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SMart Multimedia Art Festival explores "virtual authenticity"

SMart festival shares multimedia art with the Grand Rapids Community.
Marielis Seyler's work welcomes visitors to the gallery.

Marielis Seyler's work welcomes visitors to the gallery. /Nikki Motson

Underwriting support from:

Open Concept Gallery

Hours: Mon.-Fri. By Appointment Only (Suggested Hours 11 a.m.-4 p.m.) 

(Closed Sat.-Sun.) 

Price: Adults $9, Seniors & Students $6, Members Free

Zora Carrier and Bridgette Broughman

Zora Carrier and Bridgette Broughman /Nikki Motson

In an age where social media, television, and internet consume our time and challenge our senses, how do we know what is or what isn’t real?

This is the theme explored by Grand Rapid’s only multimedia art festival, SMart Festival. Artwork from around the world engaged the theme “Virtual Authenticity” in the festival’s sixth annual event in downtown Grand Rapids.

Exhibits showcased international and national artists as well as students from universities in Grand Rapids.

The exhibits are meant to express and challenge the idea of what is real and what isn’t in the virtual world, according to Executive Director of the festival Zora Carrier.

“We’ve all been in the virtual world and we just kind of forget the reality,” said Carrier. “I mean we watch Terminator, and we know he’s not coming and we’re intelligent and kind of understand that, but sometimes there is a confusion of our senses."

She offers another example of how we can no longer count on our senses and the ways in which our technology distorts reality.

“When you go on Google Earth, you go to Rome and you can pretty much walk the most intimate little streets in Rome, and pretty soon after thirty minutes you might be confused because you turn your head and you are in your room. So there is a virtual world outside of us that we visit pretty much daily. And we don’t give a thought how big a part of our environment that is. Is there any authenticity in this world? Who decides what is authentic?”

SMart Festival is the creation of Carrier, who is also the curator of the main venue for the event, Open Concept Gallery. She said the festival is a way to show a different side of art to the community with non- commercial works and events that are open to the public.

“There is a lack of the multimedia platform in Grand Rapids. There are very successful commercial galleries that wouldn’t go for it, and school galleries don’t have enough space or exhibition time, so we decided that a joint effort would be the best way and we collaborated with schools and local art institutions to create this project.”

Open Concept Gallery housed the main exhibits of the festival, all of which used mediums such as video, portraits, and audio to create art.

The freight elevator that goes up to the exhibit had two large white pictures covering the floor: one featuring an assortment of shells and the other a woman curled up in a ball. The photos are by Austrian artist Marielis Seyler and are called “trample pictures.” According to Bridgette Broughman, curator for the festival and graduate student at Kendall College of Art and Design, trying to step around the photos is a natural reaction.

“You’re meant to destroy the images, which are of things that are very fragile in nature, things that you don’t want to step on, but we have to realize that in society we do violate the body, and it makes you think of that as you’re walking across it.”

A series of photographs by Nate Larson and Marni Schindelman depicts houses, a field, and a car parked in front of a brick building. Underneath each picture is a phrase that was taken from different Twitter users' tweets. Carrier says this piece focuses on new media communication on the internet.

“What does it really mean when you read a tweet that tells you someone just walked out of a coffee shop and is going to school? It can have a thousand visualizations, like downtown New York, or a small town in the Midwest, so it’s giving a life to those very short tweets, and giving them visual representation.”

The Open Concept Gallery’s upstairs held just one piece by Grand Valley State University Senior Mark Switzer. A large projection screen ran a loop of an image of a boy being outlined in chalk against a chalk board. Against the wall sat two school desks with a pair of headphones, and inside were small DVD players featuring different people giving testimonies of experiences with hate violence and school bullying.

The festival ran from April 4 to 8 and had exhibits at the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids as well as an opening ceremony featuring a projection screening at the Gallery in the Alley.

Carrier says she is pleased with the festival, which expands a little bit each year. In the meantime continues to share her love and understanding of art with the greater Grand Rapids Community.

“Our goal is to focus on the accessibility of art and create public art projects for people who are not used to going to galleries on a regular basis, we help break that barrier. The other dimension is diversity, of artists, diversity of venues, and diversity of messages.”


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