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Emerson art exhibition ties the past with our strange future

Monika Grzymala's "Maze_VR_two."Monika Grzymala

“Spacetime (x, y, z + t),” the alluringly nebulous exhibition at Emerson Contemporary Media Art Gallery, helps to define a new space in contemporary art.

The space has been there, but it hasn’t yet been well illuminated. It’s in the chasms between opposites that art lovers leap over all of the time — between analog and digital, tangible and virtual, object and experience.

Artists in this show, organized by Leonie Bradbury, Emerson’s Distinguished Curator-in-Residence, feel their way into some of those divides. In the installation “Stilling Life,” local artist Katherine Mitchell DiRico uses ethereal materials — neon orange filament, orange powder, crinkled bits of paper — that look like detritus left by a fairy tribe.


Katherine Mitchell DiRico's "Stilling Life."Katherine Mitchell DiRico (custom credit)/Katherine Mitchell DiRico

Add in light, movement, a mirror, and a telescope that stands in for your mind’s eye, and the work moves from the gallery into a dream world. Yet it occupies both; we can walk through or view it through a lens. Giving us the choice, DiRico builds a bridge.

Monika Grzymala, born in Poland and based in Berlin, builds room-size “space drawings.” She doesn’t do that here, unfortunately, but we have a video. In “Raumzeichnung (stretch),” an installation is dismantled, dark lines torn out of the air. Her virtual reality pieces also feature drawings in space. Inky calligraphy floats and snarls in “Maze_VR_two,” thrillingly pulling the viewer right into the tangle. These works invite us to explore distinctions among real space, screen space, and head space.

Sarah Trahan's "Hand of the Machine."Sarah Trahan (custom credit)/Sarah Trahan

Digital and analog dance a two-step in “Hand of the Machine,” Massachusetts artist Sarah Trahan’s installation. A 3-D printer spews out slightly three-dimensional, glitch-plagued abstract prints in which grids of plastic glide off-target. Some hang on the wall. Trahan runs some through a printing press (prone to other glitches), then uploads and animates them. They ripple and wink in wall projections.


The geeky piece is a printmaker’s dream, surrounding viewers in a circle of process, linking ink to plastic, paper to projection, hand to machine.

“Spacetime (x, y, z + t)” left me with the peculiar sensation of being able to touch something I hadn’t gotten my arms around before. It’s an entire terrain that ties the past more intimately, and indeed reassuringly, to the strange future we’re moving toward.


At Emerson Contemporary Media Art Gallery, 25 Avery St., through March 15. 617-824-8667, www2.emerson.edu/urban-arts/media-art-gallery

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Instagram @cate.mcquaid.