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Tangling the Physical and the Digital with Emerson Urban Arts

“How do I create something that’s evolving all the time but not super obvious?” was one of the questions Camille Utterback asked herself as she conceptualized Entangled, the newest piece in her long-standing series of interactive digital drawing installations, where imagery on the screen is generated based on how people move in the space around it.

Currently on display in the Emerson Urban Arts: Media Art Gallery at 25 Avery Street, Entangled uses two cameras, a computer, and custom software that Utterback wrote herself to track the movements of its viewers and transform them into an ever-changing work of abstract art made up of painting-like projections. Standing on either side of a 10×15-foot screen, viewers can use their whole bodies to control the outputs on both sides, creating a shared but slightly different experience depending on where they stand.

“For me, it’s combining some of what’s really amazing about digital media and computers and also trying to pull in what I think those systems often forget, which is our whole physical selves,” says the Boston native. A 2009 recipient of the MacArthur “Genius Grant” and a professor at Stanford University, Utterback also co-directs the Stanford Graduate Design Program and has been exhibited at galleries, festivals, and museums around the world.

The installation is the latest example of how Emerson Urban Arts, led by Director of Emerson Urban Arts and Foster Chair in Contemporary Art Joseph Ketner, is working to bring the best of both local and internationally-recognized media artists to downtown Boston in its new space, which opened in November 2016. Past exhibitions have included Oliver Herring’s Areas for Action and NO ONE will tell me who I aman exhibition organized by Ketner and several Emerson students to showcase selected work by local graduate students and capitalize on “Boston’s position as a seedbed of emerging visual culture in the international art community.”

Entangled runs until May 13 alongside Cybernetic Serendipity, an exhibit that documents what many consider to be the first-ever digital media art installation, curated by Jasia Reichardt in 1968. In its original form, it sought to “show the links between the random systems employed by artists, composers and poets, and those involved with the making and the use of cybernetic devices.” Half a century later, the new exhibition seeks to highlight the installation’s impact and continued relevance in today’s digitally saturated world.

Explore the gallery in photos below.


A look inside the Emerson Urban Arts: Media Art Gallery at 25 Avery St, Boston. (c) Peter Harris Studio Boston


Viewers interact with Entangled by Camille Utterback. (1 of 2) | (c) Peter Harris Studio Boston


2 of 2 | (c) Peter Harris Studio Boston


The documentary exhibit of Cybernetic Serendipity celebrates the 1968 show at the ICA in London, which was the first attempt to demonstrate all aspects of computer-aided creative activity, including art, music, poetry, dance, sculpture, and animation. (1 of 4) | (c) Peter Harris Studio Boston


(2 of 4) | (c) Peter Harris Studio Boston


(3 of 4) | (c) Peter Harris Studio Boston


(4 of 4) | (c) Peter Harris Studio Boston

Entrance to the gallery is free and the current semester hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm. For more information, visit emerson.edu/urban-arts

All photos by Peter Harris Studio Boston.

Video produced and edited by James Manning.