How is an exhibition made when the pieces are not real? For the augmented reality (RA) exhibition “The MirrorAt the New York Shed, organizers Emma Enderby, chief curator of the Shed, and Daniel Birnbaum, artistic director of the AR and VR production company Acute Art, had to address this urgent issue. His response was to adopt smartphones as gateways to another world.
“We wanted to call it ‘The Mirror’ because, in a sense, the phone has become this new kind of portal, a rabbit hole that takes us to all these different worlds. We thought it would be interesting to embellish the history of Alice in Wonderland through a more technology-based lens, ”Enderby said ARTnews in a telephone interview.
When members of the audience first arrive in the square in front of the shed, they see modest blue pedestals, each with a plexiglass pyramid that gives the name of an artist, the title of his work and a QR code. But after viewers download the Art Sharp app, they can point the phone’s camera at one of these strange monuments, and on the screen, the desolate surface fills with art.
That is, if the public does everything right. Although RA has been slowly entering the mainstream, the technology is still not intuitive for most. Enderby admitted this challenge. “The public should be willing to follow this journey with you, download the app, use it the right way, ask for help, or find out,” he said. “We’ve tried to make it as clear and accessible as possible, but it will always be a problem.”
Despite this limitation, Enderby has found the medium to be a little easier to work with than others. “Normally, when anything is done in public art, planning permission, cranes, load-bearing beams, etc. are required,” he said. “But with that you can make a giant sculpture and you don’t have to worry about any of those concerns, because it’s not real.”
The works of KAWS, Tomás Saraceno and Darren Bader, in particular, took advantage of the medium to create and display larger pieces of life. Show KAWS Holiday space (2020), a virtual version of his iconic astronaut figure, in front of the ship, while he was art maratr (2021) Saraceno gives life to a giant spider that performs a threatening dance all over the square. Bader created a teenage girl with a cross. If it were a physical sculpture, it would be about 15 feet high. A life-size dog holding with a leash runs around his feet, further highlighting his enormous proportions. Although these works only exist on screens, the viewer has the impression of their monumental presence, not the narrow windows through which they were seen.
In an interview, Birnbaum noted that beyond the immediate experience of the audience, there is a potential for engagement with these pieces when they are shared online. In this format, the sculptures are as real as anything else posted on an image-sharing platform like Instagram, he suggested.
“You look at it [the art], you take photos or small movies, send them to your friends or post them on social media and it becomes very, very visible in this world, “Birnbaum said.” Sometimes we wonder, why are we so obsessed with our damn phones and computer screens? Maybe I have opinions on this and I’m sure you too, but the simple fact is that we spend a lot of time on the phone.It’s an art form that has been developed because people live on their phones ”.
Birnbaum worked with all the artists in his home in London. The Covid-19 blockades taught him the usefulness and importance of RA. “The pandemic has advanced certain trends that already existed: to make exhibitions where nothing has to be sent, where there is no need to travel. I think we are getting used to this kind of thing, ”he said. And while many are happy to launch virtual fairs and work from home, the frictionless global potential of digital art will remain appealing.
“Acute art is basically a kind of study, a workshop or even a laboratory,” Birnbaum said. “We see ourselves as helping artists access new visual possibilities that without us they wouldn’t have.” The process of developing a work is unique to each artist. Cao Fei, for example, has been working in digital art for more than a decade, so he has clear ideas about what he wants. His pieces The Eternal Wave AR: Li Nova (2020), in which a boy talks to attendees while turtles swim above his head and RMB City AR (2020), a sea that revolves around a city treading in the center, are some of the most intricate of “The Looking Glass”.
But Birnbaum was also eager to commission RA projects from artists who work primarily with traditional media. Julie Curtiss, a Brooklyn-based French painter and sculptor, was introduced to Birnbaum by KAWS after working for him a few years ago as a painting assistant. Curtiss worked with Birnbaum for a period of one year to translate his style Moon (2021). It features a naked woman who can only be seen from behind. As the viewer moves around the piece, the woman stirs, spinning continuously, hiding her face.
“It was new for me to think about how to cheer [the figure] and consider their body language, “Curtiss said in an interview.” I would write an email and make a video just to explain how I want my feet to move a little differently. You can’t arbitrarily ask animators to do something, since they are hours and hours of programming “. The resulting piece is simple but striking. The refusal to be seen contrasts with the invitation of the other works to probe and experiment, to tread on them and find the points of view where the illusion disintegrates.
Other artists included in the show are Nina Chanel Abney, Olafur Eliasson, Koo Jeong A, Alicja Kwade, Bjarne Melgaard and Precious Okoyomon, whose piece is Ultra light love rays (2021), in which flowers bloom and poetry is recited to members of the public, was commissioned as part of the Frisian Art Prize.
“The Mirror” can be seen under cover until August 29.