Visual Arts Preview: “Alpha 60” — A Simple Walk in the Park Becomes a Sci-Fi Visual Adventure

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By Mark Faverman

What better way to celebrate 200 years of the father of landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted?e birthday?

Alpha 60 on The Emerald Necklace: Future Vision Nowpresented by Boston Cyberarts in Boston’s Emerald Necklace through September 30.

“Power 2022” by Chris Faust. Photo: Boston Cyberarts

In 2022, a walk in the park is not just a walk in the park. Deriving its name from Alphavillea 1965 French New Wave neo-noir science fiction film directed by Jean-Luc Godard, Alpha 60, an augmented reality (AR) exhibit curated by media artist Michael Lewy, features 21 individual “pieces” by 19 leading international artists. These visions are scattered across Boston and the emerald necklace of Brookline. What better way to celebrate 200 years of the father of landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted?e birthday?

AlphavilleThe plot of concerns a supercomputer, which forbids all freedom of thought, art and poetry, taking over a city. Alpha 60 uses technology to oppose this dystopian prophecy. Artists were encouraged to create works that reflected the imagination in its most democratic and accessible form. The aim of the exhibition was to highlight — in a 21st way of the century — the continued relevance of Olmsted’s philosophy and ethos regarding public parks.

Artist/curator Lewy has curated some impressive digital art talent: a Boston-based artist who has exhibited extensively and works in a variety of media, including augmented reality, virtual reality, photography and video. His piece in the exhibition, “Beta 64”, is a multi-episode story in augmented reality. Borrowing thematically from Alphavilleit revolves around the film’s alien supercomputer which, among its other sins, turned the artists into monsters.

Other artists took different approaches. Some of the most challenging directions:

“Monopters at the Gate” by Chris Rackley, Photo: Boston Cyberarts

“In Planet of Glass” by Chris Faust. The artist uses Olmsted’s emerald necklace as a place to create an alternate world. At the end of the 19th century, the painting canvas was the conventional window on nature – it was considered wild, spiritual and sublime. Faust was inspired by this notion to create a portal through which to see a fantastical geography, a crystalline world with a floating island and twin suns. The image evokes sets and matte paintings evoking the classics of science fiction cinema, star wars and forbidden planet among them. The artist wants viewers to see this piece as an exercise in transformative meditation, a speculation about what worlds beyond our own may look like.

“Science Nonfiction, Wuhan” by John Craig Freeman is a work of art that uses virtual and augmented reality to explore our experience of history. The images appear to be part of a very polished and photorealistic computer game, but the piece was produced on site. With over 30 years of experience using emerging technologies, Freeman seeks to expand conventional notions of public art by exploring how networked digital technology can transform our sense of place and its history. His work has been exhibited around the world.

“An Island” by Carol Hayes. Photo: Boston Cyberarts

“An Island” by Brooklyn-based Carol Hayes was originally envisioned by the artist as a sort of fairy-tale land. She was inspired by the 1981 song “Land of the Glass Pinecones”, by Boston band Human Sexual Response. The work was going to feature shimmering pines and shimmering palm fronds. But the more his creative process progressed, the more the image resembled the kitsch of a winter landscape too Christmas. She abruptly changed direction and found herself with a multicolored island oasis. Thus, the piece creates a startling contrast to the New England landscape of Jamaica Plain, MA.

“Very Simple” by site-specific artist Liz Nofziger surrounds the viewer in a ring of text taken from Godard’s dystopia Alphaville. The image looks like a mini-tornado, a small storm made up of magnetic strips twisting in a circle. In terms of sound, viewers are immersed in the crackle and hum of a needle on a record, sampled from a recording of the LP dance hall of shamea 1990 “silent record” protesting music censorship.

“Awkward Instance” by Brooklyn-based artist/educator Will Pappenheimer features several paranormal apparitions that slowly become distorted human forms that begin to dance. These “beings” stole human skins and movements but did not reconstruct them correctly. The lag could be understood as a “glitch”: a contemporary reference to digital processes that are unintentionally or intentionally scrambled. Interesting aesthetic or sensory results can sometimes result. The glitches are also seen by some critics as telltale signs of the limitations of computer utopian dreams. Do these “clumsy” figures perform dances of life? Of death? Or maybe something in between?

Citizens of the Void Between Worlds by Tom Buckland, photo by Joshuah Glenn for Hilobrow.

Ashley Eliza Williams’ “Restless Object” is inspired by an image from an oil painting of a lichen-covered form suspended in space. The artist talks about the environmental and human problems generated by migrations caused by climate change, the devastation of the oceans and the loss of habitat. It evokes the journeys of those who are forced to move because of ecological challenges. His work explores relationships: between works of art, between objects, and between the work and the viewer. She is also interested in interspecific communication, conversations between living and non-living things. Williams is also driven by a desire to alleviate ecological and human loneliness. Can we develop a vocabulary to understand a cloud, a tree or a rock?

“Heavy in Context, Duty-Free Paradise Project” by Hawaiian-born/Boston-based artist Lani Asuncion is part of a project that focuses on the Dole House, located in Jamaica Plain, MA. It was the home of the “Pineapple King”, the American industrialist who developed the pineapple industry in Hawaii. The Dole family was also deeply involved in the 1898 coup that overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy. A new provincial government—with Dole’s cousin Sanford as president—was established. Asuncion investigates the connections between Hawaii and Boston’s past and present American history. He is interested in reframing conventional perceptions of our country’s past and present through digital media tools, including augmented reality.

Other artists featured in Alpha 60 include Tom Buckland, Judy Haberl, Heather Kapplow, Alessandro Keegan, Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick, Eric Sutton, Richard Saja, Chris Rackley, Lina Ramona Vitkauskas. Sound Design by Nsputnik has been incorporated into several rooms.

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Urban planner and public artist, Marc Faverman has been deeply involved in branding, improving and creating more accessible parts of cities, sports venues and key institutions. His human-scale urban designs encompass the beautification of streetscape elements, site-specific public art and fortified facades. Also an award-winning public artist, he creates functional public art as civic design. Designer of the renovated Coolidge Corner Theatre, he is a design consultant for the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative Program and, since 2002, he has been a design consultant for the Boston Red Sox. Writing on urban planning, architecture, design and the fine arts, Mark is editor of artistic fuse.

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