Matthew Schreiber is a visual artist who works in the field of light, architectural space and holography. His work often involves his interests in mysticism, sacred and ancient geometry, alchemy and physics. FPH spoke recently with Schreiber, a longtime protégé of James Turrell, about what he has in store for us this year at Day for Night.
Free Press Houston: I’ve read that you first became interested in lasers after seeing the first Starwars film? When you saw the film did you think, “Wow. I want to make art out of lasers one day,” or was it just a passing fascination at first?
Matthew Schreiber: It was also the holograms, because of Princess Leia. I was just a kid and I freaked out, and I just liked the stuff. I didn’t know anything about art at the time.
FPH: When did you decide you wanted to start making works of art out of lasers and what was your journey to that point like?
MS: I was a painter in college first. I went to art school and learned about art history, etc. It was always in the background as I was studying physics and science, so it kind of started mixing. And then in undergraduate school I took a course in physics that had a lab in holography and that kind of blew my mind. I started using it in installations. Not holography specifically, but some of the principles of it in optics.
FPH: Why do you make art out of lasers and holograms? What attracts you to those mediums?
MS: I’ve always made holograms. I mean, I’ve been involved with the material for a long time. And part of it was just due to the colleges that I went to. I started with experimental film and there was a course next the the experimental film program that was making holograms. And there was a way of kind of transferring that film into holography, into making film into an object and a thing. It was super secluded, the first lab in Chicago that I used. It was also a sensory deprivation chamber. So I loved being in that space. Nobody was doing holography, so I liked that kind of isolation and sort of meditation. Then with the lasers— you use lasers to make holograms. All of these years I was looking at the geometry and the patterns in that. Then I started thinking it would be cool to get rid of the holograms entirely and use the lasers themselves. So it didn’t come from laser light shows or nightclubs or any of that. It came from the physical making of holograms.
FPH: In the past you’ve incorporated interests like alchemy, the occult and sacred geometry into your work. How do you meld more esoteric ideas like that with newer technologies?
MS: In highschool I had friends of mine that were kind of into the occulty thing. So as a kid I was sort of involved or interested in that and the kind of music and things around that. And then in college I took a course in alchemy that was part of the art history program in Chicago, and that was a pretty intense course. I study a lot of the history of science. There’s a transition between alchemy to science where it kind of starts bleeding together. And that time period is really interesting. It was this period of time when people tried to figure out a way of seeing the unseen. And it’s expressed in different ways and different times in history. Geometry itself is really strong in my work because I work with light, and light travels in a straight line.
FPH: You spent 13 years as the chief lighting expert for James Turrell. What was that experience like?
MS: That was more of a master apprentice experience. I knew him even before I started working for him. I made holograms with him, and I saw his work in London when I was going to college there. He’s the master of light. I spent this long apprenticeship with him, and I’m thought of sometimes as a protege of him. It started off really simple as an art assistant position and then it grew.
FPH: Can you describe your piece that will be at Day for Night? How many lasers are used in it?
MS: It’s made up of about 230 lasers, and it’s extremely site specific. Most of my pieces use the existing dimensions and architecture to really tie the lasers to. So basically what you’re seeing is a kind of plumbing of the existing space. Most of my work with lasers is just treating light as an object. There’s no animation, no sound. It’s just sitting there. I want it to appear as an object.
FPH: How is it different doing an installation at a large, cavernous venue like Post HTX as opposed to an installation at a museum?
MS: I’ve done a few like this in big industrial spaces. For one thing, it’s dirty. But it’s not that bad. I like that there’s a contrast — as much contrast as I can get the better. With a space that is sort of raw like this, a very hard edged geometry tends to contrast well with that.