By Kori Tuitt
LOWELL -- Art coming to life has taken on a whole new meaning at UMass Lowell.
Virtual reality, augmented reality, optical illusions and more are all on display at the university through March 5 as part of the 404 International Festival of Art and Technology. This is the 16th annual installment of the festival, which originated in Argentina.
Ellen Wetmore, an associate professor at UMass Lowell in the Art & Design Department, was instrumental in bringing the exhibit to the university.
"This is my effort to really reach out to people in the community of Lowell and people in the university community who don't see themselves as art patrons," Wetmore said. "Art is not just paintings. It's a whole lot of other stuff, a whole lot of other systems. I'm hoping to see people in the art gallery that I don't normally see in the art gallery."
The 404 Festival was launched in 2004 by Gina Valenti and has been featured in 11 different countries over the years.
Work by artists from Taiwan, Slovenia, South Korea, Canada Argentina and the United States are all on display. At the University Gallery, located in Mahoney Hall on South Campus, there is an immersive augmented reality piece by John Craig Freeman called "Coming Home." Freeman recorded interviews with people who have faced housing insecurity in San Francisco. Patrons can watch the videos on an iPad, but when they move the iPad around the gallery, it appears that the subject and their surroundings are also in the gallery space.
Gallery Coordinator Deborah Santoro said taking this stories and superimposing the visuals onto our reality allows people to feel more comfortable addressing the issue of homelessness, compared to maybe seeing someone on the street.
"This makes it more real and shows that they're human beings," Santoro said.
Another piece by Hye Yeon Nam called "Invisible," is a machine that curates tweets that include derogatory terms about different racial groups.
The piece then prints out the tweet, in a receipt-like format. The purpose of the piece to start a dialogue on race.
"It's an interesting way to take social media and make it tangible," Santoro said.
Hyun Ju Kim has a similar piece of an insect-shaped twitterbot that also curates tweets about loneliness. The robot has a sensor, so as people interact with it, it sends out its own tweets of poems and Kim's writings to @tweetbotv1 in both Korean and English. It also projects tweets on the surrounding walls.
Kim said she was inspired by the theme of loneliness, especially in the age of social media. While people can easily connect with countless others online, they can still feel lonely. One tweet from Jan. 18 read, "Not to be dramatic but where did everyone go I'm lonely and sad, and sad because I'm lonely."
The exhibit is also on display at O'Leary Library, Lydon Library and Dandenaeu Hall.
Santoro said Wetmore has long tried to bridge the gap between art and technology at the university.
"The university itself has exhibition space, it has the ability to help out with technology and it has the interest in playing with new ideas," Wetmore said, adding that there is a terrific love of new science at the school.
Wetmore continued to say the 404 Festival provides the opportunity for artists to be inspired by each other and for the general public to participate in fun, interactive art.
"We've given our students the tools and this helps them with the vision of what they can do with those tools," Santoro said.
The exhibit has received generous funding from the Department of Art & Design, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Lowell Cultural Council, the UMass Lowell NERVE Center and the UMass Lowell Dean of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, according to Santoro.
"It's been a true collaboration of a wide variety of people to make this festival happen," Santoro said.
Upcoming Events as part of the 404 Festival:
- Panel Discussion: Wednesday, Feb. 6, 3:30 to 5 p.m., location TBA
- South Campus Reception: Wednesday, Feb. 6, 5 to 6:30 p.m., University Gallery
- Performances: Thursday, Feb. 7, 7 to 8:30 p.m., Durgin Hall
- North Campus Reception: Friday, Feb. 8, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Lydon Library
For more information, visit www.404festival.com or contact Deborah Santoro at 978-934-3491 or Deborah_Santoro@uml.edu.