Watch London’s Cool, Quirky Augmented Reality Art Exhibit at Home

It hasn’t been a great few months for museums, what with the pandemic shutting many of them down and forcing the rest to greatly limit visitors. But a new, well-timed art exhibit went on display last month in London, and no reservations or masks were required.

Unreal City was an augmented reality art exhibit presented by Acute Art and Dazed Media. It took place along the Southbank of the River Thames, featuring 36 different “sculptures” that visitors could only see through a smartphone app.

Here’s how it worked: red buoys placed along the river walk indicated the locations of the digital artworks. Visitors had to install an app on their phones called Acute Art. Pointing their phones at the area around the buoys, they’d see the digital sculptures appear.

The artwork didn’t follow any particular theme, but rather consisted of everything from a giant, furry spider to a wriggling octopus to a levitating spiritual leader. Artists included Norwegian Bjarne Melgaard, Chinese Cao Fei, Argentine Tomas Saraceno, German Alicja Kwade, American KAWS, and several others.

“I want to use augmented reality to shape emotional connections with humans,” Fei told AnOther. “Augmented reality can re-enact what has happened in the past and provide an alternative to reality that is open-ended.”

AR is a medium full of potential for artistic expression. One of its key features is that it can be “on display” almost anywhere, to anyone with a smartphone. This seems especially relevant during a pandemic, when we’re trying not to be around a lot of people in enclosed spaces—but take away the pandemic, and AR is still an exciting way to democratize access to art.

As exhibit curator Daniel Birnbaum put it, “This is a glimpse of a totally new way of communicating art, making art available to very large audiences.”

The potential audience for Unreal City is even larger now, as the exhibit was extended and made available to viewers from home; through February 9, you can download the app and place the digital sculptures in your own living room, or on your front lawn, or really wherever you’d like.

“We’re trying to … realize ideas that artists have and that they couldn’t realize in more traditional mediums,” Birnbaum said. “In a century there are often one or two new mediums being introduced. AR and VR represent the first new artistic mediums of this century, so of course artists are interested.”

Image Credit: Acute Art/KAWS

Vanessa Bates Ramirez
Vanessa Bates Ramirez
Vanessa is senior editor of Singularity Hub. She's interested in biotechnology and genetic engineering, the nitty-gritty of the renewable energy transition, the roles technology and science play in geopolitics and international development, and countless other topics.
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