It may well be the first act of vandalism to occur in the realm of augmented reality.
Artist Sebastian Errazuriz has tagged a digital representation of a Jeff Koons balloon dog in Central Park, one of nine Koons sculptures that comprise a global, AR installation launched by Snapchat earlier this week. The social media app has partnered with Koons to introduce a new camera feature that invites users to hunt for geo-tagged, AR sculptures in public sites around the world that pop up on screens when located, as special selfie filters. Materializing a day after this announcement, Errazuriz’s graffiti-sporting, digital dog is intended as a “symbolic stance against an imminent AR corporate invasion,” as the artist said in an email to Hyperallergic.
To be specific, Errazuriz didn’t hack Snapchat and tag its model of the sculpture but created his own, identical version with his studio, CrossLab, and dropped it at the same GPS coordinates as Snapchat’s. He then created his own free app, ARNYC, through which you can access the graffitied Koons if you’re within 300 meters of it in Central Park. The vandalism here is more symbolic, but it still raises necessary questions about control and privatization of digital real estate, and how massive corporations can co-opt this endless canvas of pixelated pseudo-reality.
“It is vital to start questioning how much of our virtual public space we are willing to give to companies,” Errazuriz said. “Right now such sculptures exist in a realm dominated by social media corporations, offering us ‘free’ services that we voluntarily join. Nevertheless, with time, the boundaries between reality and virtual reality fade. The virtual world, where the majority of our social interactions take place, becomes our reality. Once we begin experiencing the world predominantly through AR, our public space will be dominated by corporate content designed to subconsciously manipulate and control us.”
The graffiti bomb questions the problematic nature of how we are able to interact in our parks and landmarks when they become part of a tech giant’s promotional campaign. Nothing in these realms is accidental or spontaneous; everything that exists is designed for approval. Snapchat’s launch was another Silicon Valley attempt to disrupt (and an urgent one, at that); Errazuriz’s vandalism is true disruption. Notably, his act echoes the early motivations of graffiti writers who were reclaiming public space for individual expression as advertisers colored the streets with their own graphics.
CrossLab has also submitted its AR balloon dog to Snapchat, which has an open call on its new website, art.snapchat.com, for artists to send portfolios for possible inclusion in its AR installation. The company has not yet given him a response. Hyperallergic has also reached out to Snap for comment and will update if we hear back.