Hardcore Holography -
A New Dimension In Erotica

Whenever a new technique for making images becomes available it seems that artists will be compelled to use it to create erotica. Certainly when Daguerre first proposed photography the earliest exponents of this new process lost little time in recruiting uninhibited models to pose for them. One imagines rakish boulevardiers sharing the pleasures of those exquisite stereoscopic images with fellow conoisseurs over a post-prandial cognac, the thrill of the experience heightened by the medium's requirement that the pictures be viewed in a special device.

Holography, first proposed in 1948 but not a workable medium until the invention of the laser in the early sixties has inevitably proved tempting to libidinous imagemakers, and there were rumours of research scientists in a major American institute smuggling strippers into the lab to test the erotic possibilities of the pulsed laser hologram at a time when the general public was quite unaware of the very existence of holography. These early holograms would have been like three dimensional flash photographs - frozen moments with a rather waxy, deathlike look to them occupying a speckly volume of laser light. But holography has since developed from a laboratory-based medium recording split seconds of history into one that can utilise computer generated, photographic or video sequences as part of the origination process. It now adds the dimension of time to the other three in its repertoire.

One of the first protagonists of this hybrid creature - the holographic stereogram - was a Californian outfit called the Multiplex Company which brought together the genius laser scientist, Lloyd Cross, with the cinematographic hardware and blue movie background of San Franciscan Peter Claudius in the early 70s. The result was a product which resembled a 20th century zoetrope - a revolving plexiglass cylinder, lit from beneath, containing a 360 degree loop of holographic film. On the film were 1080 holograms of film frames optically reduced to vertical slits, which when the cylinder rotated created the image of a 3-dimensional figure floating within. As the sequence was filmed over 45 seconds or so, while the subject revolved on a large turntable, it was possible to obtain a certain amount of animation such as the most famous example "Kiss II" in which a pretty Californian girl blows a kiss and winks. That was fairly tame stuff for Claudius though - titles such as "Celeste Undressed", "Pam & Helen", " Banana Lady" and "Flasher" are more his style. His tour-de-force was the Holoblow Machine, a replica Victorian What-the-Butler-Saw machine which created the holographic illusion as one gazed into the eyepiece and adjusted the faster-slower controls that an act of fellatio was being performed in the vicinity of one's zipper, though the illusion was sadly incomplete, holography being a purely visual phenomenon.

Claudius would probably not claim to be an artist however, so the distinction of being the first to use holography to create erotic art goes to an Englishman. A member of the Liverpool-based arts group F U.K., Jon F as he now styles himself was a student on the Royal College of Art's M.A. course in holography and employing a longer handle when I first met him in 1990. A light-show designer for pop-group Echo & The Bunnymen and a versatile graphic artist, Jon saw the potential for fun and games in the college's newly designed multiplex machine which could utilise photographic sequences taken on an ordinary 35mm camera equipped with a motordrive. He was prolific in his output and the results, displayed at his Degree Show in 1992, were a blast, hinting with titles such as "Testosterone" and "Orgone Accelerator" at the nature of the work to come. Jon's multiplexes are recorded and displayed on flat glass plates rather than in the old cylindrical format, and to get the full effect the viewer has to sway from side to side in front of the piece. In "Testosterone", the image appears at first abstract, a swirling psychedelic pattern of light, but closer inspection reveals it to be a girl in a printed lycra body suit, the hologram presenting fleeting glimpses of hard-to-recognise parts of her anatomy. Another work, recorded in Kensington Gardens features in the foreground a detumescent icecream cone with chocolate flake bar and in the background tantalising glimpses of figures apparently engaged in alfresco courtship rituals. Or perhaps not - "It's all in the eye of the beholder" Jon might say.

After College F worked on various performance pieces and then conceived the idea for Hardcore Holography. This was first shown as part of the Liverpool Visionfest programme in 1994 at the John Moore University Hope Street Gallery. The outer walls of the gallery showed the work of Louisa MacIver, an F U.K. associate, documenting the psychological and anatomical effects of wearing a chastity belt. F built a room within the gallery inside which they installed the ten Time Machines displaying the holograms. The images, executed by Jon F, were designed and performed as a collaboration by a group of male and female artists "motivated by a will to liberty and a celebration of the pleasures of consensual sex, whatever form it may take" and included SadoMasochism , Voyeurism, Bondage and Masturbation amongst the themes handled. Each image represents about ten seconds of real time and as the viewer stands in front of the Time Machine - a wall mounted metal display with a small motor attached - the hologram is turned from side to side, moving the sequence of animation repeatedly back and forth. One of the most memorable images shows a naked man wearing a dunce cap, seated in the corner of an empty warehouse masturbating. On a shelf above him is a row of empty bottles which he must fill with semen before being released from the room. Another shows the torso of a naked woman, lying back with her legs apart and moving a vibrator in and out of her vagina without the aid of her hands - the effect of this in the hologram being that the image of the vibrator moves from behind the plane of the hologram plate into the viewer's space and back again. The work was only shown publicly for three days because the Merseyside police received a complaint, allegedly from a newspaper reporter trying to create a story, and insisted that the show be closed or the holograms would be confiscated. Some of it has subsequently been shown at the Festival of Erotic Art held at the Coventry Gallery in London but F are open to approaches from Galleries and/or collectors interested in exhibiting or purchasing the holograms. They are currently in the process of producing Hardcore Holography 2, The Second Coming, which promises to be even more graphic than the first series with close-up images of penetration, cunnilingus and fellatio providing the closest thing to virtual sex you are likely to encounter without the cumbersome addition of a Virtual Reality headset. To simply describe the acts depicted in F's works is, however, to sell them short as the images are composed with an artist's eye and a sense of humour which, along with a very committed attitude to sexual freedom, raises the enterprise above the 'Porn-Show' label which much of the local press gave it at the time of the Liverpool incident. The Hardcore Holograms are without doubt unique artifacts, very much a product of their time, and as such interesting from the point of view of their place in the development of imaging technology but in addition they have a place in the history of erotic art - right at the cutting edge.

© Jonathan Ross


Originally published in The Erotic Print Society Review, Issue 3, Spring 1996.

Work in the Jonathan Ross Collection

Exhibition at Gallery 286
November 7th - 28th 1999

Work in the exhibition, with price list

Gallery views


Article about Jon Mitton's work
The Erotic Print Society Review


Catalogue entry
"3 x 8 +1" Published by Jonathan Ross

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