James Turrell's lighting expert uses holograms and lasers to muse on novelty and the occult.
'GateKeeper,' 2014. Laser diode modules
Working as the chief lighting expert for James Turrell for 13 years, Matthew Schreiber knows a thing or two about art exhibitions-turned-spectacles. "Right now museums seem to have a particular interested in these ticket-selling blockbuster shows," he tells The Creators Project. "It can be a Magritte exhibition or something with flashy technology, and you'll see all the people standing in front of the work not even looking at it."
Though it may sound like the 47-year-old holography expert is lamenting the fact that people geek more over Drake visiting Turrell exhibitions and taking selfies at Kusama than the work itself, Schreiber is not a dyed-in-the-wool cynic. Rather, the artist is interested in the interesting phenomena that occur when the public considers artwork, well, a phenomenon.
For his first New York solo exhibition, 'Sideshow,' that debuted at the Johannes Vogt gallery in Manhattan on April 10th, Schreiber is meditating on how art can simultaneously be a novelty and be aware of its novel nature. First off, he works with holograms, a medium which are long since past their prime and are often associated with kitsch. We're not talking about next-gen Pepper's Ghost "holograms" that are being used at concerts by MIA and Janelle Monae—Schreiber studied holography at the Royal College of Art and is working with the real-deal medium: wavefronts of energy coming off surfaces blasted with lights and lasers.
"With lasers and holograms, I was thinking about several aspects of novelty," he says. "One was the defunct media like blacklight posters and holographic stickers you'd find at Spencer's Gifts. At one point there was this novel experience when you first saw those things." Now they're cheesy by-gones from another era, stashed into the nooks of the (barely) surving stores that still sell pop culture ephemera.
Another part of the novelty focus rests in how "bad art is created when people lie about their desire or intent about making or seeing something, and thus layer a lot of content on top of the work to hide their real intent." In other words, exhibitions that are all smoke and mirrors—holographic ideas that are barely ankle-deep in substance.
Again, he may sound like a curmudgeon, but the work and ideology within 'Sideshow' (a name referring to both carnivalesque fun houses, and the club Fun House that occupied the same building as the Johannes Vogt gallery in the '80s, both spectacles in and of themselves) is playful in nature: The Mug of Aleister Crowley, for example, is a hologram of a cup owned by the legendary occultist. Another piece is a a laser sculpture of a somewhat-invisible pentagram. Plus, Schreiber will be the first to admit that lasers and holograms are both fun and weird. After all, there was a reason he was actively interested in popculture-focused blacklights, holograms, and lasers when he was a kid. His work embraces the flashiness or gaudiness of the media its encased in.
'Sideshow' is interesting because of how meta it is. It knows it's a novelty and is totally self-aware of that factor. That's why many works are manipulations of blacklights, as they are self-reflecting—parallel to the exhibition as a whole. Also, the occultist themes in his art flips the history of the public experiencing mass hysteria in regards to witches or satanists, as his work muses on the hysteria our modern public exudes towards blockbuster art shows. Not to mention, the Occult has always been interested in alchemic places, a mixed space in which holography rests as a medium, too, somewhere among light, mirrors, and photography.
But what sets Schreiber's work apart from the other buzzy blockbuster exhibitions is that the project's intent is to capture moments that rest between the tangible and intangible—be it holographs, or the whole reason why people are attracted to major spectacles but then don't pay attention to the fine art once they're there. There's something unexplainbly fascinating about knowing that a work by Turrell is important and then experiencing it yourself to validate that it's real. It's the weird feeling of standing in front of something famous and absorbing it's aura. "It's in that grey area where things are invisible or intangible," he says. "Novelty lies there."
'Sideshow' is open at Johannes Vogt until May 10th. For more information see the gallery's website.
For more info on Schreiber, visit his website: http://www.matthewschreiber.com/