PEM’s “XYZT” Exhibit Explores Digital Landscapes Through Art

Experience the combination of art, science, and technology at the Peabody Essex Museum.

xyzt art exhibit pem

XYZT Photo Courtesy of Adrien M. & Claire B. ©RomainEtienne

Immerse yourself in a digital wonderland this month at the Peabody Essex Museum. French multimedia artists Adrien Mondot and Claire Bardainne present “XYZT: A Journey in 4 Dimensions,” ten installations that blur the line between our natural environment and virtual space.

The exhibit title represents each axis on a 3-D plane—horizontal (X), vertical (Y), depth (Z)—and a fourth measurement: time (T). Mondot and Bardainne explore themes of scientific reasoning and natural behaviors through visual technology that responds to the body’s slightest movements.

“We want our images to be danced on, played with and to react to the body,” said Bardainne in a statement. “We make immersive and interactive artwork, but we want you to forget that these are images.”

xyzt art exhibit pem

XYZT Photo Courtesy of Adrien M. & Claire B. ©RomainEtienne

Wave your arms and watch white sparks dance around your body’s silhouette. Blow air to make holographic letters tumble away in an alphabet aquarium. Walk across the swaying grass and let the sticks spring back under your foot. The exhibit is set in dimly lit rooms, projecting natural sounds to trick your brain into thinking you’re in a forest, when you’re really just surrounded by projectors, LCD screens, and motion sensors.

Originally created in 2011, the exhibit allowed Mondot and Bardainne to explore the relationship between movement in the organic world and abstract illusions. The computer scientist and graphic designer, respectively, paired video kiosks with each installation to seamlessly intertwine the arts and sciences. The animation explains physics principles and math equations that underlie each work. At the end, there’s often a clip in which dancers engage with the same projection.

“It’s a sensorial experience that’s not just about seeing digital art,” says Janey Winchell, the director of PEM’s Art and Nature Center, who first came upon the exhibit on a family vacation in Paris. “There’s a blurring between the virtual and the real that gives it more of an emotional impact.”

The duo’s digital arts company will feature a special performance just for the opening day of the exhibit. Choreographed to a live original score and animations, a solo dancer manipulates light and space inside a giant virtual cube. Afterward, audience members will even be able to walk inside the translucent cube with a technician to explain how it operates. Guests will also be able to craft their own take-home hologram projectors, inspired by an optical illusion in the exhibit.

xyzt art exhibit pem

XYZT Photo Courtesy of Adrien M. & Claire B. ©RomainEtienne

Though the Peabody Essex Museum often houses classic paintings and pottery, this year marks a shift in its mission. Last March, the museum hired a full-time neuroscientist in order to strengthen its audience perception and information processing through the museum’s design.

As a curator, Winchell aims to use art as a lens to discover other subjects, like science and culture. Her favorite part of “XYZT” is the surprise and personal exploration when guests first walk up to an illusion and try to figure out how it works.

“Don’t be trapped by what you think reality is or what you imagine a digital installation is going to be like,” says Winchell. “Just be present.”

October 14 through April 22, 2018. Opening Day activities will take place October 14 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 161 Essex St., Salem, 978-745-9500,