Tech-heads and art-heads from the advertising world on the most exciting projects where art and augmented reality collide
We’ve reached the point with augmented reality where it’s lost a lot of its gimmicky novelty appeal. Everyone played Pokémon Go in 2016 and suddenly we all got AR. Then filters on Snapchat and Instagram started getting exciting and we all instinctively understood how to use it.
Once the preserve of brands and organisations with access to technology bods, now AR is a creative tool that’s allowing anyone with the inclination to defy the limitations of our physical world. Tools like Instagram’s Spark AR platform and Snap’s Lens Studio have put this tech in the hands of the public. More excitingly, some of that public are artists. With the age of branded AR gimmickry behind us, pure creativity in the medium is available to people with something universal and important to say.
In the last year, artists as renowned as Olafur Eliason and KAWS have experimented with AR. Even MoMA’s got involved. To find out what’s most exciting in the AR-art space right now, LBB’s Alex Reeves asked a selection of techie and arty people from the ad industry to share their favourite works.
Co-publisher of contemporary art titles fadmagazine.co.uk and the no-news newspaper Art of Conversation
Strategy director at MullenLowe London
Contemporary artists would, should they bother to think of it, likely express some disagreement with Marshall McLuhan’s idea about the medium being the message. Artists, particularly those in the febrile early years of their career when they are defining and refining their theoretical and aesthetic vocabulary, are magpie experimentalists, often willing to try whatever will create the right resolve for their concept. It’s also the way of some more established artists - Marina Abramović’s experiments with mixed reality in her 2019 piece The Life come to mind and are of a piece with her audience-oriented practice - but for me some of the most interesting uses of technologies like this are when the tech element fades into the background, foregrounding the concept they serve.
Recently, as a judge of the MullenLowe NOVA Awards
, a programme that recognises fresh creative talent from Central Saint Martins across art, design, fashion and performance, I was interested to see a number of students deploy augmented reality (AR) in their submissions. AR isn’t new - or not new new at least - but in a time when even banks are deploying the technology for WFH traders, looking at the assistance that technology gives creative thinkers and makers to express new concepts shines an interesting light on the direction of travel.
The spread of AR was, like VR, hindered by the low adoption of the specialist software and hardware required to use it. Starting with the iPhone 7 launch in 2017, mobile device technology democratised access to AR and the technology moved from the preserve of a tech elite to the wider population, with the cost of creating it falling rapidly. The cohort of Central Saint Martins students whose work was judged this year have encountered AR from artists like Olafur Eliasson and KAWS (both on the excellent Acute Art platform) brands of every flavour, museum displays - like the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ beautiful mural attached to its Japan Supernatural
show of late 2019 and even restaurants like sketch with its David Shrigley immersive experience
, and all during the years they transitioned from school kids into college applicants. For them then, AR is not a cutting edge medium with a message, it is another tool, a conduit for the creative resolution their artistic practice seeks.
The work of BA Fashion Design, Womenswear student Mathilde Rougier, a Runner Up at the 2020 MullenLowe NOVA Awards
earlier this month, is an example of the way that emerging creatives in all disciplines create ways of working with technology that weave it seamlessly into a conceptual execution. Her project, Modular Augmented Capsule
“addresses damaged data and its restoration as a form of creation. The collection’s aesthetic is based on a personal archive of garments. The archive was then recorded and manipulated digitally through photography, pixelation, 3D scans.
“The aim of the collection was to use what’s already been produced in terms of materials and inspiration to come up with new ideas, in short creating new from old, eternally.”
AR was deployed, amongst other visualisation techniques, to bring to life a concept that challenges the prevailing approach to circular manufacturing in a way that manages the essential task of fashion to create a desirable commodity.
Mathilde’s collection, with its visual roots in fashion’s 1980s and 1990s technologically innovative Japanese avant garde and the more recent post-digital warrior stance of labels like Marine Serre and Eckhaus Latta is a thought-provoking response to concepts of ownership, inspiration, and obsolescence. For those of us who apply our creativity commercially, it’s well established that brand communications should rightly follow the behaviour of the people they want to speak to but as purist creative thinkers like Rougier show, the role of the medium is most effective when it is in harmony with the message it seeks to elevate.
CEO and Founder of REWIND
The collaboration between London-based initiative Acute Art
and American graffiti artist and designer, KAWS
, is a great example of how AR can enable a whole new way of discovering, experiencing, and collecting art. The innovative project, called Expanded Holiday
, centred around a series of KAWS’s trademark ‘Companion’ figures as AR sculptures and drawings at public exhibitions in 12 cities around the world. The project demonstrates the enormous potential of AR and conveys a sense of mischievous humour through the juxtaposition of physical and virtual worlds with KAWS’s signature Mickey Mouse inspired clown character.
The collaboration also included a commercial component that could pave the way for how AR art is marketed in the future. 25 nearly six-foot-tall AR sculptures were available to purchase for $10,000 via the Acute Art
app, or for smaller budgets, an open edition of 1.5-foot-tall AR sculptures could be bought for a period of seven or 30 days. Collectors were able to place the sculptures wherever they wanted using the app, as well as share their collection through social media.
This project offered a sophisticated and safe way for people to experience art during a global pandemic and explored the possibilities for selling virtual and augmented reality art."
VP, digital strategy, UK & Europe at McCann Worldgroup
The recent work I’m most excited about is coming out of Andy Serkis’ Imaginarium Studios where, in partnership with Magic Leap, they are fusing together theatre, motion capture and AR to explore the future of live entertainment.
Imagine the RSC performing Hamlet in your living room. Maybe walk around the performers to get the best view, interact with the characters, change their costumes or even the actors themselves.
In addition, as AR technology advances and is brought into theatres, we might get to see virtual, motion capture, non-human characters on stage in theatres alongside real performers, elevating live theatre to embrace the special effects currently found only in film.
For me, the best example of art and augmented reality (ARt) is the virtual door to Vincent Van Gogh's ‘Bedroom In Arles’ from ruslans3d on the ARLOOPA app.
We want all art to be accessible but to see a particular work typically requires visiting an art gallery that might not even be in your country. Using AR technology, this example goes beyond the limitations of a photograph or reproduction to allow you to literally step through the bedroom door into the work of art.
It’s an immersive experience that allows new art lovers to explore the detail of painting while existing admirers of Van Gogh experience the familiar artwork in a whole new way. It provides a glimpse of how AR can enable us to see existing art in new ways but could also inspire artists working today to embrace this technology to evoke an entirely new emotional response.
Creative technology director - Interactive Arts at Nexus Studios
I want to talk about Julian Oliver’s 'Insertion Series: Four Interrupted Car Parks'.
This is a slightly cheeky answer because it's certainly not new (it's from 2009), the artist is one who works primarily with new media and it never actually 'worked' at the time it was released. However this is one of my absolute favourite pieces and it absolutely could work with 2020's tools and technologies.
The piece comprises four simple (virtual) geometric sculptures that are placed in underground Car Parks in Madrid.
For me this piece shows the incredible potential of augmented reality for Artistic experiences.
The way the forms and shapes hang unnaturally in the air yet have such a strong sense of presence, of belonging to that location and that location specifically, blew me away.
It also highlights how augmented reality brings to digital art for the first time a sense of scarcity, of exclusivity far more tangibly and effectively (imo) than technologies like blockchain that purport to do the same thing.
These pieces exist only at these locations and transform that location yet belong to it despite being impossible to exist in the real world.
The juxtaposition, the tension between the real and the virtual was breathtaking to me at the time and I still think about this piece all the time in my own work.
Creative technologist at Wunderman Thompson UK
Augmented Reality has allowed us to defy the physical boundaries of our world and let our imaginations run wild. Tools such as Instagram’s Spark AR platform and Snap’s Lens Studio have made AR accessible to the many. Combining visual and coding tools has made complex body and world tracking data available and accessible, unlocking creativity in ways we never ever deemed possible. We’re now all artists.
Around the world there are thousands of creators who share their vision and perspective on life and the world around us through AR; scenes to get lost in, bright colourful effects that morph to music around you, nostalgic moments brought back to life, platforms for activists to inspire action. Whilst I couldn’t possibly list every artist who inspires me I’d suggest spending one evening scrolling through Instagram and Snapchat’s creator galleries. You won’t be disappointed.
However I have to shout out Ommy Akhe
(an ethical hacker) who is a very notable artist in the AR space. Ommy has an extraordinary ability to keep innovating and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, using these tools in new ways and inspiring many others to do the same.
Supercede and later Intercede are two effects which have inspired others to augment their creativity too, essentially swapping out a certain colour range and animating that space. I’ve seen anyone from calligraphers and tattooists to city photographers using the effects to augment their art. It’s art that facilitates and inspires more art. Now that’s arty. From materials manipulated with complex maths allowing the segmentation of a tattoo, to face effects morphing reality, Ommy’s work is unique, yet universal and an incredible example of art and AR colliding.
Creative director at Framestore
Apple featured six artists in an AR art tour
, developed in collaboration with the New Museum NY, and staged in San Francisco, LA, London, Paris and Tokyo.
Once upon a time, a million years ago, people gathered to experience virtual art.
That seems unthinkable now. But the potential to turn any space into a guerrilla gallery, making virtual installation ‘graffiti’ viewable by anyone, even while distanced passers-by are oblivious to what you are experiencing, has suddenly become especially compelling.
Apple AR[T] laid out a potential future - individually experienced, distanced, in the open air - none of us had reason to imagine we’d need.
Of course, that future wasn’t fully realised by the tour.
None of the featured artists were full AR natives. This isn’t a format that’s taught in art school. Yet. The rules are non-existent and the canvas is hard to get hold of.
Instead each artist brought their own aesthetic, and imagination, to this new medium, collaborating with devs (who acted as ‘fabricators’ in this analogy).
The result was a little like watching dance choreographed by painters. Fascinating, and thought provoking, but with the niggling sense it was informing something that either did, or ought to, exist somewhere else.
All the truisms of AR were proved again; better integration means better immersion, interaction is compelling - and, oh yeah I almost forgot, don’t forget about sound.
And yet there was something viscerally delightful about Pipilotti Rist’s multicoloured streak streaming through the sky like an escaped balloon, wildly deflating while screaming absurdities above Trafalgar Square.
It felt like a messenger from the future.
Chief innovation officer at Isobar US
For several years now, a platform for AR-based artwork has been enabling creators to combine physical art with digital content through the use of mobile devices. This platform is called EyeJack
According to the creators, “EyeJack is an augmented reality app and platform that specializes in the curation and distribution of augmented art.”
I first discovered this through the work of an Australian artist who I support named Stuart Cambell (AKA Sutu Eats Flies). His incredible art comes to life with sound and motion when viewed through the EyeJack mobile application. My first foray into this was through an augmented reality art book called ‘Prosthetic Reality’, which is a collaboration between Stuart, Code on Canvas
and 45 other artists and sound designers from around the world.
Examples of this can be found here:
Other examples of this platform being used by independent artists as they venture into the world of mixed reality art can be seen here:
President of Tactic
When asked “where are examples of art and augmented reality colliding?” I would probably say that most of the examples out there that excite me in the art world version of “augmented reality” aren’t really “AR” at all, but rather projection mapping, or real-time generative art.
Examples just prior to the explosion of AR on mobile devices pointed the way towards the potential in the medium, whether seeing things like the projection-mapped Autofuss’s Box
, or some of the generative artwork from Can Buyukberber
or even the larger cinematic worlds in film, from VFX studios like Weta Workshop
, Digital Domain
, and ILM
. These are the illusions that we’re excited about at Tactic, truly seamless, immersive, and aspirational mixes of reality and the fantastic.
As a growing medium, I always find it more interesting to look at adjacent media to see how we might be able to apply these ideas to AR/MR/XR. Truly democratised AR is still developing as an immersive and complex medium, and I see the tool sets as being in the "early desktop publishing" or "early website" phase, and thus singular works of AR, to me, lack some of the production value of more established media... we're still in the early stages!
CEO at FCB Inferno
A group of ‘renegade’ artists used augmented reality to virtually siege the MoMa. The distinguished Jackson Pollock’s paintings on the fifth floor remain unchanged to those viewing through the naked eye, but for those viewing the paintings through the MoMAR app, each piece of art is a marker that unlocks something different entirely. According to their website, the MoMAR are an open-source non-profit group on a mission to democratise physical exhibition spaces and museums, and they’re doing so through technology available to everyone via their mobile phones.
At the MoMA, each of Pollock’s masterpieces are virtually either remixed or completely replaced by a creation from artists in the group. One of them re-framed one of the paintings in an interactive smartphone that showed Instagram on the screen and enabled viewers to ‘like’ the painting over and over again. There’s eight mixed reality artworks in all that make up the ‘Hello, we’re from the internet’ exhibition, each one using the technology in a slightly different way and weaving a new layer of interactivity and innovation into a space that could be perceived as staid.
Co-founder and CCO at THAT (Technology, Humans and Taste) - part of the M&C Saatchi Group
Digital art, especially AR has a unique challenge. There’s no gallery to walk into, or theatre to buy tickets too. So, any idea needs to engage people enough to get them to click, or even (gulp) download a piece to experience it. So, my favourite work is what I would call “art where you have to prove something”. Projects that are documentary tend to work really well. Any immersive tech shouldn’t be telling you a story, it should create a world for you to explore.
One great example is ‘Rio de Los Angeles
’. It was created by Vrai Pictures and Superbright both of which make incredible work and produced by RYOT. The LA River AR Platform is an immersive tool that invites people to learn and interact with the history, complexities, and potential of the Los Angeles River. You can scale down a massive environment and take in a huge story free from the bounds of time and space. And that’s a perfect use of interactive technology.
I’m very excited to see The Monuments Project
from Movers And Shakers
. I haven’t experienced it in full yet, but we saw an early demo at a Creative Dim Sum in our office. It’s a powerful idea that reframes history - a catalogue of augmented reality monuments of women, people of colour and the LGBTQIA+ icons.
AR is at it’s best when it reveals something hidden from view, whether it’s a possible future, a hidden story or something too big or small to see.