Whether you like it or not, the digital invasion of Google Glasses is on its way, bringing the alternate world of augmented reality with it. As the late sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, who I really wish was here to react to the rapidly cyborg-like technology advances, forebodes in his 1978 essay “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later“:
What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudorealities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.
Potentially, the technology of layering one reality over another offers tantalizing possibilities for the integration of information into our daily lives, like the way we already rely on Google maps to get where we’re going (Google is really ahead on all of this). Artists have already been experimenting with augmented reality, and Eyebeam Art+Technology Center is currently hosting a whole range of augmented visual possibilities in Gimme More: Is Augmented Reality the Next Medium? While I didn’t leave convinced that augmented reality is the next immediate medium, as glitches and the reliance on high cost technology (so many projectors and iPads) still makes it inaccessible to many, it did offer some intriguing ideas, and several that were just plain fun.
Nicolas Henchoz of the EPFL+ECAL Lab, a Switzerland-based design lab with the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne that encourages the intersections of technology, design, and architecture, directed the exhibition, which has previously been presented in an altered form in London, Milan, Paris, and San Francisco. The highlights for me were those projects that were immediately accessible and had some surprising changes to perceived reality. Liron Kroll’s “Last Year” had a table of family souvenirs that, when an iPad passed over, triggered an animation that brought out some type of memory on the screen (the above video is an earlier version without the iPad). A letter is overlaid with falling leaves, a portait comes alive. This adding of a visual on top of an object is already more and more popular at museums for their exhibitions, and is the most practical at enhancing experience if augmented reality continues to catch on. (For example the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco just launched an augmented reality app for its Terracotta Warriors exhibition.)
I also enjoyed the “Tattooar” where Cem Sever asked three tattoo artists (Mark Mussler, Happy Pets, and Thibaut Brevet) to create designs that, when you stood still in front of the “digital mirror” animated over the skin, such as a skull whose eyes suddenly became static and red. The altering of something so permanent as ink on skin with something as changeable as digital animation was interesting, and I’m sure there are many tattoo lovers out there who would be into an app that could expand on the meaning and designs of the art on their flesh.
Finally, Yuri Suzuki’s “Beatvox” was one of those projects that was just effective through being so enjoyable. Through a microphone, sound triggered the beats on a physical drum set. While all the other projects had their result of your interaction in some sort of digital form, it was more immediate to have it banging out in cymbals and drums in front of you, while still being an “augmented” version of expected reality.
So is augmented reality the next medium? It’s obvious from the work in Gimme More that it’s already being harnessed by several artists to expand the possibilities of visual and auditory interactions, and only time and more experimentation will show what place it has in the continuously evolving world of digital art.
Gimme More: Is Augmented Reality the Next Medium? is at Eyebeam Art+Technology Center (540 W 21st Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through March 2.