The “Space Invaders” land at the Somerville Museum

The Somerville Museum hosts Space Invaders, a collaborative community art project exploring themes of alienation in its many forms.

By Michael McHugh

From June 3 to July 9, the Somerville Museum will present space invadersa collaborative community art project curated by audiovisual artist Rook Murao, aka SRCFLP, alongside artists Hayato Kawai (Supanoba), Ian Condry (Leftroman), Charles “Charlo” Choueiri (Mr. Improbable), and Mieko Murao.

This immersive art experience explores themes of cultural programming, language, xenophobia, misunderstanding, and more, through emerging audiovisual media such as map projection and spatial sound.

The exhibit hall was given a deliberately alien feeling environment, with the sounds of black hole sonifications playing through numerous purposely placed speakers and colorful, radiant projections lighting up the room.

A central theme of the exhibition is an exploration of the meaning of the word “outsider” as a term often used to describe immigrants as well as the unknown or disturbing. Through parody, absurdism, and hard-hitting imagery, the series strives to redefine and recontextualize the concept of “alien” as something to be celebrated and welcomed – given that immigrants throughout history have made the United States what it is in the first place.

The show’s messages go hand-in-hand with its non-traditional setup and use of immersive art media, provided through collaboration with the MIT Spatial Sound Lab, as a departure from the exhibition’s familiar arrangement of art allows a more accessible dialogue.

“I think the appeal of immersive art is that it’s accessible in the sense that we’re different from conventional museums where they don’t let you touch or in the sense that for the visually impaired [for instance] we give sound as another aspect of art that they can experience, and that breaks down those barriers,” explains Rook Murao. “So it’s a message of accessibility, and maybe even inclusivity.”

The show plays with the meaning of the term extraterrestrial in the American lexicon, as well as the culture of humans versus non-humans that its double meaning creates. “We’re all just born humans in this system so far,” Murao continued, “and it’s up to us to remix it or just completely revamp it. Questioning those meanings behind a word, I think , gives us a tool or a way of looking at the world.

Through their work, each artist contributes to this interdimensional theme celebrating multicultural America and its future. Mieko Muruao’s artwork includes walls with intricate displays of flowers that are all native to countries outside of America, intended to inspire thinking of the country as a diverse ecosystem reflecting flowers and illustrating the beauty of the experimentation.

Hayato Kawai (Supanoba) provides insight into the upbringing of the Asian American community with his art that features a tapestry of personal heroes that the artist interviewed other Asian Americans to create, drawing on the shared experience of being “dispelled” or mocked from a young age to have their own ideas of who a hero should be.

Ian Condry (Leftroman), who started the MIT Spatial Sound Lab, showcases some of their space sound research work by playing sounds, including the aforementioned black hole soundscapes captured by NASA on 4.8 and 16 speakers around the room, depending on the day.

Charles “Charlo” Choueiri (Mr. Improbable) presents his piece Genii, a projected visual representation of a “genii or genie”, a mythological guardian angel figure who, in art, is depicted as a mesmerizing light display that highlights the “unknown” part of the foreign term.

Rook Murao (SRCFLP), the curator of the exhibition, greatly contributes to this feeling of ignorance with his projections, his sound work, as well as an anomalous mechanical mask, which he brings to life by performing as a musician, seated as one of the first rooms you notice upon entering.

Part of the artists’ intention was to show that we are all active players in shaping society. By creating this art, they play, question and give new meaning to the term “alien”, while highlighting its societal damage.

“A word is only the meaning we give to sound. And those meanings are what really dictate our view of the world,” says Murao. “Art is just a tool to create discourse and dialogue, isn’t it? Just an interesting way to ask questions visually, audibly and in different directions. We’re just used to our way of doing things in society, our status quo and our protocols that are appropriate and we don’t see those other meanings that come into play. But art is a safe space where we can explore those Questions.

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