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Holographic rain forest opens at MIT Museum

"LightForest: The Holographic Rainforest," a large-scale, long-term holographic installation created by MIT Lecturer and holographer Betsy Connors, opens at the MIT Museum's main exhibition center on Saturday, October 19 with a free public preview from 2-5 pm. The opening program will include talks by renowned holographers as well as an introduction to the Museum's new holography lab.

LightForest, which combines traditional landscape art and holography, was commissioned by the MIT Museum with primary funding from AT&T: New Experiments in Art and Technology. The program supports projects that "bring a poetry to science" and stimulate young people's interest in the field.

Created by Ms. Connors, lecturer in Media Arts and Sciences, LightForest is comprised of 150 holograms of rainforest imagery embedded in the floor, walls and ceilings of a 15-by-9-by-10-foot gallery so the viewer experiences the sensation of standing deep within the rain forest. Photographic light projections and pre-recorded sound effects enhance the simulation. As visitors enter LightForest, they are surrounded by lush three-dimensional holographic images of water and plant life: the sounds of rain and wind, sunlight sparkling across the holographic pond underfoot, and a canopy of vines, ferns and palm leaves overhead.

Ms. Connors is one of only a handful of artists worldwide to combine holograms with computerized tools to manipulate the imagery in her work. The unusual interactive lighting and animation of the holograms in LightForest are controlled by state-of-the-art computer technology including motion and proximity sensors. A special computer program based on a Media Lab system controls the lights that "play back" the holograms.

LightForest is a companion installation to the MIT Museum's popular holography exhibition which opened in March 1994. Three years ago, the Museum acquired at auction the entire collection of the former Museum of Holography in New York, the largest and most important collection of holograms in the world.

With the move of the collection to MIT and the groundbreaking work in holography being done by the Media Lab's Spatial Imaging Group, the Boston area has become a new national center for holography. Holographic images are the only true three-dimensional images being produced today. Only a few hundred artists in the world are working in the medium, a process which involves physics, the use of lasers and a lab equipped with special optical tables.

In conjunction with LightForest, Ms. Connors is creating a holographic garden for the West Somerville Neighborhood School near her house, one of three Technology Magnet elementary schools in the state. Students from the Neighborhood School will visit the Museum's holography lab for further instruction.

Ms. Connors, who has earned acclaim as both a photographer and a video artist, now works primarily in holography. With Stephen Benton, director of the Spatial Imaging Group and a pioneer in holography, she curated the permanent holography exhibition now on view at the MIT Museum. She also served as a consultant to the Museum in the creation of the new holography lab, and in designing an education program to make holography accessible to area school children.

A former fellow of MIT's Center for Advanced Visual studies and an alumna and lecturer at the Media Lab's Spatial Imaging Group, Ms. Connors operates the only private holography lab in the Boston area. She has worked in landscape holography since 1991 when she created the large-scale holographic installation Future Gardens, a 17-by-10-foot wall of holograms with computer-controlled lighting. An exhibition of her landscape holography, organized by the Mississippi Museum of Art, is now touring the country. Her photographs have been featured in shows at the Institue of Contemporary Art and the Thomas Segal Gallery in Boston. Her video work has appeared on WGBH and WNET as well as in installations at the Clocktower Gallery in New York and the Transportation Building in Boston. She is a founder of the Boston Film Video Foundation.

For more information, call x3-4444.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 9, 1996.

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