Recently completed by Chris Helson and Sarah Jackets, two Scotland-based artist who have been honing away on the project for seven years, this innovative 3D video machine will make its debut on July 31, as part of the Alt-W at the Edinburgh Art Festival. Inspired by the famous holographic message sent to Obi-Wan Kenobi from Princess Leia in Star Wars, the 360-degree piece, entitled Help Me Obi, has already won an Alt-w production award from New Media Scotland.
Inspired by scientific concepts that have garnered iconic cultural significance, Helson said the project is not to be confused with a 3D hologram: “We use the term holographic because there is nothing else like it,” said Helson. “The machine creates 360 [-degree] moving video objects apparently floating in space and the viewer is able to walk around the machine and see the video object from any position.”
The duo, best known for their striped public sculpture of light, started Help Me Obi in 2007. No easy feat, “It has taken this long to make it work well,” said Helson, noting that the original designs that came together to made it happen still can't be spoken about due to the patent-registering process. The biggest challenge, he says, was getting rid of the flicker. “It was a bit like the very first TV,” he said, “not easy to see the image, but enough to see the possibilities.”
The video objects presented by the piece include the NASA Voyager 1 Space Probe, the first man-made object to leave the solar system and enter interstellar space, and a loose narrative between a holographic baby and a real child— actually the same person. The baby in the video is Helson and Jackets' son as a newborn, and the boy in the photos looking at the baby is the same child, now five years old.
As far as the artists know, this is the first device of this kind being made at this particular scale: their video objects can be made nearly 12 inches in size. “When you actually stand there with them floating in front of you, they have a life that you connect to in a very different way than you would with a film or video, or even a 3D film,” says Helson.
How much is it a shout out to Star Wars? To Helson and Jackets, it's the cultural reference that is important— the idea of Obi-Wan Kenobi as both classical warrior and messenger. It’s also about attempting the impossible: “The two parts of this work— Voyager, and the baby— look to reveal something of how we understand ourselves and our place in the universe,” he said.