Keepin' it real . . . sort of

Virtual reality at the Boston Cyberarts Festival
By EVAN J. GARZA  |  April 15, 2009

T + T (Tamiko Thiel & Teresa Reuter), Flashback '80s to '60s: Houses on the Berlin Wall

I don't know about you, but when I hear the term "virtual reality," I think of Total Recall–era visors with motion-sensitive gloves and shitty graphics. Now that we've had a few decades with the technology, simulated realness is probably more tolerable (and more real) than ever before. Enter the 2009 Boston Cyberarts Festival (April 24–May 10), which this year includes a handful of shows that focus on computer-simulated environments, both real and imaginary.

The Goethe-Institut Boston will be home to an interactive 3-D installation that digitally reconstructs a segment of the Berlin Wall (take that, reality). "VIRTUELLE MAUER/RECONSTRUCTING THE WALL," by German artists Tamiko Thiel and Teresa Reuter (or T+T, as they're known), is set primarily in the mid 1980s, but you can navigate to other points in time via joystick, going back to the 1960s or propelling yourself into the present. "We researched the historical, sociological, and urban conditions," say the artists in a release, "and we interviewed people who lived in our project area during the time of the Wall, in order to understand how the Wall's presence and the constant possibility of escape attempts influenced everyday life for residents."

For "CHILDREN OF ARCADIA," the Cambridge Arts Council gallery will house a giant interactive Baroque-style "painting." Visitors will be able to navigate a virtual Arcadia, via game controller and surround sound, whose environment is informed by current economic and other contemporary data; these are translated visually as either "apocalyptic ruin or an idealized utopia." Considering the current state of anything anywhere, I imagine users will have fun exploring the former.

Also exploring the fun and exciting world of financial meltdown is "UNNATURAL DISASTERS" at Boston University's Scientific Computing and Visualization (SCV) Computer Graphics Lab, a piece presented by its High Performance Computing in the Arts (HiPArt) group. Through a 3-D animated environment created by BU College of Fine Arts students, you can navigate themes of financial collapse, interspecies conflict, and planetary exhaustion. (And if that doesn't scream pure, unadulterated virtual fun, I don't know what does.) The BU SCV Computer Graphics Lab will also host "NAVIGATING CYBERWORLDS: CREATIVE PRACTICE IN VIRTUAL REALITY," a panel discussion on April 27 with artists to include Mark Skwarek, Tamiko Thiel, Honglei, and Jeff Lipsky.

Several of this panel's members also had a hand in creating experiences or locations on an art island in Second Life that they made specifically for the festival. Among the several different "works" that Jeff Lipsky offers in "Artopolis" is a performative piece (of sorts), "Traversal for Faneuil Hall," by John Fillwalk and Jesse Allison, in which Second Life avatars can ring the Faneuil Hall bell tower. More here.

"VIRTUELLE MAUER/ReCONSTRUCTING THE WALL" at Goethe-Institut, 170 Beacon St, Boston | April 24–May 6 | 617.262.6050 or | "CHILDREN OF ARCADIA" at Cambridge Arts Council, 344 Broadway, Cambridge | April 24–May 15 | 617.349.4380 or | "UNNATURAL DISASTERS" at Boston University SCV Computer Graphics Lab Room 203, 111 Cummington St, Boston | April 25–May 19 | 617.353.8269 or | Panel discussion with virtual-reality artists at Boston University Photonics Center Room 206, 8 St. Mary's St, Boston | April 27 at 7 pm | 617.353.8269 or

Related: Our digital landscape, The Boston Cyberarts Fest needs a reboot, BU offers the class of 1970 a second chance at complacency, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Internet, Science and Technology, Technology,  More more >
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