Program 6 - Holopoetry

available on Eduardo Kac: Telepresence, Bio Art & Poetry [1980-2010]

1983-91, 11:04, Brazil/U.S., color, sound, video

The following documentary videos are uncut and are all collected under the title “Holopoetry."

Holo/Olho (1983)

Video documenting the holopoem Holo/Olho [Holo/Eye], the very first holopoem made by the artist. The piece is a combination of anagrams in which the word “holo” mirrors “olho” and vice-versa. The mirroring effect, however, was conceived so that fragments of the poem would contain enough letters to form both words “holo” and “olho.” The arrangement of letters in space was holographed five times; each hologram was fragmented and the five holograms were reassembled in a new visual unit. This holopoem recreated, in its own syntax, a structure that corresponds to the holographic model, according to which the information of the whole is contained in the part and viceversa. Video recording of Kac’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Holography, New York, 1990.

Wordsl (1986)

Video documenting the holopoem Wordsl, which is an optical anamorphosis in which the letters of “world” and “words” are holographically combined into a new word (Wordsl) and placed in a 180° arc circling the artist’s head. This information was transferred to a 90° hologram, through a process of contraction in virtual space
(space within the hologram) that changed the forms of the letters. Some of the letters, however, seem to go around and behind the hologram, reappearing in their proper proportions in real space (space in front of the hologram). The curvature itself of the integral hologram (so called because it integrates motion pictures and holography, and because it recreates the integral movement of a scene) is the cause of this phenomenon. Video recording of Kac’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Holography, New York, 1990.

Quando? (1987)

Video documenting the holopoem Quando? [When?], in which an abstract shape rotates around its own axis, alternately revealing and concealing the words of the text as it spins. It is a 360° hologram, but not a 360° image that is seen as one sees a sculpture or an ordinary object. The monolithic fractal object rotates to accomplish almost two full turns inside the hologram, widening the 360° space to 720°. This gives rise to a perceptual paradox only made possible by holography: although one sees a 360° plexiglas cylinder inside which there is a 360° holographic film, the fractal turns and multiplies the holographic space. The text was conceived so that it could be read at any angle. Video recording of Kac’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Holography, New York, 1990.

Lilith, with Richard Kostelanetz (1987-89)

Video documenting the holopoem Lilith, in which words in French and English are employed to comment on the legend that gives it its title. In Jewish popular etymology, Lilith means “devil of the night.” Its resonance as the “female devil” has Babylonian roots, but Lilith also refers to any myth of female devils. In Jewish mystic literature, she is the queen of the demons. According to another legend, she was the first wife of Adam. Unlike Eve, Lilith was not created from Adam’s
body and therefore was totally independent from him. According to this legend, it was only after Lilith left Adam that Eve was created. In traditional Kabbalistic literature — which until recently was a male-dominated field — Lilith is the symbol of sensuality and sexual temptation. The transformations that take place in the poem between the words “HE,” “EL” (short for Elohim or God), “ELLE” (“she” in French and palindrome of “EL”), and “HELL” are meant to unveil and criticize the bias that surrounds the myth of Lilith, the product of a male-dominated culture creating God in its own (male) image. Video recording of Kac’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Holography, New York, 1990.

Albeit (1989)

Video documentation of the holopoem Albeit, which is composed of five words that are duplicated and fragmented in space by means of fourteen masters (the counterpart of photographic negatives), so as to produce a dense configuration built upon layers of small color fields, and the empty spaces between them. The words are read almost in stroboscopic manner from different viewpoints, multiplying meanings and paralleling, through the process of fragmentation, the contradictory reference to time the text signifies. The word “take”, for example, can be understood as a verb (take your time) or as a noun (your take is over) — a syntactical fluctuation that is instrumental in creating the textual instability of holopoetry. The word “time”, in another instance, can be a subject (time take(s) over, when the letter S is read in absentia). But it also can be a direct object (take your time). Video recording of Kac’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Holography, New York, 1990.

Phoenix (1989)

Video documentation of the holopoem Phoenix, composed of only one letter that draws attention to its visual properties rather than representing a particular sound. Designed with ambiguity, the letter “W” might be perceived as a stylized bird with open wings. It floats in front of the holographic film plane (20 inches away) and is transfixed by a vertical open flame that can be read as the letter “I,” which moves randomly according to air currents. The laser letter creates a curious harmony with the actual flame, suggesting perhaps that we are as fascinated by laser images today as the primeval man was by fire. Where the laser red meets the blue flame, a hybrid magenta is perceived.

Shema (1989)

Video documentation of the holopoem Shema, which is structured with verbal signifiers floating in three expanded color fields that interpenetrate each other, creating a transitional discontinuity between them. The text is in Hebrew and is composed of four words and one big letter. The letter modifies the four words to suggest four
new words — each word depends on viewers’ decisions as they move in front of the piece. In this sense, the word “maim” [water] may be modified by the letter shien (S), to produce “shamaim” [sky, heaven]. The word “mavet” [death] may be modified by shien to suggest “Shmvot” [Exodus]. The word “mah” [why/what] may be modified to form “shamah” [desolation, destruction]. Lastly, the word “mash” [to trough off, to remove] may become “shemesh” [Sun]. The possible eight words produce an atmosphere of associations, suggesting feelings about death and emotional loss. The piece is dedicated to Perla Przytyk, in memoriam.

Eccentric (1990)

Video documentation of the holopoem Eccentric, in which its basic nine words (shadows, sounds, smells, nos, nevers, nothings, that, memories, erase) can never be seen simultaneously in space. The viewer cannot even perceive the words when looking at the piece from a central position. In order to perceive each word, the reader must invent his or her own topological code. One must look for the words diagonally and decide on the way to approach the text, whether to read looking up or to the left alternately or successively, or down and to the right concurrently. The crisscrossing invisible narrow viewing zones that form the poem allow for a highly turbulent syntax. Video recorded in the context of Kac’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Holography, New York, 1990.

Amalgam (1990)

Video documentation of the holopoem Amalgam, composed of two sets of two words each (“flower-void” and “vortex-flow”), where each set blends into the other as the viewer tries to read the text. The visual transition between the sets can also be seen as a semantic transition, so that the in-between shapes indicate in-between meanings. In other words, when the left eye sees one set and the right eye sees the other set simultaneously (as opposed to both eyes perceiving slightly different viewpoints of the same set), the viewer is actually seeing a transitional verbal sign that possesses transitional meanings. This is what Kac calls “binocular reading.” Both eyes try to force a synthesis that is deterred by retinal rivalry. Within this process, a complementary reading strategy can also be implemented: nouns can be interpreted as verbs, as in flow (and) vortex void flower, or flower (,) void (and) vortex flow. Video recording of Kac’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Holography, New York, 1990.

Multiple (1989)

Video documentation of the holopoem Multiple, in which the sequence of numbers “3309” is seen floating in space. As the viewer moves past the numbers, they rotate around a pivot point, changing to an abstract pattern and then to the word “POEM” (and vice-versa); at first the three-dimensional form remains the same as it would if it were a regular object — but then it changes. Parallax is responsible for the production of meaning, which is based on the triple function of the sign (word-image-number). This piece takes a characteristic of the Hebrew alphabet (in which letters also stand for numbers) and applies it to the Latin one. Video recording of Kac’s solo exhibition at the Musem of Holography, New York, 1990.

Omen (1990)

Video documentation of the holopoem Omen. In this piece the word “EYES” floats and spins, emerging and dissolving in a space defined by luminous smoke. This spinning happens so as to make the letter “E”, as seen from a specific viewpoint, vanish into the smoke before the whole word does, making the reader perceive the word “YES” at the edge of legibility and suggesting the word “SEE.” The smoke is charged with ambiguity, because it is perceived both as an element that blocks vision, and as a transparent medium. Through this orchestrated motion, Kac creates a metaphor that expresses the hazy vision of a future occurrence. Video recording of Kac’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Holography, New York, 1990.

Andromeda Souvenir (1990)

Video documentation of the holopoem Andromeda Souvenir, which is composed of a single word and perceived as a set of abstract shapes, depending on the viewer’s point of view. For example, if viewers read the word “LIMBO” at first, as they move, the word rotates (crossing from virtual space to real space and vice-versa) and comes apart (as if it were exploding). As this happens, the fragments of the word, which are no longer legible, are now perceived as pure visual forms. This process is reversible in space and time. If the fragmentation of a sound still produces phonetic resonances, the fragmentation of a letter produces visual shapes — a process that exhibits the graphic nature of written language, as opposed to the phonetic nature of spoken language. The word “LIMBO” connotes oblivion, suspension, and nothingness in several languages — meanings that are enhanced by the visual process of fragmentation. Video recording of Kac’s solo
exhibition at the Museum of Holography, New York, 1990.

Adhuc (1991)

Video documentation of the holopoem Adhuc, in which the viewer moves relative to the poem, reading it and perceiving the choreography of the basic words of the piece (“whenever,” “four years,” “or never,” “far eve,” “forever,” “evening”). All the words refer to time in varying ways, contributing to an overall vagueness that could resist assessment at first sight. The muddled interference patterns that blend with the words help to create an atmosphere of uncertainty, not only concerning the
visibility of the words but also about the meanings they produce.

Zero (1991)

Video documentation of the holopoem Zero, in which words grow or shrink, or turn and break, to express the drama of an identity crisis in a future world. Rotations, fusions and other actions make the words emphasize their relations and meanings in space. The multiplicity of “selves” that would be inexorable with the proliferation of cloning is the poem’s ultimate theme, but for a more attentive reader the answer to the enigma can be found in words residing in other words.


Video documentation of the holopoem Adrift, which is composed of seven words that dissolve in space and into each other as the viewer reads them. In one case, readers are invited to start reading from the letter that is furthest away from them. In another case, the letter closer to the reader could be the starting point. The reading process occurs back and forth along the Z-axis. This piece is also an attempt to work both with the optical and digital, trying to make one lend its properties
to the other. The letters that form the words float irregularly along the Z-axis, except for the word “breathe,” which is integrated into the overall light field. This word is blown by an imaginary wind as its letters actually move away from their original position to dissolve in the light field. The movement of the letters in this word disrupts the apparent stability of the other words.