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It’s good timing for augmented reality

Will Pappenheimer’s ‘Home Remedies for Lucid Dreaming’ is at Alpha Gallery

"Certain Things Might Happen" by Will Pappenheimer.
"Certain Things Might Happen" by Will Pappenheimer.Will Pappenheimer/Courtesy Alpha Gallery

Will Pappenheimer’s “Home Remedies for Lucid Dreaming” was supposed to open at Alpha Gallery last spring. Then COVID-19 shuttered galleries. It’s good timing, though, because this augmented-reality exhibition peculiarly reflects our pandemic experience: trapped at home, trying to fortify and heal, viewing the world through screens.

The artist is best known for public AR installations. In 2017, he made codfish fly over the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. “Ascension of Cod” was a clever visual pun that drew on the site’s history. Works here feel more personal, featuring people (all white), crisply composed like video game avatars, in intimate spaces.


Tablets for the AR stand before small assemblages outfitted with miniature art, towels, and tinctures, suggesting domestic scenes. Whispery soundtracks are drawn from YouTube videos that trigger the soothing — or creepy — tingles of autonomous sensory meridian response.

"Repairs" by Will Pappenheimer.
"Repairs" by Will Pappenheimer.Will Pappenheimer/Courtesy Alpha Gallery

Sound comes from an energy healing session in “Repairs.” The installation features a shelving unit arrayed with a lamp, a plant, and more. A globe and a flattened earth reference societal divisions. Performance artist Freya Björg Olafson choreographs the movement of two AR figures – the healer and her client, a man plagued by a dark haze. As the woman gestures, black stars scatter from the man. Perhaps she’s clearing his aura, but the haze never really leaves.

Pappenheimer recognizes that healing is not a simple process. In “Certain Things Might Happen” a man tosses and turns in bed as little blue explosions go off around him, hinting at a nightmare. His mouth forms the words of a slow-paced lecture about consciousness by the late Marvin Minsky, a cognitive and computer scientist at MIT.

"Angsty Pool Site" by Will Pappenheimer.
"Angsty Pool Site" by Will Pappenheimer.Will Pappenheimer/Courtesy Alpha Gallery

These scenarios capture a trance-like state in which the figures have little control. There’s frustration here — in “Angsty Pool Site,” men thrash and splash through a vertical wall of water set against a Sol LeWitt-style painting. But also hope. Some figures flail, others have mastery. But even mastery requires surrender.


During COVID, we too have had to surrender, and these works masterfully illuminate the moment. But we are always, in this life, waking from and drifting into trances. Pappenheimer crystallizes those liminal moments, and it’s captivating, soothing, and discomforting all at once.


At Alpha Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through May 1. 617-536-4465, www.alphagallery.com

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.