Others show a different scenes depending on your viewing angle. Look at one hologram from your right and you see a pair of kittens posed winsomely for their moment of fame. From your left, one of the kittens has a paw raised in the familiar swat position. Some holograms morph into something different: for example, one dinosaur skeleton becomes fully fleshed as you pass it. Some appear to move, like large hologram of the miner panning for gold. He lowers and raises his pan as you move in relation to him. Finally, some approach you, including the shark whose toothy grin suddenly fills the frame as you stroll by. The brilliance of the colors vary, too; the enormous hairy tarantula's rainbow hues seem to fade as you get closer.

Two galleries are devoted to random subjects and artists; a third is a tribute to holography artist Art Freund; a fourth showcases experimental medical holographic imaging technology called voxgrams. In this last, you can see a variety of body parts, including a single testicle, vocal chords, stomach and kidneys, a polyp-filled colon, a uterine fibroid (not Ignatius), tumorous breasts, and the skull of a fetus that will inspire your dreams of aliens. The Freund gallery was the least visually appealing to me, although his hard-to-read notes offer some insight into holographic art and technology.

The dinosaurs, shark, tarantula, and snarling big cats are used to great effect, and revolving holograms highlight Michael Jordan's moves and Irv Kupcinet's Cheshire cat smile. In a few, a revolver juts disconcertingly out from the midst of a benign object, such as a rose bouquet (Guns N’ Roses?). The most frightening to me, however, were a couple of lifelike portraits of young women, complete with shining eyes, creased lips, and defined lashes. J. was quite taken with their realism, while the illumination, detail, and depth combined with the frozen appearance of the poses made them look like death masks to me. If I saw my own image like this, I would feel my life over and my soul stolen. They were creepier and more disturbing than any wax figure.

We even had time on the way out to check out the small display of merchandise. I bought some spinning disks, as did J.; he also picked up key chains, earrings, and a few other assorted trinkets. J. noticed an "FM" in the entryway's floor tile (the rest was obscured by a rug) and asked the man at the desk (probably the owner's son or nephew) about it. He said the building, dating back to 1907, had belonged to the Free Methodists.

The lowering skies were filled with snow, which was coming down at a respectable clip. J. had agreed to a stop at Whole Foods, then we dined at Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop on the four-course Mardi Gras special ($16.95). Our timing was perfect because we beat the crowd and the wait—and the snow had stopped by the time we left.

At the Flamingo, we watched Northanger Abbey and part of Out of Africa, then switched our attention to Hodge's attempts to stalk and sneak up on the Panic Mouse I had finally dug out of the closet for him. It was one of those rare times that J. didn't have his camera, which really is too bad because words cannot capture how silly he looked as he hid in the entrance from his mechanical nemesis, working himself up into a pounce. We must do this more often, meaning torment the cat with interactive toys, preferably before he eats, when he's full of energy.

I sent J. home, and so to bed.

It was not such a lost day after all.

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