by Pallavi MehraSep 02, 2021
With the dawn of the COVID-19 outbreak ushering in an age of social distancing and self-quarantine, the hesitant progression of artworlds becoming more digital has accelerated to meet the unimaginable demands of the present. Gallerists and curators who had once acted as staunch bulwarks against the material decontextualisation that accompanies the virtual adaptation of many artforms have had to adapt to the inopportune limitations of the physical exhibition. Online viewing rooms, using tools as crude as basic slideshows to those meeting the sophistication of immersive videos, have become a staple mode of consuming art and with their ascent the fear that such distanced exposures might result in the numbing of aesthetic sensibilities seems to be more a contingent concern than simply a vacuous neophobia.
Yet, in this ocean of increasingly sophisticated modes for the digital thumbnailing of art, for more often than not virtual exhibitions are just that unless specifically intended for an online viewership; the still nascent technology of augmented reality could be an interesting window to art against the restrictions of space. Despite the obvious layers of reproduction, decontextualisation and reframing, the very same issues that are fraught in current online viewing rooms, that comes with the dislocation of artworks, the potential to relocate artworks, albeit through the screen of a smartphone into one’s immediate vicinity, brings with it a world of possibilities.
In recent months, two platforms, Acute Art, which is responsible for the virtual recreation of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Mastaba on the Serpentine lake in London, and Vortic, founded by Oliver Miro and currently working with a number of large London galleries, have been most prominent, yet another more fledgling enterprise might be the one to bank in on the promises of democracy that is often thrown around as a supplement to any organisational innovation in the arts.
Unlike other exhibition forays into augmented reality, ALL World stands out in its promise to facilitate self-publishing. Founded by artists Sebastian ErraZuriz and Zander Eckbald, the platform, which is still prototypical as its necessary technology is still in its adolescence, is motivated by an idealistic desire to keep the future of art within AR firmly in the hands of creatives.
According to ErraZuriz, “If we wait until all the parts of the puzzle are together, some corporation will build this. And the problem is that I don’t want Snapchat to be in charge of the future art world. Right? I don’t want Facebook to decide what has to be censored and what doesn’t in the world of the arts, et cetera. The only way to try and have the potential to have a platform that can continue to maintain some of the ideals of the history of art is to create a platform while there is still time and start creating a community of peers, to start creating a set of people who are all invested in protecting this together so that by the time all the parts are there it will be easier for everyone to experiment and the rewards of participating are much higher. If some other company offers the exact same thing, at least there’s a bigger chance you’ll say ‘no, no! It’s okay Facebook. I am happy with this artists’ community based one.’ And I think there is a benefit to that”.
“Augmented reality clearly seems to have the potential for anyone to create anything and place it anywhere they want and then be able to share it with everyone they want. And that for me presents a very interesting conceptual paradigm in which we can imagine a future in which the artworld would no longer be focused on living from a market obfuscity of very, very high prices in which you need to own a work of art but instead could shift to a market that was more similar to the other fields of art like dance or music or theatre in which people pay to participate in the art experience,” he adds.
As with any other new media, it will still be a while before artists flock to augmented reality in multitudes but its multi-sensory possibilities make it especially interesting if taken for itself. A striking example of this was a work released on ALL World by John Craig Freeman in the end of May, which allows for participants to traverse through the wet markets of Wuhan from where the current pandemic is known to have originated. The potential global resonance of Wet Market, Wuhan illustrates yet another contemporary phenomenon, which necessitates the creation of a transnational medium-based community as that envisioned by ErraZuriz. “We are in a moment in history where, for the first time ever, in human history, we are all sharing the same reality more or less and we are all sharing similar concerns, at least some of them, and a word like ‘Wuhan’ or ‘the wet market’ is something we have all heard but we don’t have an image to tie it to… and now along comes an artist who says, ‘Hey! I have this file. I think it would be interesting for to see’, and allow suddenly the possibility for a billion smartphones around the world and their users to walk through a space that has culturally become an important part of our everyday talk,” informs ErraZuriz.