Double take: Currents in person and online

Cy Keener, Agulhas Drifter (2018), laser light, scrim, aluminum, and electronics

There is no substitute for the real thing. Or is there?

Last year, Currents took its annual festival of new media fully virtual. This year, it’s reducing its footprint for physical presentations but widening its sphere with a hybrid online and in-person art and technology exhibition. For the 2021 festival, Currents is moving from the 30,000-square-foot El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, where it’s held a June time slot every year from 2010 to 2019, to the 5,700-square-foot Tank Garage at the Center for Contemporary Arts.

That is to say, it’s coming home to the venue where its inaugural festival was held in 2002.

And, thanks to the virtual component, it’s also coming to your home. In addition to CCA, several installations will be on view in the Railyard and at Currents’ permanent gallery, Currents 826. Between CCA, the virtual festival, and other venues, there are a total of 92 projects by 156 artists and collaborators from 14 countries.

The Railyard actually comes into play in more ways than one. In person, visitors can experience Glee.glom.glob (2021), a series of five augmented reality installations by local artists Lauren Cason and Sam Jones located at the Railyard water tower and alongside SITE Santa Fe in the Railyard Park. And you can experience a revamped version of Rio Arriba County-based art collective The Eyes of Time’s MANIAC Virus, which premiered in the Railyard in the fall. MANIAC Virus is an augmented reality component of an ongoing project that’s best described as a novel that you live and participate in — or as a game you play in physical space. Look for the MANIAC Virus posters and sculptures at CCA and at two locations in the Railyard: Form & Concept (435 S. Guadalupe St., 505-780-8312, formandconcept.center) and the Violet Crown Cinema (1606 Alcaldesa St., 505-216-5678, santafe.violetcrown.com). Scan QR codes on the posters and sculptures installed at these locations to receive clues and prompts. You’ll uncover a narrative involving a virus-stricken, interdimensional being who, depending on the choices you make as a player, you can heal. Or watch the video at wearehqi.com/the-maniac-virus and text Maniac to 833-709-0653 to begin your journey.

“We’ve made it into a sequel of sorts,” says The Eyes of Time Director Devon Hoffman. “In this sequel, the character, who becomes infected with the virus from another world, becomes this dangerous political entity or liability for this time travel organization known as HQI [Highly Qualified Individuals]. You’re supposed to collect these code words that will help cure the character. The idea is that you’re engaged in this scavenger hunt. Each time you find something, a new part of the story opens up to you.”

MANIAC Virus weaves between CCA, the Railyard, and the virtual platform, Ohyay, which is hosting the online components of the Currents festival. To get the full experience, you’ll want to visit the physical venues, as well as the virtual site (ohyay.co/s/currentsvirtual).

Currents online

In Ohyay, after watching a short tutorial, link to a virtual representation of the Railyard station, board the virtual Railrunner and let it take you to any one of a number of virtual destinations. These include New Mexico’s Very Large Array radio astronomy observatory where you can link to augmented reality projects; a visit to the Bisti Badlands to see a roundup of video projects; and a stop at a classic Route 66 motel where you can uncover a variety of desktop experiences.

Before you do any of that, you may want to meet up with friends. After registering at Ohyay, a video representation of your face, taken by your computer’s built-in camera, appears on the site. You can guide your video avatar to a number of Railyard locations and meet up with friends. You’ll actually be able to see them, and they can see you. The Ohyay platform allows you to hold one-on-one and group conversations, link up, and travel together throughout the duration of your visit. You can agree, beforehand, to meet onboard the train or at virtual representations of Sky Coffee (where you can even sit at a table together over virtual coffee), Opuntia Tea House, and The Violet Crown cinema.

The idea is to make a visit to the online festival as comparable as possible to an actual in-person one.

For those who can’t make it to the in-person expo, the Ohyay platform provides the perfect substitute. But the best way to experience Currents 2021 is to do both because the virtual projects and in-person projects are not the same. For instance, local artists Bruce Hamilton and Susanna Carlisle’s video sculpture Sea Change (2020) can only be seen onsite at CCA, whereas Akiko Nakayama’s live multimedia performance Alive Painting can only be accessed through Ohyay.

But let’s say you decide to stay in and do the festival from the comfort of home. Once you board the virtual train, you may notice a strange little alien figure at the back. If you click on him, you can navigate away from the festival and into the virtual world of The Eyes of Time. The alien, whose name is Piley, is in a race against time to stop the HQI’s agent, Gary, from preventing the cure from reaching its target. Tied into the whole experience of MANIAC Virus is The Eyes of Time’s new feature film, Future Fates (2021), which screens at CCA during the festival (dates and times to be announced). Watch the trailer at theeyesoftime.com/fates.

If you choose not to follow Piley and stay in the world of the virtual festival, plenty of unrelated content awaits. Once you’ve registered on the Ohyay platform, you’ll have access for the duration of the festival’s runtime, so each day that you visit can be an entirely unique experience.

In sum, Currents New Media 2021 is itself augmented reality. That is to say, it’s multidimensional. ◀

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