Shadow Boxing at Art Interactive

Shadow Bag, 2005

Shadow Bag, 2005

Denez McAdoo

By Denez McAdooStaff Writer

Say what you want about late-night Three’s Company reruns, but in my humble opinion Shadow Play, the current exhibit at Cambridge’s very own Art Interactive, is the most fun free event you can participate in and around Boston. Yes, I said it. Art can be fun, and not stuffy nerd-fun like, “jolly good show, chap, right-o,” but some real hardcore fun, the kind that you wouldn’t be ashamed to bring a friend along to an art gallery for.

Now, don’t be led into thinking that the concept of interactive art must be some hackneyed pretentious noodling that focuses more on the “artistic vision” and less on the viewer actually enjoying the experience of participating. Art Interactive, which is just a block from the Central Square T stop, is here to prove that art doesn’t have to be so baffling, and in fact, it can be exciting, relevant, and yes, even entertaining.

The interactive nature of shadows may seem self explanatory enough, but the exhibit is also being presented as part of the Boston Cyberarts Festival, so this means that you and your shadow are going to be fused into a digital cyber world.

The show features four pieces that have all been designed by artist Scott Snibbe. Unlike some of the other exhibits that have been featured in the Art Interactive gallery, Shadow Play is not terribly inviting from outside as all of the gallery’s windows have been pulled shut. But on the inside this creates the perfect environment for the digital video projections to have free reign over the mysterious world of shadows. Ropes that corral the viewer on a specific path around the gallery, section off the exhibit. This is done less to keep you away from the expensive digital and video projection equipment, though I’m sure this is a concern, and more to force the viewer into a path where they must participate in the pieces. There are no casual observers here, as each piece consists of a black and white projection in which even walking past to look at the piece casts a shadow that affects the work and turns everything into a live-action iPod commercial.

The first piece, entitled Deep Walls (2003), is made up of a projection of a four by four square grid in which each square features miniature shadow people running, dancing, jumping, kicking, spinning, and doing any number of poses hamming it up for the camera. There appears to be no particular rhyme or reason to their order, they just seem to loop infinitely across the screen. As you walk in front of it your shadow obscures part of the screen, so you shake, wiggle, and pop accordingly before stepping aside. But it’s not over just yet, as you look back at the projection you’ll notice that your brief time in front of the screen not only created an immediate interaction between you and the piece, but a digital sensor has actually recorded your movements and now your shadow’s memory occupies one of the sixteen squares in the projection. Willingly or not, you, or more accurately your shadow, have become a permanent part of the piece as you realize that the fifteen other frolicking shadow people are the refinance of other Art Interactive visitors who came before you.

The next piece is entitled Compliant (2002) and features a white projected rectangle that floats in the center of the screen. Walking by this piece you may notice that, though you can not physically touch anything, your shadow is able to make contact with the white box in the two dimensional world of lights and shadows. Your shadow can touch and prod the white box, which reacts by moving like a gelatinous blob underwater. As you physically grasp into the air, the piece reacts to your movements allowing two people to play a game of digital catch.

The last two pieces are titled, Shadow Bag (2005) and Visceral Cinema: Chien (2005) both premiering here at the Art Interactive gallery. Shadow Bag is a bit like Deep Walls in that our shadows are separated from us and begin to move on their own, only this time they come back as life size entities so that we can further interact with both our own movements and the movements of others. Occasionally, these living shadows cease to mirror our movements and instead collapse like an empty bag, a reference to the Jungian idea of our shadows as a “bag” that holds our psychic fragments. Visceral Cinema: Chien references the groundbreaking avant-garde work of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali from the film Un Chien Andalou. In this piece a famous scene in which a man struggles to drag a piano from a rope is recreated, and you have the ability to interact within it. Different movements evoke different reactions in the piece: your shadow is allowed to move the piano, if we stand in-between the man and the piano he begins to struggle with the excess weight, and if we cross paths with the shadow of the man himself, he dissolves into a million ants that scatter across the screen.

Scott Snibbe’s exhibit of Shadow Play will be showing at Art Interactive from now till July 3. Art Interactive is located at 130 Bishop Allen Drive in Cambridge. Go to for more info or call 617-498-0100. For more info on the Boston Cyberarts Festival go to