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Observations on Cyberarts.

The Boston Cyberarts Festival is upon us. This biennial festival began on Friday the 24th and is taking place in and around Boston over the course of 10 days. I have a confession to make. I have been living in Boston since before the festival started and have never attended any of the shows or events. Okay, I am a little embarrassed to admit this. I have perfectly good excuses. Really I do. Usually it came down to timing. So with this sordid admission behind me I will move on to my first ever observations on the festivities.

First of all the festival is huge. How George Fifield managed to get all of these events together is a testament to his tenacity, skill and dedication. But it does make attending exhibitions and events a bit of a challenge. One useful tool available is the search function on their website. You can sort to events taking place that day. This came in handy as I planned my attack. One major lesson I learned in my day out was: do research beyond the Cyberarts site. I found myself lost and wandering on a couple of occasions much to my annoyance (I have lived here over a decade!).

I began by tackling an exhibition far out and then working my way back into town. First stop was Georgie Friedman’s two-channel installation at Boston College. Here is where admission number two comes into play: I have never been to the Boston College campus. But I thought to myself, how hard can it be to find Higgens Hall (that is the only detail I wrote on my little pad). Turns out that I probably should have looked at the BC website beforehand. After wandering around a bit trying to figure out which building was what I finally resorted to asking a security guard. I was close but thanks to the crappy GPS in my Blackberry not where I needed to be. I was pleasantly surprised at Friedman’s piece. Titled “Geyser” it is two very large flat panel televisions mounted in an entryway. Luckily the corridor was quite wide and allowed for some distance from the piece. Although the description of the installation online describes it as being horizontally mounted here it was vertical, which I felt actually worked better (if a little literal), the top screen being an image of the Icelandic sky and the bottom being the geyser hole. The video is quite beautiful and I liked it despite what I felt were conceptual limitations. It was worth the jaunt out to Chestnut Hill. Check out Matt Nash's review of it in this issue.

From here it was back on the T and towards Boston University. I wanted to catch the Computer Graphics Lab’s (HiP Art) piece “Natural Disasters.” As the installation is a 3D animated virtual reality environment it is only open certain times when the students can man the machines. The piece consists of a 15' x 8' rear projection display wall, which you stand (or sit) in front of wearing 3D glasses, navigating the virtual space with a game controller. The idea behind the project is the creation of a 3D environment that explores the themes of “financial meltdown, interspecies conflict, and planetary exhaustion.” The 3D animation is well done. I felt that the concept wasn’t quite full fleshed and a bit simple but the technology was strong and it certainly demonstrated the student’s animation skills. And it was nice to see them use this technology in a way it clearly not designed for. The lab is normally put to scientific not artistic use. I liked that subversion. Definitely check out the website for times because it is worth a visit and the students clearly liked talking about the work. It was a high point for me. Laura Giannitrapani, who manages the research group, was on hand and gave me some great insight to the work. She will be on a panel discussion on Virtual Worlds taking place Monday, April 27th from 6-9 be sure to check out the website for details.

And now we move on to the low point of my jaunt. I left BU and headed to The Art Institute of Boston @ Leslie University to check out “Nourishment, Art that Feeds the Soul and Makes Strong Funny Bones” by Jeffu Warmouth & Ellen Wetmore. I waded through the hordes of people heading to Fenway Park for a game (another time when research would have proved advantageous) and made it to the gallery at AIB. Here the guard was kind enough to inform me that while the gallery was open nothing was turned on and he had no idea how to do it so the show was in effect not open. Now, I probably could have gone in and gotten everything up and running but I felt that might be a bit pushy of me. I moved on. I'll go back but it was annoying.

Working my way through the crowds once again and headed towards CyberArtCentral. I realized at this point that I should have a map or guidebook of some kind, as it seems I was running out of options. And I was curious to see the installations. Their set up at 1330 Boylston Street was great. The show here was “Continuum” which consisted of “early computer animations from the 1960's from the Anne & Michael Spalter collection of experimental digital films (originally produced by Bell Labs) and juried works by area digital art students. Digital and new media art work by Boston-area graduate and undergraduate students form new media art departments at Brandeis University, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Massachusetts College of Art & Design (MassArt), School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA), and others.” It was nice to see the two avenues of “cyber” art in place together. It made me think a great deal about the trajectories of technology based art and how a history has been constructed around this type of art.

From here I went to Massachusetts College of Art to check out the show of work from SIM (Studio for Interrelated Media) program at MassArt. This was listed as being in the Doran Gallery across from 621 Huntington Ave. after wandering the area for a while I realized that it was inside a Dorm. I didn't even know this dorm existed. I wasn’t buzzed in and didn't feel like waiting for students to come along so I could sneak in behind them. I came to the realization that perhaps this was it. I was reaching the end of the day and pretty much the end of my rope. But no, I decided to make one more stop. I was off to see T+T’s (Tamiko Thiel & Teresa Reuter) installation "Virtuelle Mauer / ReConstructing the Wall" at the Goethe Institute. I really like Tamiko’s work and have known here for a few years. I was sad to miss their talk and reception on Thursday. Alas, my time wandering around Mass Art made me five minutes late for the exhibition. The gallery was closed. I went home.

But I am not done with Cyberart-ing. The festival goes on for many more days, ending on May 10th. But I learned my lesson on Saturday: be prepared. My little chicken scratching on a pad of paper was no match for the complexities of this festival. Plan out your trip and don’t try and see so much in one day. This is a lesson I never seem to learn. On a trip to Paris I was determined to see everything I wanted to see in the Louvre in one afternoon. I failed spectacularly. I have to remember that these installations are up for most of the fest. Pace yourself and pay close attention to the when’s and where’s of the events. And do yourself a favor and map these out. Don’t end up like me wandering around. To be fair though I think that if venues are going to participate in this festival they need to make sure the shows are actually up and running (talking to you AIB) and put signs up so people aren’t wandering around confusedly (that is for you Mass Art). Take a note from Boston University’s HiP Art group. They had signs and arrows both outside on the street and in the catacombs of the lab. That is the way to do it if you want people to see the work. And isn’t that the point of all this?

Boston Cyberarts Festival 2009

All images are courtesy of the artist.

Update: The image of Georgie Friedman's installation has been changed since the publication date of this piece.


About Author

James Nadeau is an independent curator, video artist and writer based in Boston. He is editor of Our Daily RED, the blog of arts journal Big RED & Shiny. He is a graduate of the Comparative Media Studies department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He completed his undergraduate studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His video work has been screened internationally and he has presented papers on media and film at conferences nationally. He has programmed film and video in several festivals throughout New England and he is currently a technical instructor on film in the Literature Department at MIT. He is currently working on a manuscript on reality television under consideration by Lexington Books.

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