You Gotta Move

Shu-Min Lin takes the 'hollow' out of 'hologram.'

When we go to an art exhibition, we expect to be the viewers and the artist to be the creator. Even with interactive artwork, the aloof among us want to be able to stand on the sidelines and watch other people pull the cord or scrawl in the journal. With Shu-Min Lin's exhibition Overt Voyeurism Projects at the Tucson Museum of Art, standing on the sidelines is not an option. Anyone who doesn't step up and walk around on the platform of "Glass Ceiling" or follow the track light of "Sun Gazing" will not see the artwork.

The reason is that Lin creates his artworks using holograms, and holography is based on light and motion. Although we may think of holography in terms of its new applications like the silver squares on credit cards, the original holographic technique was invented by Dennis Gabor in 1948. Lin creates his images on glass plates using a modern laser method. Two laser light beams are cast onto the object to be recorded. One beam falls directly onto the glass plate while the other reflects off the object before it is recorded on the plate.

The resulting photographic image is realistic, but it also has a three-dimensional quality. Sometimes parts of the image seem to protrude beyond the surface of the glass. Combining multiple images in a single piece can make certain portions of one image disappear while portions of another appear as you shift your position in front of the artwork. The central hologram in Lin's piece "The Reincarnation," which combines headshots of 49 different people, is a technical marvel. Walk past the hologram and the faces shift more quickly than the eye can perceive.

Most artists who use holograms tend to create simple transformations of a scene with strong 3-D effect. Lin has a couple of these pieces. His "Antipodes" depicts a nude man from the torso up with a spiral shell in the foreground. Stand in one place and it's a frontal view of the man. Shift a bit and it changes to a rear view of the man. "Antipode" means "direct or exact opposite." Fortunately, Lin's installations are more interesting than this and more complex, both in terms of their concepts and their structures.

"Sun Gazing" requires a patient viewer, but the rewards are worth it. Twenty-four holographic plates are mounted side by side on a wall, but they are illuminated only one at time by a light that moves slowly along the ceiling on a motorized track. The holograms of male nudes are tightly cropped. Some are head shots while others are close-ups of different sections of their bodies. If you move from side to side or up and down, the nudes change. Sometimes one man's body merges with another. It is this melding as much as the full frontal male nudity or the inclusion of two men's bodies in one small space that creates a sense of sexuality in some images.

Sexuality is a small part of the work, and it may not be part of what the artist intended. Lin has said that the series depicts the Chinese myth of Qua Foo, an ordinary man destined to spend his life chasing the sun. Some of the portraits do suggest a sense of striving, a look that strangely resembles the expressions of angels in Renaissance paintings. Some of the men seem to extend their hands beyond the frame as if to be free of their confinement.

Lin's artwork has been described as "neo-kinetic." Traditionally, kinetic artworks use motion that is powered by motor, hand or wind. The kinetic movement of the 1950s and '60s included artists like Alexander Calder and Jean Tinguely. To call holography kinetic demands a contemporary concept that embraces the viewers' shifting to see the hologram as kinetic motion. In Lin's "Sun Gazing," if we don't follow the installation's motorized track light down the gallery wall, we literally cannot see the individual images. Here there can be no intellectual or emotional engagement with the artwork without our extra physical motion.

Lin's artwork is reflective, but the gallery wasn't very quiet the day I visited. Most viewers had questions or comments for friends, museum guards and even strangers. Most people were intrigued by the holograms, especially by the installation "Glass Ceiling."

Its raised platform has several hologram panels inset in aluminum tiled flooring. Stand in the right places on the platform and the reddish holograms light up. Hyper-real faces of men and women stare up from the floor. A couple of men stare confrontationally at us. Another man is holding his hand up as if to protect himself. One wide-eyed woman looks as though she's seen something horrific here on this side of the windowpane. The details--her shiny wristwatch, the diamonds of her engagement ring, even the strands of her hair--are incredible. The great depth of field in all the images creates a sense of heads protruding into space.

There's something disconcerting about the inversion of body space involved with literally looking down at people. People don't belong at floor level, and they certainly don't belong under our feet. The American phrase "the glass ceiling" refers to women and ethnic minorities not being able to break through traditional corporate barriers to executive positions. In his installation, Lin represents a variety of people, so the work does not have a specific political reference. Instead, his holograms of people of various ages and ethnic backgrounds should help different viewers identify with the downtrodden trapped beneath the floor. Everyone is cast into the role of repressor to tread gingerly or heavily on the faces below.

One of the other things that we expect when we go to an art exhibition is that the people depicted in the portraits will stay in the paintings or sculptures, but in "Glass Ceiling" the people are clearly ready to break out. As one viewer said, "It's creepy," but that's a good reason to come down and see them.