How busy are you? I guarantee you that, no matter how much that may be, Brooklyn-based, new media artist, Mark Skwarek, is busier.
Not only does Skwarek teach 3-D gaming at NYU Polytech and pursue his own artistic career, the 33-year-old Bushwick native has also curated and participated in exhibitions across the globe that employ an amazing bleeding-edge technology called AR—augmented reality.
Simply put, augmented reality is a software that allows 3-d images, sound, text, and animation to superimpose themselves over the live video feed that commonly comes through the lens of your iPhone camera (any smartphone or iPad will do). When you’re experiencing augmented reality, these days it probably means you’re walking down the street holding your smartphone up in front of you, at arm’s length, as though you were about to take a picture; instead, however, you’re reading, grooving, or otherwise listening to stuff you see on the viewscreen—while you’re viewing real life. (A word of warning: watch out for cars, people, and other bump-into-able things when you do this. It’s wicked cool.)
Last month, Skwarek, and another amazing Bushwick AR artist and curator, Will Pappenheimer (who teaches New Media at Pace University) installed a show at Williamsburg’s Devotion Gallery called “Gradually Melt the Sky” with more than 20 AR-based artworks.
I had an amazing time checking out an even-more-real world through my iPhone4 viewscreen—including this project by Skwarek called “Parade to Hope” which you can see below through Mark’s Android:
[Below are a few excerpts from our talk. You’ll have to get the print version of the WG if you want to read the whole thing. Caution: deep dish stuff, this.]
Sarah Schmerler: Is all art that’s created with AR essentially subversive? It seems like AR artists are grooving on the medium’s amazing potential for making people blink and think twice about all sorts of stuff—social and institutional—they see around them.
Mark Skwarek: No. I think AR can go across the whole range of experiences. Eventually people with huge budgets of 20 million dollars are going to be producing things that are jaw dropping, with great resolution, they’ll be integrating with our reality so completely that it won’t be subversive.
Will Pappenheimer: Well, yes, I do think it has a strong element of subversion right now. The dominant artists that are doing AR would be the interventionists, and one of the reasons for that is that the technology, frankly, isn’t there yet. At an early stage, during the break of any new technology, artists when they get hold of it, often think up interventions or “culture jamming” or ways to challenge the technology. It’s like when the Portapak video camera came out in the 1970s.. When that accessible apparatus became available artists started taking it into their studios they started self broadcasting.
Can you describe some of the elements that are marching right now in Mark’s “Parade to Hope”? Where do they exist right now, and where they might be going?
MS: Well, it started here with a canyon at the intersection of Maujer Street and Lorimer; that’s where the parade originally emerged, from a volcanic cloud, the one you saw. Then, on April 8th at 8:40PM at the opening we had a ribbon cutting, and the parade began to advance. The last it was seen it had entered a ramp of the BQE, and we currently think it’s headed towards I-95. But we know it’s heading towards Boston and the ICA where it’s part of a show we [are] doing there on April 22nd along with other members of our group called ManifestAR.
You’ve mentioned before that AR art is really quite physical, despite all this theory. Can you explain?
MS: You actually have to go to the site and install the work, you have to tweak it, document it, demonstrate it, engage with so many people. You go back and do a test run, check the signal. AR gets me out of the house a lot.
What can you tell the average reader is truly real and meaningful about AR? How can they relate to it, how can they internalize what you’re doing?
WP: What we do is being described both as being programming (technical), and also as being an event in the world. Lived experience is mediated. Lived experience is the same as the Online experience. So, for example, the “Parade to Hope” that Mark is doing is both the idea and the lived experience.
MS: There’s a lived experience and at the same time there’s a programmable experience. but there isn’t a just a machine and there isn’t just lived life. Both are the same. It’s like when you’re searching for something Online, you’re searching for something in your life. And the search of ‘hope’ is a universal search, a commonly held search. At the same time, it’s something you might search for on the Web. So, as the Parade goes forward, it searches for everything in its vicinity. As I understand it, it’s programmed to do Google searches for “hope,” and, as the parade passes the actual locations it’s in, it then incorporates the images the people it’s passing have have about “hope.” In the South, let’s say, people might associate “hope” with fireworks, so fireworks will join the Parade.
WP: Yes, that’s very true.
MS: Another thing I can say to people that I know is that when we ultimately find “hope” we’re going to throw a big party—it’s going to be great.
Will and Mark’s show, called “Gradually Melt the Sky,” was at Devotion Gallery, 54 Maujer Street