May 31, 2006

Holla! Grams!

Towards the end of my day in Chicago I was feeling tired and somewhat gouged by tourist attractions-- $12 to go to the top of a building was bad enough, but I had been particularly peeved by the Art Institute of Chicago, the city's main art museum. They post their "admission prices" outside as $10 for adults and $7 for students, but not until you reach the ticket counter, with your money held out to pay, do they mention that it's actually just a suggested donation-- at which point, of course, they're counting on you feeling too embarrassed and cheap to take back your cash. Which seems really tastelessly conniving for an art gallery.

But I still managed to drag myself out to one last attraction: the Museum of Holography. It was about as surreally Twilight Zone-esque as it sounds; housed in an old Methodist printing facility, the 'museum' is in fact three small rooms in the larger School of Holography that takes up most of the rest of the building. You have to ring a bell before you're admitted by the curator, an intense relic from the Sixties who may well have been a hologram herself. She sits behind some strangely tinted glasses and tells you the unsolicited history of holography, what a "tribute to the intelligence of man" the science is (she used that phrase three times in five minutes), and who its most famous practitioners are. She also has a cat who roams the galleries freely, and often watches you with its belly in the air and its eyes inquisitive (and I mean 'inquisitive' not as in 'curious', but as in 'The Spanish Inquisition').

Facetious characterisations aside, though, she was a nice old lady with some fascinating stories to tell. For instance, the reason they're based in the old printing facility is because, in order to stop the sound of the multiple printing presses from disturbing the neighbours, the building was constructed with a sunken basement that is isolated from the street and the rest of the building by several feet of concrete. This makes it ideal for creating holograms, which must be exposed in absolute stillness or the laser beams responsible get misaligned and the photographic paper is left blank and spoiled. Thus, the School of Holography is actually one of the only facilities in the US that is capable of producing holograms-- and, indeed, it pays the bills by making most of the holograms that grace your credit cards.

And the best part? The museum is right next door to this:

I wonder if Dr Phil likes to gaze thoughtfully at holograms after a hard afternoon of telling people how messed up they are.


At 16/2/09 13:53, Blogger Ling Ma said...

Hi, you might be interested in this Chicago Reader coverstory on the Museum of Holography:


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