Pushing Picasso into a digital age

The computer asks me to select an image that resembles my body shape from several on the screen. When I do, it then lists comments from others who chose this icon and asks for mine. For the icon I chose, one person wrote, "Bigger than I want to be but not too big."

Computers and other technologies play a larger role in our lives every day. For a while now, artists have been exploring what technology means to art - as subject matter and as a means of making art.

It's an infant field. If the art world is unsure just "what is art" at the millennium, it's really undecided about what is cyberart.

That's why the Boston Cyberarts Festival, which concluded last weekend, was so important. It gave hundreds of artists at scores of venues around Massachusetts a showcase for their explorations.

George Fifield, an arts writer and a curator at the Decordova Museum in Lincoln, Mass., is the godfather to the festival. It sprang from a conversation he had on his back porch in Jamaica Plain, Mass., with friends 2-1/2 years ago. The Boston area has a long history of being a high-technology center and a home to the arts. But how do the two relate?

With sponsors like high-tech companies Lotus and Apple, 56 in all, the festival eventually involved art museums, science museums, universities, libraries, and galleries around the state.

What is cyberart? "In the digital realm of ones and zeros, dancing merges with painting, painting transforms itself into music, and sculpture wakes up to discover that it is half photography," Fifield writes in the exhibition guide.

For example, at the "Mind Into Matter" exhibition sculptors designed their works on a computer and printed them on 3-D printers that actually build three-dimensional objects. Other "virtual sculpture" exhibits showed works that exist only in cyberspace.

Karl Sims's "Make Your Move" began with 12 video monitors dis-playing "creatures." As viewers make choices, the images mutate based on formulas into new creatures, making a new piece of artwork.

"Life Signs: Other Worlds, Other Voices," by William Oakes, took visitors on a "tour" of planets via 26 wall-mounted artworks. Audio headphones activated by infrared signals provided unique ethereal sounds for each stop. One point of the display was to reveal the beauty in the patterns of nature. "We don't create anything, we make connections," says Mr. Oakes, who was on hand at his exhibit in Boston's Science Museum.

Parts of the festival continue on at various sites, and Fifield says he plans to hold a second fest in 2001. For more information, and a look at a virtual art gallery, visit the festival's Web site, www.bostoncyberarts.org.

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