ATC Revisited: Rhonda Holberton

14 Apr, 2019

ATC Revisited: Rhonda Holberton

Photo by Malachi Tran.

Recap by KC Forcier, the 2018-2019 Graduate Liaison for the Art, Technology, and Culture Colloquium.

The Oakland-based artist Rhonda Holberton is fascinated with the interplay between the material and the immaterial. Her work often bridges the virtual and the decidedly physical in unexpected ways. At last monday’s ATC lecture Holberton contextualized her work by showing an early piece, Light of My Life, (2006) that concerned the anxieties around the supposed immateriality of digital photography. To create the piece, Holberton engineered an LED light bulb to translate digital images into colored light, making digital image files visual if not necessarily legible as originally intended.

Holberton continued her investigations into the tension between the ephemeral and the concrete with Displaced Holes (2012), a series of castings made from holes she dug at historically significant nuclear test sites. The graphite sculptures are an insistently material representation of nuclear radiation, something which is invisible yet has profoundly physical effects. The Displaced Holes are also an attempt to provide a material anchor for the vast incomprehensibility of nuclear disaster. Holberton sees this series, along with her more recent work, as engaging with Timothy Morton’s concept of the Hyperobject - things that are massively distributed in space and time and thus elude comprehension in their entirety, such as the Internet or climate change.

Holberton’s work considers how we reconcile our bodies to that which is operating on a completely different scale than the human. Her current project, Again for the First Time (2019) is a VR installation and custom built web server. Visitors don VR goggles and are walked through a meditative virtual reiki session. They are encouraged to send their psychical energy into the network, where it is healed and cleansed before being returned to the user. Although playful, the piece raises questions about the nature of our interactions and experiences in virtual spaces, as embodied human subjects. As Holberton argues, “the creators of virtual worlds must be accountable to the needs of the physical one.”