- Mobile Performance
- Electric Speed
- Schematic as Score
- (Re)purposed Clothes
- Collaborative Spaces
- Device Art
- Digital Dub
- Rise of the VJ
- Sample Culture
[AR Version of John Conway's Game of Life]
Tell me a bit about your digital media art practice leading to this point in your career, and how your artistic journey has led to your new AR work using Layar?
My art practice balances on the boundary between art and technology. I have a degree in computer science and I use my technical skills and intuition to study technical innovations with a focus on social and artistic opportunities and impacts. As an artist I reflect on the world of today using contemporary digital media. Since digital media has become such a significant part of todays' world, my expressive medium and subject have become one. I do not use a medium to tell a story about something else, I use it to say something about the medium itself. Because digital media is defining our perception of the world, exploring and expanding the track record of digital media impacts the state of that perceived world. Digital media and the endless possibilities within the digital domain have fascinated me ever since I started programming. Bringing that amazing reality in contact with our physical domain was the aim of numerous projects in the past, as for example the Physical Virtuality installation, which was a cross-dimensional seesaw into Second Life. Nowadays the integration of online content into an 'offline' context comes naturally with mobile augmented reality. We live in a new dimension in which virtual reality appears on the street, as demonstrated on the Dam Square in Amsterdam during the worlds' 1st augmented reality flashmob. The AR version of the classic 1971 “Game of Life” proves that virtual reality has truly come alive, as virtual life forms are now living in the augmented reality worldwide. We can interactively alter our surroundings and our reality, be it an intangible and still rather conceptual one. But that's where the art aspect enters, the suspension of disbelief. Although I personally believe that the relevance of the omnipresent virtual reality is increasing rapidly, as a result of the mass adoption of smartphone connectedness. It won't take long until enough people will stop for a virtual traffic light. Thereby, indirectly letting it have a true impact on the physical reality.
After working in the field of digital media for quite some time, the encounter with augmented reality for mobile phones was paradigm shifting for me. My projects formerly labeled ‘virtual’ could now be taken into ‘reality’. Bringing the endless possibilities of the virtual dimension into our material world. The creation of virtual reality experiences incorporating physical viewing conditions and contexts, would in return redefine the physical reality by means of the virtual additions. In a series of projects I tried to discover the relevant success factors of content creation for the hybrid reality I was shaping. I researched the radical new possibilities, and the resulting consequences. My first step into augmented reality was the announcement of an “AR flashmob” to be happening at a specific point of time at a specific spot in Amsterdam. Enhancing a non-material phenomenon with conditions from our physical reality: space and time, making it more than just a virtual appearance viewable any place anytime. The project succeeded in having the envisioned true physical impact. Partly thanks to bloggers such as Bruce Sterling Twittering about it, numerous people gathered on the Dam square in flashmob-style surrounding an empty space where a secondary flashmob took place simultaneously, the “Worlds’ 1st augmented reality flashmob”. Witnessing the possibilities of GPS-based AR for real, I started imagining the impact AR could have on the world around us, if enough people would acknowledge it as ‘real’. With a rapidly growing audience capable of viewing the parallel reality through popular smartphones, I realised that the virtual public space had been transformed into a globally DIY universe of creativity, democratically accessible to anyone. I started demonstrating this aspect by creating showcase projects, often focused on providing access and the tools to let others become co-creators too. By highlighting that no restrictions apply, nor technically nor imaginary, I hope to lure more and more people into this newly discovered hybrid reality, as active contributors of creative content. Raising the relevance of the virtual universe, eventually turning it into ‘ex-virtual’ reality.
Can you tell me about your other recent projects using mobile media?
An important step in my explorations in AR and a project for which the mass presence of an iPhone audience was crucial, was the uninvited exhibition in the MoMA NY organised by Mark Skwarek and me. We exhibited the works of about 30 fellow artists throughout the museum, without involving or informing the museum about it. This was possible because no expensive and complicated equipment was needed to do so; the artworks appeared amongst the official artworks of the exhibition when looking through the live-camera view of the Layar augmented reality browser.My artistic contribution to the exhibition was the extension of the museum with a virtual 7th floor. The project demonstrates how augmented reality has wiped former limitations and boundaries off the map. The break down of barriers even extends to the organisational level, paving the way for new dynamics between artist, curator, museum and visitor. The audience is taking control, everything is becoming public domain, and the public domain is public property again. No target is off limits. Placing augmented reality items within the Oval Office and The Pentagon was an expression of that statement. This type of 'infiltration' is becoming a genre in AR art, consisting of both the intervention but also an effort to promote the presence of the otherwise invisible additions. In the Washington case, an event was organised to mark the launch of the items, so although nobody except for Obama will ever see the AR items, the story is what an audience experiences.
Uninvited “AR” exhibition: MoMA New York, October 9th 2010 - Based on an open call a full scale exhibition with 30 participating artists uninvited, was organised inside the internal virtual space of the MoMA, without involvement nor notifying of the museum. The show contained virtual copies of real works and real virtual works, in various shapes and forms. Based on the specifics of each floor, incoming works were distributed across 6 of the museum floors. An additional virtual 7th floor was placed on top of the museum specifically for the occasion, meant as a permanent virtual pied-a-terre to be used by future augmented reality artists. Organising the exhibition within a proper museum was a deliberate choice. We wanted to benefit from a proper museum context, the right mood and concentration of its visitors to receive honest and relevant comments about the new possibilities of AR. New in terms of shape, infiniteness and material, but primarily: renewing the traditional artist- curator-audience model too. The enthusiasm of the participating artists has led to the birth of a collective of artists with a goal, packaged in its name: “Manifest.AR”. I am one of the co-founders. Besides our continuing guerilla approach of exhibiting on relevant spots worldwide, such as the recent Venice Biennale, we gradually received more and more invitations from official institutes too. It seems AR has truly manifested as a respected art form, as was intended by the formation of Manifest.
AR.INSTANT AUGMENTED REALITY - As a next step after enabling people to shape their virtual surrounding using pre-designed items, as in the “Virtual Construction Site” project in Dortmund, the “Augmentizer” Layar allows people to add their own creations into augmented reality. Using a combination of old school “AR” (blue screen technology that is) and contemporary GPS-based AR, the cutout images of items photographed in front of a blue surface can be positioned instantly in the virtual environment on the spot. Premiered at the Lowlands 2011 festival, a mobile Augmentizer team copied Lowlands visitors into virtual reality, as well their personal designs, created at the Zorklands creative hotspot area of the festival. In a workshop, master-designer Peter te Bos explained about Lowlands logo design, I followed-up by explained about the current day possibility to turn any place into a DIY environment. Artworks created on ‘blue screen’ paper were placed in the sky as additions to the festival decoration. For the upcoming global TEDxYouth event, the Augmentizer will be used to realise a globally shared creative bubble, with kids participating worldwide in real-time. Drawings on ‘blue screen’ paper created in the Favela’s of Rio will appear instantly in the virtual surroundings of kids participating in Amsterdam or Cape Town, hopefully resulting in an expressive creative dialogue crossing borders and cultures.
FrustratAR: Arti Amsterdam, March 2011 - In a time with endless enthusiasm for anything augmented, QR-codes and iPhones, this installation offered some resistance. The secondary design goal was to create an installation that would stand out from the crowd. Offering a QR code that -would- be scanned amongst the massive overload of QR-codes we are surrounded with these days. This impossible to read QR-code managed to attract the attention, and some people succeeded in finding out where the code led to: to my own website. The Frustratar was actually a rigid digital business card distributor in a clumsy non-technical disguise.
Virtual Traffic Light: Terschelling, June 2011 (Oerol) Being at least two years too early to be -officially- invited with virtual reality and AR at the Oerol location theatre festival, a virtual traffic light was added halfway the main bike lane of the island and the local media was informed. With enough ‘iPhone people’ stopping to view and interactively control the traffic light, the resulting blockade on the narrow bike path was supposed to turn the light into a fully functional traffic controller. Indirectly that is, by means of its viewers. It was supposed to prove the festival organisation how virtual decors could be an interesting option within the theatre domain. Not in the least because such decors offer new spectacular design possibilities and their instant connectedness to the local online realm enables interesting interaction formats. All of these were cheaply producible, since no material or transportation costs are applicable. Virtual decors could therefore be a welcome solution for the current day budget cuts in culture... Unfortunately, it rained a lot during Oerol 2011. While a normal virtual traffic light would not function any less, the 1st virtual traffic light on Terschelling failed to attract a crowd and it failed to deliver a message to the Oerol organisation. Nobody stops for a virtual stopping light, when it rains. Still, I see a whole lot of opportunities for augmented theatre. I even consider storytelling a crucially important aspect of any AR project, to solve the challenge of invisibility, which comes with the flexibility of GPS-based (and thus visual marker less) AR. Since the virtual experience happens on a tiny mobile screen, the story is what counts, or else it is just a technique. AR needs a real-world story, to get the attention and to trigger the interaction. Because only then could there be a true impact on and an interchange with the physical space.
How are these or other projects you have done (or working in the future), exploring the participatory or performative nature of the user?
Mobile AR has shaped a reality consisting of both a fixed physical component and a flexible virtual component. It has turned the universe into a canvas with unlimited parallel manifestations occurring at the same time at the same place. But unless explicitly activated, we don't experience anything, yet. The viewer is in control. And the creative task lies on both sided of the artist / viewer division. As creators, we shape content, contexts and interactive systems. As a viewer, we use, filter and re-purpose to creatively express ourselves.
[Meet Your Stranger]
I still don't think you've directly addressed the performative aspects of your pieces or the users interacting with them and what they experience of your work – can you go more into this?
The smartphone is becoming the remote control of our day-to-day life. Controlling a whole museum building is an exceptional case (Tropenmuseum Amsterdam); usually we are the ones being controlled. We react on incoming emails and Facebook updates telling us where to go. And if we get lost, a Google map guides our way. In the Meet Your Stranger project I am using all of the contemporary mobile features, but the target is the unknown. Playing a role in an outdoor cinematic experience, you are connected to the character in your next scene based on GPS data. You're meeting Sneaky Steve on a public square or at the train station, but the person in front of you is someone else each time. The mobile phone turns into a text-teleprompter, and you're part of a hybrid experience of tech-driven entertainment, coming to life thanks to the integrated human component. The Meet Your Stranger project was conceptualised based on research aiming to find the ultimate mobile experience. Considering the small screen and the clumsiness of the device, we concluded that the mobile phone had to be extended into physical space. Humans, being an important element in that space are part of the play, but also the virtual decor appearing around you, thanks to augmented reality, is part of that contemporary outdoor reality. On a social level, the mobile phone keeps us connected us to people worldwide, but we are losing the connection to people right next to us. Meet Your Stranger radically disrupts the practice of mobile individualism.
How do you hope your work will influence a new generation of artists who are digital natives, growing up with mobile and social media?
An enormous amount of mobile apps chase us on the go, requiring us to interact with them wherever we are. Many apps start functioning as channels and platforms for creative expression by challenging users to impress their peers and the community of users of that app. This suits our contemporary society, which has become a society of creatives, partly because of that abundant availability of easy-to-use tools for creative expression. But at the same time, there is a risk it limits the creative developments too. Being occupied 24/7 working on the creation of content for other people's apps, there is no time left to concentrate on creativity on a higher level: developing new apps, or creating smart mash-ups consisting of existing components. The overwhelming amount of readily available apps and channels could be triggering a feeling of “everything has been done already”, but I would recommend skipping a few witty Facebook tweets and ignore a couple of recently launched apps in favor of having a fresh mind to be creative in a truly creative field, shaping something new.