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With Illuminus, cutting-edge art comes to Lansdowne

Hub week hosts Illuminus Boston at Fenway Park
Hub week hosts Illuminus Boston at Fenway Park

When advances in technology and interdisciplinary-art practice combine with a fresh enthusiasm for putting art in the public square, you wind up with something like Illuminus — or so say the creators of this festival, which on Saturday night will display dozens of high-tech artworks designed for so much more than to be only looked at.

“I think there’s a lot of interest in immersion — not just looking at the artwork but feeling like you’re part of the artwork, or you’re part of the generation of the work,” says Nettrice Gaskins, an artist and educator at Boston Arts Academy whose collaborative piece “Electrofunk Mixtape” will be staged inside a Fenway Park concourse. It will combine projected animation with sound created by noted hip-hop producer Hank Shocklee and sculpture — some of it wearable by visitors — by local artist Brian Browne.


Illuminus is a free event that moves to Lansdowne Street after debuting last year in the South End. It was conceived as a two-day affair this year, but the threat of severe weather from Hurricane Joaquin prompted a postponement and rejiggering; festival organizers added a preview night at the House of Blues last weekend, and limited the full event to this Saturday, from 6:30 p.m. to half past midnight.

The creative leadership of the festival has bulked up, with the addition of five curators culled from the arts and technology scene. Illuminus has also been folded within HUBweek, the festival of events examining the intersection of art, science, and technology, whose inaugural year ends Saturday. (The Globe is a cofounder of HUBweek with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Massachusetts General Hospital.)

A traditional way to refer to art on display in a museum or gallery is to say it’s “on view.” The expression seems both appropriate and insufficient to describe Illuminus.


There’s indeed a lot of viewing going on; much of the work incorporates up-to-the-second technologies involving projection mapping, which is three-dimensional video projection “sculpted” to fit the contours of a specific physical environment. But the idea is to do more than just show the work off to anonymous admirers.

“If you look at public art, most people traditionally think of a mural on a wall, or a statue from the turn of the century, or a Picasso sculpture in a public plaza,” says Ethan Vogt, 41, the festival’s director of programming. “But to me that’s more like just art in public, not public art. [Illuminus] is seeing public art not just as art in public, but as something that convenes the public, that creates the public. It’s making public art more of a moment and more of an event.”

Festival founder Jeff Grantz, creative director of the locally based design and production studio Materials & Methods, says the enhanced curation process this year resulted in more thematic connection among pieces. “You’ll walk through them and you’ll see and you’ll feel relationships that exist between things, whether it be about sustainability and environmental impact or human impact on the world, or social issues like privacy and things like that. Those things are coming through in the work in a really interesting way.”

Vogt adds that the work in this event reflects an atmosphere of innovation in Boston. “I think it’s really a testament to the burgeoning art and technology community here in Boston, that is really actually very well poised to take a sort of leadership role in what I will say is a new form of public art.”


The part of the festival that has received the most pre-event publicity is “Waking the Monster,” which will combine projection art with a performance by 15 percussionists playing a series of specially composed pieces by banging on the outside of Fenway Park’s Green Monster. Other pieces will be staged in the parking garage across the street, at the House of Blues, and at various outdoor spots along Landsowne. Jim Kalambokis’s “Fit” features detailed projections on outdoor structures of people appearing to squeeze into specific spaces. “Between Doors,” by John Loerchner and Laura Mendes of Labspace Studio, invites attendees to pass through a series of doors, finding different paths based on choices between options like “I regret nothing” versus “I have regrets.”

Grantz, 39, notes that advances in things like projection mapping are coalescing with increased support for the arts from the public as well as from the City of Boston. An event like this, he says, would not have happened here a decade ago.

“I’m approaching 20 years around the area,” he says, “and you always have these conversations about the ‘they’ that won’t allow you to do something cool like this. And then as you get older, you look around and you’re like — wait a minute, we are the ‘they.’ The people that 10 years prior were wishing something could happen are now sitting in positions where they can help make those things happen.”



At Lansdowne Street, Saturday, 6:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Free.

Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at jeremy@jeremyd