Augmented Reality: The Political Potential of Hybridized SpaceMay 14, 2014
Locating Technology considers technology and artworks in rather broad terms, such as: mechanical objects, analog and digital photography and video, and computer and web-based work. Through these types of works, writers explore the evolution of technology and its effects on artists’ processes, disciplinarity, and the larger social context of media creation, dispersal, access and interactivity.
Artists have long used approaches like elaborate and surreal narratives and phenomenological or physical experiences to explore the breadth of reality. At its most basic level, reality is a physical or social interaction with a string of consequences that extends beyond oneself. Artists, philosophers, scientists, and technologists continue to unravel reality as a complicated matrix of self and perception. The emerging technology of augmented reality (AR) creates hybridized spaces that merge virtual objects and narratives with the everyday space we inhabit. As AR develops solutions for the many real-world issues it faces (like application, ownership, access, adoption, and format), these issues affect AR’s artistic and political potential.
Using smartphones,1 AR participants scan a Quick Response (QR) code or AR symbol to interact with virtual objects that appear superimposed on the everyday world through their phone’s screen. Unlike two-dimensional images, AR objects are vector-based renderings with X,Y, and Z axes—the same type of data used in 3D printing. Moreover, artists and designers assign global positioning satellite (GPS) coordinates to their objects, placing them in a meta-space that overlaps the tangible space users occupy. Users’ phones coordinate their GPS location with that of the AR object; as participants move through space, the virtual images on their smartphones shift in perspective. As its name suggests, AR attempts to augment, which on a rhetorical level is an improvement made through addition. In contrast, its technological cousin virtual reality (VR) attempts to simulate, which allows designers and artists unlimited freedom to create the context for their narrative or experience. While apps like Layar2suggest that AR is an additional level placed upon reality, it is actually a hybrid space that merges users’ real, physical embodied location with the virtual and visual experience.
...participants choose their role as either lunar revolutionaries or terrorists.
Like in a video game, Scott Kildall and Mark Skwarek’s Moon v Earth (2012) uses AR’s role-playing potential to explore differences and similarities between civil insurrection and self-defense. Included in the AR exhibition Moon Lust (2012)3 at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago,4 Moon v Earth draws on the planetarium as a site for observation, wonder, and technology. The artwork’s narrative begins with the moon declaring its independence from the colonizing control of Earth. Kildall and Skwarek provide users with AR objects like, a home-built catapult for launching rocks at Earth, military spaceships, lunar architecture, and a tattered lunar independence flag; participants choose their role as either lunar revolutionaries or terrorists. The definition of a revolutionary or a terrorist is frequently a matter of who wins the war and writes its history. In war, all interests—be they government militaries, independent guerrilla fighters, or religious militias—use notions of justice and liberty as justification for their actions and as rhetoric in recruiting support. Moon v Earthdraws on AR’s increasing integration into video games. A pejorative consideration of gaming as pure fantasy ignores the use of game-like simulations in military training and the remote piloting of weaponized and intelligence aircrafts. Underlying their fictional narrative, Kildall and Skwarek pose questions regarding alliance and historical perspective through the seemingly benign model of games.