Family entertainment

Virtual visions, illuminated

Cyberarts fest mixes inventive with interactive

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By Geoff Edgers
Globe Staff / April 10, 2011

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There will be dance, electronic music, and art exhibitions across the city. But the organizers of the Boston Cyberarts Festival expect families will be particularly drawn to the Egyptian scene taking over the atrium at Atlantic Wharf on Congress Street.

In what has become the festival’s new home base, programmers are projecting a virtual reality landscape on a wall. The May 1 event is meant to give those attending a chance to imagine stepping into ancient Egypt and taking part in a temple procession. The event includes an actor, a puppeteer and electronically manipulated avatars.

The “Egyptian Oracle’’ event — which also will be simulcast at the Boston Children’s Museum because of limited space at Atlantic Wharf — is the brainchild of Jeff Jacobson, the director of PublicVR, a nonprofit based in Jamaica Plain that develops virtual reality for educational purposes. The event is rooted in a project he first launched in 1993 while a student at the University of Pittsburgh.

“It’ll be fun for kids for the same reason it’ll be fun for adults,’’ said Jacobson. “It’s interactive. Everybody likes something better when they’re a part of it. In this case, members of the audience are in the role of the Egyptian public.’’

The Cyberarts Festival, which takes place every other year, runs from April 22 to May 8 in a variety of spaces, from museums and galleries to the MIT Media Lab and the planetarium at the Museum of Science.

“I think most of the stuff in the festival is family oriented,’’ says George Fifield, the founding director of the festival. “There are things kids will like more than others.’’

He points to the May 7 performances of “A Dance in Sol LeWitt’s ‘Bars of Colors Within Squares (MIT),’ ’’ a dance show featuring the colorful floor panels in the atrium of MIT’s Green Center for Physics, and the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab open house on April 30 that will offer tours of the Cambridge research lab and a chance to play its latest games.

Other potentially family-friendly festival events include:

■ An exhibition at 119 Gallery features works from students in the collaborative “artbotics’’ program — in which students learn to create art that involves technology — between the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the Revolving Museum. The opening reception, on April 26, includes a live video connection with the Revolving Museum and a walking tour of two installations.

■ FAST Light, on May 7, in which the MIT campus is illuminated with sculptures that use sound and light. The event starts when a group of students and alumni create a “Sky Event’’ over Killian Court.

■ The Boston Sculptures Gallery hosts an exhibition featuring sculptures by artist Andy Zimmermann, one of which incorporates 23 mirrors pointing in different directions and a sound element that allows visitors to manipulate the sculptures through a series of computer-controlled vibrations.

Then there’s “Manifest.AR @ ICA,’’ a virtual art exhibition that you can’t see with the naked eye but can observe with your iPhone or Android. The idea behind this exhibition is that even if the physical reality remains the same, virtual objects plugged into a grid can be seen by phone users. Artists include Mark Skwarek, Joseph Hocking, and Tamiko Thiel.

“You’ll come to the ICA and there’ll be posters and postcards which will have a code that you’ll use in your cellphone to launch the application,’’ said John Craig Freeman, a member of the Manifest.AR artists collective. “It’s kind of like a browser. Then you’ll be able to mill about in and about the museum and there will be a number of artworks you won’t be able to see in the physical world but you’ll be able to see if you hold your camera up in and outside the museum.’’

The 16 artists have created a virtual landscape with dozens of hidden objects.

Even though the exhibition requires a parent’s iPhone or Android, Fifield expected children to be able to participate.

“There might be some adults who have to hand the phone to the kid and say, ‘You make it work,’ ’’ he said.

Geoff Edgers can be reached at

BOSTON CYBERARTS FESTIVAL April 22-May 8. Locations and ticket prices vary.