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Saturday, April 20, 2019
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’Cool’ Display for a Chilly Night

Electric Pilgrim event

Despite the bitter cold, a walk down Channel Center Street in South Boston this past Saturday, October 17, led to a gathering of Emerson College students and faculty, as wells as artists and other passersby, immersed in an interactive art experience.

The façades of massive apartment buildings and small businesses were covered in projected images, text, and video clips, and about a dozen televisions were set up, enabling spectators to play classic Atari games.

More than 200 people visited Electric Pilgrims, a display of 20 digital art pieces by 15 artists at 12 interactive stations, which was curated by Joseph Ketner, the Foster Chair in Contemporary Art and Distinguished Curator-in-Residence at Emerson College. The display was originally supposed to be projected on Boylston Place, among several of the buildings that make up Emerson’s campus, but because of the recent construction, Electric Pilgrims was relocated to the area outside of the Midway Channel Gallery. Despite the less than ideal weather conditions and location change, Ketner said he is happy with the results of the event.

“I am confident that those who participated agree that this is a multimedia experience that they’ve never seen before,” Ketner said. “I think it achieved the things that I wanted to achieve in terms of creating an artistic experience.”

Ketner was inspired to put the event together when his friend Van McElwee, a professor of electronic and photographic media at Webster University, showed Ketner a still from his project Electric Pilgrims. Ketner said when he saw that image he realized the potential in an outdoor multimedia projection display. He then began recruiting friends and Emerson faculty and alumni to display their work at the event and to curate the two-hour program, named after McElwee’s original project.

One of the most popular displays was The American, a three-dimensional projection of distorted cartoons created by Massachusetts College of Art and Design animation faculty T. Marie, with sound design by Jak Ritger. Pairs of 3-D glasses were distributed to dozens of spectators who gathered around the display to watch. The viewers said they enjoyed the dark take on childhood favorites, but T. Marie said it was designed as more of a political statement.

“The concept was really the absurdity of war and how we glamorize it,” she explained. “I was mixing it up with Disney because World War II was happening when Dumbo was coming out. I was also mixing it up with cultural and labor force kinds of wars that go on, like when Disney formed its first union.”

Students from various disciplines and artistic backgrounds attended this out-of-the-ordinary event. Rachael Samson ’17 decided to stop by after one of her Visual and Media Arts instructors recommended it to her class.

“It’s not what I expected,” said Samson, who has frequented projection displays at Harvard. “I was surprised by how animated and interactive it was. I think it’s really cool that you can look at the same piece for a while and it’s constantly changing.”

Deirdre Murray ’17, who is working on a blog about public art in Boston for her Blogging class, said she was drawn to this event in particular because it was unlike any display she had previously heard of or covered for class.

“I haven’t heard a lot about electronic or technical public art,” Murray said. “I think it’s interesting, the variety of pieces they have on display…from simple phrases on a screen, to the 3-D video they were playing, to the Atari video game station.”

TV sets at Electric Pilgrim event

TV sets were in good supply at the “Electric Pilgrim” event, created by Emerson College faculty Joseph Ketner. All photos by Victoria Bilcik '17

3D glasses

Part of the visuals at “Electric Pilgrim” required 3D glasses.