BOSTON, MA (September 13, 2017)—On Wednesday, September 20, the Emerson Urban Arts: Media Art Gallery will launch its second season with a virtual and augmented reality exhibition, titled Portal to an Alternative Reality: Chinatown Station with Service to Wuhan, by John Craig Freeman. Freeman, professor of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson, is a public artist and pioneer in the use of emergent technologies.
An opening reception with the artist will be held on Wednesday, September 20, 5:00–7:00 pm at the Gallery, located at 25 Avery Street, Boston. The Portal exhibit is open through November 18, and the Gallery is free and open to the public Wednesdays–Fridays, 2:00–7:00 pm.
This exhibition features three different projects: Chinatown Station with Service to Wuhan (2017); Virtual U.S./Mexico Border (2017); and Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos (2015). Chinatown Station involves a physical, life-sized subway station entrance that acts as a portal for individual and group virtual reality experiences that highlight the history of the city of Wuhan. Viewers will immerse themselves in more than 30 individual scenes in 10 chapters documenting historic changes within the ancient city of Wuhan.
The second half of the exhibition features Freeman’s augmented reality projects, the Virtual U.S./Mexico Border and Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos, which address the contentious issue of the U.S.-Mexican border as a flashpoint of current political debate. Visitors are invited to choose a “viewing” position on either side of a replica of the U.S./Mexico border wall to observe the interaction of people on both sides.
“By exhibiting Freeman’s work, the gallery can share the faculty’s development of emergent digital technologies in the visual arts that address current political issues,” said Joseph Ketner, Emerson’s Henry and Lois Foster Chair in Contemporary Arts and curator-in-residence in the School of the Arts’ Visual and Media Arts department. “In this way, the Media Art Gallery embraces Emerson’s mission and values employing arts, communication, and media as vehicles for creative expression.”
Portal to an Alternative Reality is based on a six-week residency by Freeman through the American Arts Incubator, an international creative exchange program in media and digital arts. According to the artist, Portal to an Alternative Reality differs from other examples of immersive virtual reality in that it was created on location and represents real people, real places, and real experiences.
“This exhibit brings the real to virtual reality. This exhibit, using virtual reality, makes possible new narrative forms structured over space, rather than time. Portal is an experiment in spatial narrative,” said the artist.
Virtual U.S./Mexico Border will allow visitors to immerse themselves in a virtual experience that documents the North American migration crisis. The project includes augmented reality scenes produced on location at the U.S./Mexico border in California that can be viewed in the gallery space. The project highlights views from both sides of the Mexico/California border, including Friendship Park, where families visit with each other on weekends through the border fence. Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos, an augmented reality border wall public art project, will be viewable outside the gallery at Boston Common through a program installed on gallery visitors’ smartphones.
John Craig Freeman is a public artist with more than 20 years of experience using emergent technologies to produce large-scale public work at sites where the forces of globalization are impacting the lives of individuals in local communities. His work seeks to expand the notion of public by exploring how digital networked technology is transforming our sense of place.
His work has been reviewed in The New York Times, El Pais, Liberation, Wired News, Artforum, Ten-8, Z Magazine, Afterimage, Photo Metro, New Art Examiner, Time, Harper’s, and Der Spiegel.