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Galleries | Cate McQuaid

Thrills and possibilities as artist ventures into digital realms

“Hollow Point 101,” part of the Nancy Baker Cahill exhibit at Boston Cyberarts Gallery.
“Hollow Point 101,” part of the Nancy Baker Cahill exhibit at Boston Cyberarts Gallery.(Courtesy of Boston Cyberarts Gallery)

Los Angeles artist Nancy Baker Cahill, who grew up in Boston, invites viewers to step inside her works using virtual reality, and take them out in the world using augmented reality.

Her lively, sometimes menacing handmade abstract drawings (and two paintings in tropical reds and oranges) hang on the wall in an exhibition at Boston Cyberarts Gallery, full of swift, smudgy motion. In some, collaged slivers topping the smoky graphite suggest shrapnel: In “Hollow Point 11” marks and shards make a violent nimbus around an empty space.

The artist has digitally transferred her two-dimensional works into virtual reality. Don a pair of goggles, and you can soar through the blank circle in the middle of “Hollow Point 101” (similar to “Hollow Point 11”) or careen into its dense atmosphere of glittering splinters and shadows.

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It’s a thrilling ride, but it’s all inside the virtual world. Augmented reality isn’t as pulse-pounding, but it has other strengths.

Baker Cahill has devised an app called 4th Wall, downloadable to certain phones or tablets and available on an iPad in the gallery. Using their device’s camera, viewers can place her drawings anywhere, scale them, and move around them. On Instagram, @4thwallapp posts images users have shot from Berlin to Wyoming. “Hollow Point 101” hovers over a volcano in Costa Rica, as if an eruption has ruptured the sky. A new function places augmented reality works, including those of other artists, at specific sites.

This sounds like a bit of fluffy fun, but it has subversive implications.

The artist, who will give a gallery talk on Jan. 20 at 4 p.m., has implemented her augmented reality drawings as political statements. Last fall, after Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate judiciary committee, Baker Cahill used 4th Wall to place her drawing of a distorted female torso at the coordinates of the steps of the US Supreme Court. She added text: “UNPROTECTED.”

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The impact of such work depends on how many people see it. If deployed shrewdly, augmented reality could be the next frontier in protest art, and Baker Cahill is a pioneer.

HOLLOW POINT: NANCY BAKER CAHILL

At Boston Cyberarts Gallery, 141 Green St., Jamaica Plain, through Feb. 17. 617-524-2109, www.bostoncyberarts.org


Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.