Creative Metamedia: Augmented Reality Art Production


"Rogue augmented reality art" at MoMA (NYC), October 2010.

For some visitors, walking into NY’s prestigious Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) last October was to enter a world of augmented reality (AR). The show was visible to regular visitors of the MoMA, but those who were using a mobile phone application called Layar on their iPhone or Android smart phones could see numerous additional works on each of the floors.  This event and many others are part of the next wave of contemporary art practices that translate generative art forms for virtual 3D and augmented reality (AR) environments.  Covering this fast-growing field — including Konstruct AR 3D sculpture, Patrick Millard’s Digital Bodies, Virtual Art Initiative’s AR project, Aequitas’ Field of Voices and Evan Roth’s Graffiti Analysis project that generates motion-based visualizations — and for this “arts writing” project I will work with collaborator Aequitas and other artists on a project that combines arts writing with augmented reality content, including generative visual art, motion capture data, sound and video, and it will be accessible both online and on handheld mobile devices.

What’s an “arts writer”?  From

Professional art writers can have a profound impact on an artist’s career, the success of a gallery show, the attendance at a museum exhibit or the funding that goes to a particular arts organization. The work of art writing is challenging and fascinating, because it demands staying abreast of trends in the art world. The result of this hard work is a rewarding career that celebrates the creative visionaries of the era.

After writing a series of blog posts for Art21 covering art production and exhibition in Second Life, I was hired to write the “weekly roundup” and occasionally cover specific artists whose work fits in with my research and interests (i.e. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, street art production, or the art in Inception).  I guess this makes me an arts writer as well as an artist (researcher and teacher).

What is “augmented reality art production”?

Last year writers covered several events at various settings such as major cultural and arts institutions and site specific installations.  This includes the October 2010 “rogue augmented reality art show” at MoMA which was also followed by WIRED.


Another pic from the MoMA event.

Augmented reality is becoming more accessible and new uses continue to emerge as tools for creating and customizing applications become easier to use.  The layering of information over 3D space produces new ways to experience the world, as “blended reality”, that is fueling the broader migration of computing from the desktop to the mobile device, bringing with it opportunities for broader viewer/user dynamic engagement with social, digital, and mobile media.  Contemporary artists are being encouraged to view their mobile phones, cameras, iPods and tablet computers as tools for production and display.  Augmented Reality environments and tools can be used to simulate real world problems and explore contemporary art concepts in ways that are more ‘user led’ and increasingly participatory and collaborative.

What do I want to do with this?

I’m proposing a collaborative, new media project that combines arts writing and augmented reality art production which will move beyond blogging to create a AR toolkit for artists and use both existing and emerging AR tools to document this ongoing development.  For example…

Last year Sander Veenhof launched the rogue augmented reality show together with Mark Skwarek at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. The infiltration was part of the Conflux Psychogeoraphy festival.  The virtual exhibition occupied the space inside the MoMA building using Augmented Reality technology. The AR show was not visible to regular visitors of the MoMA, but those who were using the Layar Augmented Reality browser on their iPhone or Android smartphones were able to see numerous additional works on each of the floors.

AR art schematic

AR art schematic

So, basically, their mobile phones turned into an “Augmented Reality viewer”. Visitors were able to study a compass on the screen, and point their mobile phones in the direction of white dots that indicated the location/direction of the artworks.  This was part of the Conflux Festival.

Conflux is about “pyschogeography”, or study of the geographic environment on behavior; about exploring, studying and understanding public, or urban spaces.  This concept is similar to my exploration of “urban metaphysics” like what I experienced walking around RAMMELLZEE’s Battle Station installation at MOCA LA.  The main difference between something you might experience at a Conflux installation and at Battle Station is what takes place with the body, itself, not just the body that is embedded in public spaces but also how bodies are coded by society.  A code is a rule for converting a piece of information (for example, a letter, word, phrase, or gesture) into another form or representation (one sign into another sign), not necessarily of the same type.


RAMMELLZEE. "Battle Station" at MOCA LA, 2011.

Imagine how much richer and multi-layered the experience of being in Battle Station could have been – the “Wild Style” of modern graffiti and street art decoded through augmented reality tools on mobile devices.  Imagine what visitors might have experienced at Art in the Streets if, while they were using their iPhones or Androids to capture images, they could also view AR content (overlays) that decoded RAMMELLZEE’s complex “gothic futurism” vernacular, as well as all of the other art in the show.  This multi-layered and leveled experience is what makes AR interesting to me both as a research artist and arts writer.  These artists are actively involved in encoding, or the process of taking information from culture and space and converting it into symbols (tags, poses, etc.).  Augmented Reality tools can decode these symbols, as both a generative and reverse process, converting these codes/symbols back into information understandable by others.

  1. #1 by Sowa Mai on May 18, 2011 - 11:56 am

    did you see this one?

    What is the terminology when the augmented reality art is shifted in time? Such as rebuilding a historical artifact or offering the voices of a lost language in the place in was once spoken.

  2. #2 by nettrice on May 18, 2011 - 12:21 pm

    Thanks for the heads up, Sowa. So far major cultural institutions have been silent regarding this wave of AR/mobile technologies. Early adopters are creating some interesting projects that, again, challenge the function of the museum in the 21st century. You may want to check out this recent entry via Art21:

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