The artist Eduardo Kac was at his New York gallery the other day to show a reporter his work: a hologram encoded on a sliver of glass resting inside a tiny metal case. This little package is the capstone of Kac’s career to date — an artifact he created in 1986 that is now, finally, about to find its intended home in space. On Jan. 8 it is scheduled to be on board a Vulcan Centaur rocket as it lifts off from Cape Canaveral and heads into orbit around the sun. This holographic artwork — a “holopoem,” Kac calls it — might or might not be discovered hundreds of thousands of years from now by whatever creatures are around to find it. But for the moment it was here at the Henrique Faria gallery just off Madison Avenue, about to be viewed by a human.
Gingerly, I took the little round case. “OK,” Kac said. “You just have to, like, unscrew it.”
“Unscrew it?” The thing was barely more than half an inch in diameter and had no obvious grips.
I gave it a try. Immediately it went clattering to the floor.
Kac (pronounced Katz) seemed unruffled. “This thing is titanium 5” — the strongest titanium alloy there is. He opened it deftly.
The tiny square of glass inside looked pristine, untouched. But when Kac held it up between thumb and forefinger and aimed a small, hand-held laser at it, the word AGORA appeared in lurid green letters on the opposite wall. This is his holopoem: In his native Portuguese it means “now.” But the name engraved on the outside of the titanium case is ÁGORA — a subtle but important distinction. With the accent mark, the word in Portuguese changes meaning, from “now” to “place,” as in the ancient Greek word “agora” for “gathering place.” (The Greek agora was akin to the Roman forum.)
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