1. Augmentation must emerge from the real world and/or relate to it
2. Augmentation must not distract from reality, but make you more aware of it
3. Augmented interaction must deliver a superior experience to alternatives, or better yet – there’s no alternative.
One of the latest genres in New Media art is that of Augmented Reality, or the overlay of digital content onto physical reality through the use of smart phones and computer vision. Marshall McLuhan heralded artists as early adopters of new technology, and the emergence of AR as an art genre is no surprise. Numerous AR works have sought to explore the expressive and critical possibilities of the technology, and groups like Manifest.AR have used this medium as a means of creative dissent through their Occupy Wall Street AR intervention. With AR a burgeoning platform for New Media art investigation, we will discuss the potentials and limitations of the medium, the history and context of work being done today, and the tactical potentials of AR as political intervention.
Over the last two decades, thinking about technology and activism, I’ve followed the process of embedding the former in the latter, and the evolution of a straightforward kind of cyborg activism with standard functionality: using email and social media to rally the troops, using SMS for coordination on the ground, spreading grassroots memes through websites, etc. The impact of technology, and the automation of the activist, is clear enough; with lower costs of coordination, grassroots movements at least Have A Chance. However much of the deployment of technology has, as in other fields of endeavor, fallen into the funding groove – we’re using computer-mediated activist approaches to fill the coffers of various organizations, large and small, and truly disruptive uses are rare.
The Occupy movement brought a new crop of activists to the table with open minds and (often) open hearts, and a commitment to disrupt established political machinations that exploit rather than serve. Occupy worked, not as an activist project, but as a movement-building enterprise, and it worked partly by using art and design to burrow into the collective psyche. Some of the more fascinating approaches that emerged within Occupy leveraged augmented reality applications to make points that are better driven by art than by polemics. See the example on the right.
So Patrick, one of my colleagues at Reality Augmented Blog, and I will be talking how AR, activism and art can support social and political movements. If you’re at SXSW Interactive this year, try to drop by.
Image: “Pool Hopping” at the Island of the Bull, Mark Skwarek.
Bruce Sterling and I are holding forth on the State of the World in our annual conversation on the WELL, with several other contributors joining in.
Speaking of art, the past, and its lessons for the future:
In my neighborhood in Turin, there’s a bronze statue to a statesman
called “Massimo d’Azeglio.” Massimo happened to be born a rich
Turinese aristocrat, but he always wanted to be a novelist and painter.
He married the daughter of the most famous novelist in Italy, and his
brother actually managed to become a painter.
Massimo himself never managed that. He wrote a few derivative
knock-off novels and he did a lot of weekend painting, but he happened
to be living in a time of national catastrophe and tremendous political
upheaval. So he enlisted in the cavalry, where he got shot in a
losing battle and never recovered his health. Then he got called into
politics, where the King made him Prime Minister because he was the
only courtier around who didn’t lie and cheat all the time.
Massimo is a great statesman and the father of Italian
Constitutionalism and all that, but I never stroll past his statue, and
in Turin I do that all the time, without a shudder of dread. That guy
was a born artist who was forced to become important because he was
never left alone to do what he personally wanted to do.
He put his bohemianism aside, and he became dutiful and responsible.
He made a big difference: he liberated a suffering people (for the
brief periods before they got stomped again), he forged a new national
consciousness, he signed a lot of budget bills, he sat around a lot of
smoke-filled tables with the rich and the well-born. The wife never
liked it much. There seems to have been a lot of trouble over that.
Massimo’s got a bronze painter’s palette and an open bronze book,
sculpted at the foot of his towering monument — ’cause his persecutors
knew he was an artist — but he’s never gonna be able to bend down
from his bronze heights of statesmanship and pick them up.
Given his noblesse oblige, I’m not sure that Massimo was ever allowed
an open choice about being powerful rather than being an artist, but
power is a form of bondage. No one who needs power and has it, ever
gets enough of it. Artists like to talk about their work, but powerful
people like to talk about their vacations.
To think that you can become powerful, and not become like that
personally, is like thinking you can knock back a gallon of Gentleman
Jack and not get drunk because you can write novels and paint. You can
write and paint, but that’s not what it is, that’s not what it means.
Another SXSW coming up; it’ll be good to see old friends and make new connections. The Austin Chronicle asked me to write something for their SXSW Interactive issue; that led to an interesing interview with cyborg anthropologist Amber Case, a longer version of which I might post here later. When “bOING bOING” was a magazine, I was an associated editor listed as “cyborganic jivemeister,” and the magazine I published, FringeWare Review, focused quite bit on “cyborging.” Originally a science fiction term, a mashup of “cybernetic organism,” the term represents a potentially huge field of study – how humans interact with, and how human experience is enhanced by, digital technology. If you’ll be at SXSW Interactive, don’t miss Amber’s keynote Sunday, March 11, 2pm at the Austin Convention Center, Exhibit Hall 5 (#SXAmberCase). Meanwhile after the interview was done she and I kept talking, and will be working on a project together, a blog on the subject of augmented reality.
Google glasses (or maybe we should all ’em Google Goggles) will be an interesting AR advance, more science friction happening now, if they do happen. Preview (aka rumor) at 9to5Google.
These glasses, we heard, have a front-facing camera used to gather information and could aid in augmented reality apps. It will also take pictures. The spied prototype has a flash —perhaps for help at night, or maybe it is just a way to take better photos. The camera is extremely small and likely only a few megapixels.
Bruce Sterling’s been “Visionary in Residence” again this summer at the Pasadena Art Center, where he’s been in cyborg mode, focusing on augmented reality, or reality augmented and mediated by computer-generated sensory input. Bruce has developed an application that runs on the Layar platform, called Dead Drops, inspired by the work of German media artist Aram Bartholl, which per Sterling is “all about hidden data revealed in real-world, three-dimensional spaces.” A Dead Drop is
an anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network in public space. USB flash drives are embedded into walls, buildings and curbs accessable to anybody in public space. Everyone is invited to drop or find files on a dead drop. Plug your laptop to a wall, house or pole to share your favorite files and data. Each dead drop is installed empty except a readme.txt file explaining the project.
It’s sorta like geocaching, where the cache is digital, and anybody who finds the drop can add to it. The application Bruce has developed is for finding and mapping the drops.