Columbus Arts Fest explores virtual art media

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Hundreds of vendors dot either side of the Scioto River, individual pieces of a mosaic that make up the 58th annual Columbus Arts Festival.

The festival, which opened Friday, is a feast of the senses: aromas of fried food waft across the bridge, sights of framed photo prints capture passersby and musicians busking on the sidewalk, a sort of opening act for the headliners to come later in the evening.

And this year, the festival strung up a new tent to bring the sensory experience even closer to the art. For the first time, programmers can showcase their talent at the Virtual Reality Tent. This initiative was meant to create an interactive experience for festival attendees, as well as provide a platform for artists to show how technology and art come together, said Columbus Arts Festival spokeswoman Jami Goldstein.

The tent was bustling Friday with excited Columbus residents eager to try their hands at a variety of traditional video games, but the longest line was in front of the virtual reality headset.

As Connor Dively, 11, approached the booth, he looked confident.

With a little help from the volunteers working in the virtual-reality (VR) tent, Connor was able to immerse himself in a video game world. When he physically walked, his point of view in the game shifted. He was able to create and decorate the world around him virtually, all the while interacting physically using a headset that provided video and audio stimulation and a handset for controls.

“It was fun,” Connor said with a smile after assimilating back into the real world. “I wish more video games were like that.”

But immersive reality wasn’t the only thing on display in the VR tent. Other artists utilized augmented reality, an interactive experience where objects on a screen such as a smartphone are animated or superimposed over the real world.

Students from the Columbus College of Art and Design spent months learning about this medium. Manning their station at the tent was Tien Trinh, 27, and Jinwoo Seo, 25. The two were among a team of about 20 students who spent a semester constructing a physical and virtual piece of art that displayed the threats facing endangered animals.

Using wood, chicken wire, plaster and a 3D printer, the artists created a pristine white sculpture of five animals and their habitats. Using an app, users can select the animal they want to learn more about, point their smartphone at the sculpture and see an animated rendering of the dangers facing the animals. For example, hover a tablet over the wolf, and users see forest fires raging over the habitat.

>>VIDEO: Columbus Arts Fest VR Tent

The project took an entire semester of collaboration. Trinh, a recent graduate from the college, said technology is key to modern art and the creative process.

Two stations down stood Ariel Peguero, 25, who used augmented reality with graphic design and paintings. Similar to the other AR project, users download an app, put their phone in front of the painting and saw the artwork come to life.

“It’s about challenging traditional art to take on digital art using coding and more,” he said. “I’m trying to bridge those two worlds for a completely new medium.”

The Columbus Arts Festival runs through Sunday. It is open Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. (booths close at 8 p.m.), and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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