Originally published in Computer Graphics World, Vol. 15, N. 5, May 1992, pp. 80, 82, and republished in Ylem, Vol. 12, N. 11, November 1992, pp. 2, 7.

Poetry in motion in the space-time continuum

Louis Brill

In a darkened art gallery, a viewer encounters a collection of holograms, known as Holopoems. Here the boundaries of print poetry have been pushed to a new dimension, as each word-poem slowly dances about, inevitably challenging viewers to unique subtleties as point of view, degrees of animation, relative positions of letters and words all combine into a telling statement of a moment in time or culture.

Observing a Holopoem, individual letters begin to appear, twisting and turning as they line up through a luminous smoke. An "e" appears followed by an "s" and a "y". Each letter emerges in a shifting form as their random placements create any number of word possibilities: SEES?, SEX?, YES? Suddenly, the word appears; it is EYES. It floats in a cloud of smoke transforming its elusive presence into a complete poetic experience. EYES is a Holopoem, a literal form bordering on the realm of the metaphysic where more is said by the relationship of the words to their space than their dictionary meanings. EYES, for example is really about one's ability to see, and sometimes not see as one's vision is clouded over. Eduardo Kac, creator of Holopoems, establishes the smoke as ambiguity, because of its dual nature, both in blocking vision and as a transparent medium.

Through Holopoems Kac achieves a literary quest, where the viewer contemplates the word as much for how it is dimensionally composed as to its intended meanings. In this case, "EYES" is a Holopoem titled Omen (1990), where the combination of word and smoky surroundings creates an extended metaphor that expresses, as its creator Kac notes, a "hazy vision of a future occurrence."

Eduardo Kac, who was born and raised In Brazil, was always intrigued with the power of words as expressed in literature and poetry. It inspired him as an artist to explore semantics and the interplay of syntax to reshape the basic compositional unit of how a poem is created. He dabbled in linear verse and free verse, he moved beyond tho printed page to deal in large spaces through graffiti, he tried multimedia, all to no avail. It was in 1983 as Kac recalled,

"The burning question was, might not words exist in a 'pure poetic form' strictly as their own entity? But how? I knew the media I couldn't work in. What I could not see was what I could use or make work to express poetry with the fluidity and malleability I wanted....lnevitably it dawned on me that holography of which I had heard about as some kind of 3-D medium might be the liberation I was seeking for poetic syntax. A way of putting it all in a new dimension so to speak. In turn holography led to computer graphics and I knew I had found my direction".

Kac embarked on creating an architecture of form and function that became inseparable from syntactic and semantic perception of text. Kac's merging of holography and CGI created the medium he sought where pen and paper had been replaced with discontinuous space and non-linear time. As Holopoems came into their own, the word forms began to mature. Each piece was staged with a title different than its verbal material, allowing each poem to evolve to its own layer of complexity.

For example, Souvenir d'Andromeda (1990) is the title of a Holopoem represented by the word LIMBO. It is literal yet ambiguous. As Kac observes, "Its title refers to the future where a space traveler might bring a gift that is obviously a different form of expression than what we have on Earth....LIMBO connotes oblivion, or emptiness; rhythm is marked by a fragmentation of solid parts that reshape into its word form (and vice-versa) which floats in a space surrounded by nothingness."

Holopoetry generates its own grammar. Its rules are conceived in a four-dimensional space where point-of-view and time become the pivot point of how a poem is expressed. With computer graphic metamorphing capabilities, HOLOPOETRY introduces poems whose visual behavior of verbal elements in space expands their meanings. Kac explains:

"Ultimately holographic poetry is not just the mere luminous reproduction of 3-D words, but more the possibility of writing poetry in a space whose laws are different from either the printed space or the surrounding world." Finally with the hologram's image reconstruction process, the viewer's physical motion defines each poem's creation. By reversing their head motion they can "assemble" or "dissemble" each poem.

In creating a Holopoem Kac first begins by selecting the appropriate word or set of words, and their relationships. Once the word or words have been conceived he approaches his Macintosh computer and, using software programs for image processing, three-dimensional modeling, and animation, he begins to model all the characteristics of how the Holopoem composes itself. As to the creation of the letter forms Kac noted:

"Sometimes I work with library fonts and sometimes I create my own. Light, shape, scale, texture, and direction of movement of the letter forms are all focused to create the proper rhythm of the poem."

As the final poem is composed it is filmed from a computer monitor using a 16mm Bolex camera loaded with black and white film. The film is developed and reviewed. Once accepted it is prepared for the final step -- the hologram. At this point the movie film is placed in a special film/hologram transfer system known as an integral printer. Here each frame of celluloid is transferred to its equivalent form as a holographic image. Each Holopoem is a composite of 87 frames of movie film. The completed hologram is developed, mounted, and displayed.

Kac is now an instructor of computer holography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The Holopoems have grown into a collection of work that has toured many galleries and conferences throughout the United States. Last year they graced the SIGGRAPH art show in Las Vegas. In october of this year a small collection of Holopoems and computer graphic/holography works of Kac's students is appearing at the CyberArts International (Pasadena CA) art gallery.

As to the future of Holopoems the potential is vast. Kac is working on HAVOC, a composition of 39 words that will be integrated into a single poem. The big dream as with any poet is the ultimate discovery, the publication of a book. But this is not any book. Its "pages" will be embossed holographic foils each containing a animated holopoem, truly a case of poetry in motion .

Louis Brill is a San Francisco-based writer. He is a Corresponding Editor of the journal Leonardo, and was the editor of Leonardo's first special issue on holographic art (Vol. 22, Numbers 3 and 4, 1989). His articles have appeared in numerous national publications.

Back to Kac Web