When George Fifield began his career as an art curator in the early ‘90s, advancements in digital technology were just coming to the forefront of popular culture and knowledge. Questions about the role of new media forms and humanity’s relationship with them inspired a new wave of artistic expression and use of mediums: cyberarts.
Fascinated by New England’s unique history of interconnected art and technology, Fifield set out to make the artistic movement better known to the general population. He organized the first Boston Cyberarts Festival in 1999. Sixty local art organizations, programs and institutions participated in the event.
Now a full-time organization, Boston Cyberarts exchanged its festival schedule in 2012 to move to a year-round exhibition space at the Green Street Gallery in Jamaica Plain, housed within the MBTA Orange Line’s Green Street station.
Boston Cyberarts’ newest exhibit, “Displays of Affection,” is unique in that it is curated by students in Fifield’s department of digital + media at the Rhode Island School of Design.
The two-day exhibit will open Friday, featuring art by 12 RISD students that examines how technology and social media facilitate human interactions and emotions, whether it be love, obsession or friendship.
“[The] ways people use technology to connect with people or to communicate or to have day-to-day routines is a really exciting, interesting space to explore,” said Joe Winograd, RISD student and featured student artist. “Not only because there are a lot of great, positive … things that make these kinds of relationships exciting, but there are also ways that it’s sort of been manipulated or controlled.”
Winograd also participated in last year’s RISD-curated Boston Cyberarts exhibit. This year, his piece is a small sculpted cake embedded with a Bluetooth speaker blasting hip-hop. Aptly titled “Boombox Cake,” this piece allowed Winograd to explore issues of personal identity, nostalgia, interpersonal interactions and the mental feeling of scrolling through social media.
“Boombox Cake” joins other works of cyberart such as artist Youngin Sa’s “Air Pocket,” an arrangement of physical and projected letters that question the reliability of images. Nutthakit Liewpairat’s “Decay Documentation,” video footage of attempts to develop old film reels, exploring how media changes over time.
Stewart Copeland, a RISD student tasked with curating the exhibit, is in charge of installing the art at the Green Street Gallery.
He explained that the space is different from the majority of galleries in that it’s located in a subway station, meaning that attendees tend to be a diverse mixture of patrons arriving specifically to see the exhibit and others who wander upon it after getting off the train.
“An [attendee] might show up and find a piece of work that makes them rethink their own relationships to media or technology, and they leave inspired to seek out more art that makes them feel that way,” Copeland said.
As an artist as well as a curator, Copeland will also display his own cyberart at the exhibit. His piece, “Luxury Drone,” plays with the aesthetics of technology by creating a golden, ornate sculpture inspired by Faberge eggs.
Fifield said that just as the physical structure of the exhibit has changed, so have the artistic interpretations. Rather than focusing on the once new technology of Photoshop and the microcomputer, Fifield said, artists “regard the code itself as their creative medium” while tackling more contemporary technological issues.
“Whenever technologists create a new medium, a new technology that has an expressive aspect to it, artists are always the first ones there to play with it,” Fifield said.
After “Displays of Affection” is uninstalled, students at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design will have the opportunity to curate the free gallery space with their own themed cyberart. Fifield will then transition the space into a new, longer exhibit on March 30 called “Now You See It…” to display works of augmented reality.
“There is a lot that’s happening these days … we create these romantic relationships or otherwise deeply personal, emotional encounters through the screens and through technology,” Winograd said. “There’s a lot of exciting changes that are happening in our lifetime, and we need a moment to step back and see … whether these things are for better or for worse.”