By MATTHEW NASH
The 2007 Boston Cyberarts Festival has come to a close, and when looking back on the variety of shows, the range and complexity of new media works were as impressive as the diverse array of venues hosting events. The Boston Cyberarts website lists 81 things to see during the two weeks of this past festival, ranging from interactive new media to performance, dance, sculpture, video and other visual treats to lectures, talks and performances. Because each Boston Cyberarts Festival changes our outlook on technology and its relationship to art, it seems opportune look at how people are responding to the festival, past and present.
The Boston Cyberarts Festival started in 1999, under the direction of George Fifield. In a 2005 interview with Meg Rotzel, he talked about the origins of the festival:
The impetus behind the show happened in 1993 when I was asked to start writing a column for Art New England called “Art and Technology”. In researching the column, I came across this incredible 50-year history of artists working with new technologies in the Boston area, and nobody knew about it.
And then outside of that you have this incredible technological fount that keeps expanding. So there are lots of individual stories.
One of my favorites, that have only come to light in about the last five years, is the close working relationship someone like Ed Land had with Ansel Adams. Land would ship every prototype Polaroid camera to Adams out in Yosemite, and Adams would put it through its paces and write long letters back about This is really not so great, this is wonderful and so on. They basically worked on it together.
There are lots of stories like that. This artist-engineer collaboration has been going on for years, and yet from the point of view of the Boston art scene, it was invisible and nobody knew about it. The Boston art scene was all expressionist painters and complaints about why we’re not like New York.
Writing in the Boston Globe, Ken Johnson expressed a similar sentiment, proving that even after eight years the Festival still can delight and inspire, by writing: "The convergence of the old and the new turns out to be the most fascinating dimension of the Boston Cyberarts Festival. While I was expecting to see lots of newfangled electronic novelties, what surprised and intrigued me was how much of what I saw revolved around some of the oldest and most traditional ideas and aspirations in the history of art."
This, ultimately, is what makes the Festival such a success. When artists engage with technology or the ideas inspired by new media, they often fold those ideas back into their explorations of more traditional media, creating hybrids that are inspired both by the past and the present. Of the many successful projects shown during Cyberarts, Camille Utterback’s work at Art Interactive challenged most directly the intersection of old and new media. Reviewing her show, I wrote:
Interacting with the work through the movement of one’s body ensures that the idea of “gesture” is not understated; the resulting “marks” are designed to be very “painterly” and the overall effect implies an updated version of Jackson Pollock’s process. What is missing is the physical interaction with the work, the “mark-making” and “gestural” qualities that are associated with abstract art; but what is gained is an experience that questions why the two modes of dialogue need to be so separate and exclusive.
As the Cyberarts Festival matures, so do the venues involved. Boston may not currently be home to an abundance of alternative galleries, but several of our active spaces focus solely on new media, and thus can take great advantage of Cyberarts. Even the commercial galleries are finding ways to participate, sometimes giving up potential profits to be a part of this city-wide conflux of new media discourse.
Talking with Big RED & Shiny after the conclusion of the 2007 Festival, Fifield addressed these spaces and their participation:
I was very pleased with the quality, across the board, of visual art exhibitions by small non-profits. Art Interactive,Axiom, the PRC, Studio Soto, 119 Gallery... and then you can throw Rotenberg Gallery in there too, even though they are a for-profit gallery, because that was a sort of non-profit week for them, I think. They were acting in a very community-oriented, non-profit sort of way.
That level of work was really strong this year, because people were really reaching out to national artists, or to artists this area who have a national reputation, rather than just showing their friends.
The next step for new media in Boston, I think, is to be working to educate a population of collectors who understand new media and find it collectable. That is a conversation that Abi Ross (of Rotenberg Gallery) has been at the forefront of, and that I’ve been helping her pursue. We need to do more of that, because that’s how you get the work out there.
The 2007 Boston Cyberarts Festival has come and gone, but like the festivals before it we are left with a new sense of where new media art is going, and where the discourse around art and technology has arrived. Whether or not one engages with all the work, the conversations that grow out of the festival are far-reaching and vital to artists working in all media. The growth in new media discourse since the 2005 Festival has been astounding, and the 2007 Festival has given us a lot more to talk about.
"The 2007 Boston Cyberarts Festival" ran from April 20 to May 6, 2007.