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The Pure Delight of Holographic Arts

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A conversation with Dr. Martina Mrongovius, director of the Center for the Holographic Arts, about pixel printing, hybrid technologies, and painting with the frequency of light.

As VR experiences, immersive digital environments, and massive-scale installations bring us closer and closer to the uncanny valley, holography sometimes seems to be sitting on the sidelines, waiting for societal tastes to come around to its retro-futuristic aesthetic. As the project director for the Center for the Holographic Arts, I used to welcome hundreds of daily visitors to its Long Island City gallery, and then, later, its summer venue on Governors Island. I delighted in watching people’s awed reactions, letting them take it all in before explaining anything about how the pieces were made. But the holographic arts are complex, and eventually everyone wants to know how they work.

Here’s HoloCenter director Dr. Martina Mrongovius illuminating the process of holographic creation and the history of the nonprofit that is dedicated to preserving and promoting this unique art form. Since its 1998 origins as a holographic portrait gallery in the basement of PS1, the Center for the Holographic Arts has attracted lots of curious visitors. Some of the more famous ones left behind their likenesses in 3-D, including Keith Haring, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Walter Cronkite. Dr. Mrongovius maintained these archives, eventually putting them and many more beautiful works on display, through a grant from No Longer Empty, in the grand lobby and historic bank vault of a Long Island City clock tower.

The HoloCenter’s latest exhibition, IRIDESCENCE produced in conjunction with the Hologram Foundation, was recently on view at Central Booking on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Hugues Souparis, who helped fund the printing of the holograms, is also involved in modern holographic securities for currencies across the globe. In fact, it turns out there’s a fair amount of crossover between money and holograms. If you look closely at a crisp new hundred-dollar bill, you can see tiny lenticular holograms embedded in the fabric showing the number “100” and a cracked Liberty Bell. Though hologram creation often requires expensive laboratory equipment, including a powerful pulse laser, artists like Jack White are using relatively simple techniques to carve tiny holograms into vinyl records, bringing this art form dramatically to a mass-media audience. The passion for developing new holographic techniques is never far from Dr. Mrongovius’s mind. She’s always eager to discuss the feasibility of turning an iPhone video into a hologram, the difference between digital and analog holograms, the outposts of holographic studios all across the world, and how concert projections of Beyoncé and Tupac aren’t real holograms.

It’s taken a lot of hard work and dedication to get the HoloCenter to where it is today. Over the years, the HoloCenter has hosted dozens of exhibits, 3-D film screenings, workshops, educational talks, and a handful of laser-lit dance parties. The events allow for enthusiasts and beginners alike to learn about the mindbending science behind holography. Color spectrum, dimensionality, and pixelprinting are just a few of the directions one can take when going down the rabbit hole with Dr. Mrongovius and the holographic artists. But her commitment to the art form, as well as that of the Holographic Art Fund, ensures that holographers in NYC and across the globe will continue to be able to make their works for years to come.

Johan Levy for Per La Mente

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