The Studio of Eric Valosin

Friday, May 20, 2016

Tiny Books and Fragmented Cyberspace

This summer one of my new projects this year will be touring around the country in a very unique curatorial endeavor. The Creativity Caravan, run by writer/artists Maya Stein and Amy Tingle, is hosting The Tiny Book Show, consisting of lilliputian literature, artist books no bigger than 3" in any dimension.

Nearly 50 venues lined up across 20 states

The call for entry provided an intriguing challenge as I tried to come up with a project that would fit  the criteria but, of course, still cohere with the rest of my practice. With the theme being book-oriented, I went back to the last book I published, my thesis monograph for inspiration. 

For that book I tried to integrate print and digital media using QR codes, in a way conceptually fitting of my explorations of physical and virtual spiritual space. On the back cover I had designed a QR code comprising a Meister Eckhart quote that, when scanned, brings viewers to a random page of a random text that informed my thesis research.

I decided to use that as my starting point for this book as well, figuring the small format would lend itself better to the QR image than to plain text. 

Textual Dividualism

I began thinking about the nature of books as a medium, and how their pages serve to fragment and divide content. If the text were personified, Deleuze's dividual would come into play, with each page being yet another virtual version of the textual self. Given that my QR code destination plays into this idea of random fragmentation, I thought it an appropriate solution to physically fragment the code itself across the many pages.

So I set out to make a book with clear plexiglass pages. Each page would host a fragment of the QR code. When the book is closed, the overlaid fragments would cohere into the complete, scannable code.

As an added challenge, I wanted to make any pair of consecutive pages also compile a complete code. And, by taking advantage of the flexibility built in by the QR code's error correction capability, I could strategically add/remove pixels to make each coherent whole slightly different from each other, but all scan the same.

Sizing up my plexi pages
Scoring and snapping each page

Book Building

The next step was to figure out how to get all the pages to align. I decided I'd drill some holes that I'd use later to bind the pages, but could for now use as a way to align each page over a grid, on top of which I'd draw the QR code.

The next trick would be how to actually inscribe the QR code. I needed high enough contrast to make the image scannable, but as I experimented with various paints and markers, nothing would hold up to the wear and tear of book use without rubbing or scraping off.

I figured I could take advantage of the plexi by engraving the code into it, but would need more contrast than the frosted-glass effect of scratched plexi. So I decided to combine both approaches, scoring the plexi and then rubbing acrylic paint marker into the abrasions. Hopefully that would be both permanent and dark enough to be functional.

Monkish work, crosshatching page after page of QR code etchings

Fully etched page, ready to be colored. A shame, I kind of like the frosted look.

The Moment of Truth

After a couple pages were done, it was time to see if it would actually work or not. This is always the most nerve racking moment of these QR code projects, waiting to see if my hours of labor would cooperate with my initial vision or if it would fall on its face and amount to a pile of dirtied plexi. (for an example of making the most of such a failure, check out my recent Denisyuk Reflection Hologram, in which I attempted to make a scannable, 3D, holographic QR code.)

6 of 8 pages done
With the compiled codes proving to indeed be scannable, I continued scratching a coloring away until all 8 pages were complete. The last part of the equation would be the binding.

This was a tougher decision than I anticipated. Because of the clarity of the plexiglass, any binding would be very much visible, and it had to hold the pages tight enough in place for them to be scannable, but still allow the pages to turn.

Some sort of spiral binding seemed my best bet, but I wanted the material to dialogue with the digital/analog theme. So I decided to treat it as the physical portal to the digital world that it was, and use materials commonly meant for electronic circuitry, copper wire and solder.

Much to my shame, this was actually the first time I'd ever soldered! But it was a good test case, since precision wasn't an issue. And all in all, I'm pleased with the outcome!

Quarter for scale

My makeshift photo-studio for documenting the tiny book, since everybody likes a bit of metanarrative.
Make sure to check the itinerary at the link above and catch the Tiny Book Show at a Gallery/Library/Cultural Center near you!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

My Holographic Universe: Part 5/5 Reflections (and Transmissions)

Lest I leave you hanging, I wanted to take some time to reflect back on my week at the Ohio State University Pulse Laser Holography lab. If you're just tuning in, you can follow my adventure from the beginning here.

Our mentor, renowned physicist Harris Kagan was sure to drill in the major rules of holography:

  1. Two beams - you can't have an image without an object beam and reference beam coinciding on the film and creating an interference pattern.
  2. Stability - nothing can move more than half the distance of a wavelength of light (roughly 300 nm) during the exposure or you get a changing (distorted/destroyed) interference pattern

But there were several more lessons to be learned, which I think are transferrable to other disciplines.

  • Everything matters - whether it's which hand you use to load the glass into the film holder, what brand of squeegee you buy (for the record, the perfect squeegee was formerly found at Bed Bath and Beyond for about $9 but has since been discontinued much to the dismay of the holography community), or what object you're imaging, everything has a purpose and a meaning, and nothing is done without consideration.
  • You can do anything, it just takes time - nothing is off limits, it just might take 8 hours of re-machining parts, building structures, and aligning optics to make it feasible.
  • Well, maybe not anything - there are many inherent limitations to the medium. Fuzzy things and living things move on a microscopic level. No matter how still you are, you'll never be stabile enough for a continuous laser image. Shiny objects just work better. But if they're too shiny they won't work at all. Green objects will never be bright under a red laser. Whatever idea you had, assume you'll be tweaking it. However it's these limitations that provide for many of the most interesting and ingenuitive experimental holograms.
  • It's who you know - nothing new, but the holography community is super close-knit. It's like a secret society or a fraternity, in which everyone knows everyone, and it's a small pond filled with huge fish all swimming shoulder to shoulder. We had visitors drive in from several states over when they heard Sam and Harris would be in the same room, just for a chance to get an autograph and talk lasers. Good ol' so-and-so out in Russia? Yeah, I saw him a few weeks ago. He worked with what's-his-name in Japan, right? Yeah, right before I worked with him in NY. He's married to that woman what's-her-face. Oh yeah, I had dinner with her last month at such-and-such. If you can manage to name drop that one holographer you've worked with, they will know who you mean, and you will feel very important for the next 45 seconds. But when you're in the company of holographers talking holography, prepare to be acutely aware of the fact that you are, for now, an outsider graciously being offered a peek into a strange world full of physics jokes, unpronounceable words, and units of measure you haven't thought about since high school. 
  • There are two types of artists - the kind that want to be holographers and the kind that want you to make holograms for them so they can look like holographers. Holographers can smell a poser from a mile away. For instance, I found out the hard way not to mention James Turrell as one of your holography idols. The holography community has a severe distaste for Turrell, who walks into a lab and pays "real" holographers to make him brilliant things. But if you asked him about beam ratios or how exactly triethylalamine filters out selective wavelengths of white light to develop a colored hologram, he'd likely give you a blank stare. While he gets all the glory as a "legendary holographer" the guy who likely invented all the techniques he's using is sitting in a basement in Ohio getting an autograph from Sam Morée.
  • Give up the Pepper's Ghost - holographers are VERY touchy about the colloquial bantering about of the word "hologram." If I had a dollar for every time it was mentioned that Tupac was not a hologram but merely a pepper's ghost illusion (and that holography is not an illusion - it is real wavelengths of light reaching your eye the exact same way they would if the object were there), I'd be able to afford my own lab. Nor are HoloLens or VR technically holographic technologies. Moral of the story, technicalities matter (see bullet point #1)

The Future

As our week rounded to a close, we had the opportunity to ask Sam over dinner and drinks what he sees for the future of holography. Recognizing this is someone who has been innovating and pioneering holographic techniques for the past 35 or so years, I was hanging on his every word.

He feels that the technology of imaging and developing holograms has largely come as far as it likely can. But he sees great potential in attention to the process of viewing them. New lighting technology and new optics research could really revolutionize the way holograms are integrated into life on both practical and artistic levels.

Thinking within the framework of my practice, I'm looking forward to being able to experiment with my existing holograms on these terms. Activating holograms using digital projection rather than lasers or gallery lights, or playing with projecting holograms from a point or line source seem like  promising places to start.

I still have this sneaking urge to attempt a DIY holography lab, but after seeing the fortune spent on legitimate equipment I have serious doubts about realizing that urge.

And ultimately, I'm excited to dream up a reason to propose a return to OSU for a residency.

From left: Harris Kagan, Miho Ogai, Jaccqui Delaney, Zsofi Valyi-Nagi, Sandra Meigs, Jeff Hazelden, Eric Valosin, Sam Morée
For more info about the HoloCenter and the Pulse Laser Holography workshop and residency program, visit the HoloCenter website.

And should you find yourself in Columbus, I'll share the same advice that was shared with me: Go to Jeni's ice cream. Sample everything (I looked down at one point to find 10 tiny spoons in my sticky, clenched fingers), and ask for pairing suggestions. The ice cream will exceed the hype.

And for the record, ice cream is one of the few things in life that is better off not being a hologram.

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