Browsing articles tagged with " #BCF2011"

Mark Skwarek and “Occupation Forces”: Augmented Reality on the Greenway

May 13, 2011   //   by van Gelder   //   Blog  //  Comments Off on Mark Skwarek and “Occupation Forces”: Augmented Reality on the Greenway

On Saturday, May 7 a giant crater opened in the middle of the Rose Kennedy Greenway where Atlantic and Purchase Avenues hit Congress Street. Strangely, the cars and pedestrians that passed took no notice, nor did they seem to respond to the rays of light and energy the crater emitted. They passed quickly, in an attempt to avoid the rain that came soon after. Similarly, the creatures that ringed the crater and stood along an additional seam that had opened parallel to Atlantic Ave. took no notice of the pedestrians, either. While I may have seen these parallel events occur on Saturday, these two worlds have existed in the same place and conformed to the demands of the same shapes and lines Boston’s buildings and streets create for weeks before my visit.

In fact, the images described above have lived on the Greenway since the beginning of the Boston Cyberarts festival as a part of “Occupation Forces”, a work in augmented reality by Mark Skwarek and Joseph Hocking. The two work with a larger, New York-based group known as Manifest.AR, who appeared in art news and on my radar with their guerilla installation at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. The group relied on the same technology (GPS-driven software that superimposes images created by the artists in the real world at a particular set of coordinates) that they used for the MoMA show to create both the Manifest.AR show at the Institute of Contemporary Art and “Occupation Forces”, which viewers can see with the assistance of a sufficiently fast smartphone or tablet device with the same software installed. Holding up the device as one would a camera, the accelerometer inside detects the direction and inclination of the viewer and responds on the device’s screen with a 3D animation specific to that position. The system sends and receives the data to a separate server in real time, as opposed to storage of the image information on a application that lives on the device.

The whimsical work that results, while certainly fun in concept, seems somewhat strange and disjointed in its application and reminded me of the days when special effects first hit the movies. Additionally, I had to rely on another individual present at the tour of the Greenway and “Occupation Forces” because even my 3G iPhone didn’t have the necessary technology for the software that the work needs. Thankfully, that other individual was Mark Skwarek of Manifest.AR and one of the work’s creators, who spoke very frankly about the present limitations, and the future potential, of the augmented reality genre when I met him.

“This is the 8-bit version of AR” Skwarek said, in reference to the early, Donkey-Kong era days of console games like the original Nintendo. “Now those games almost duplicate reality.”

While Skwarek readily admits that AR projects still lack the polish that movie viewers and gamers have come to expect, he suggested that the viewer see current AR projects as a snapshot in an iterative process that will eventually arrive at still unimagined results.

“We are at the birth of this new kind of art,” Skawerk said. “If we can duplicate reality the way that video games can in real space, then it’s up to the artist to just create anything, because we have unlimited potential to make what we imagine.”

Improvements in AR will rely on better geolocation technology before it arrives at the point Skwarek describes. Presently, the geographic and elevation data that represents a point in 3D real space moves or shifts within a few feet in any direction. Until devices can rely on more precise data, images will continue to seem out of place. In addition, Skwarek notes that while we can calculate information about the appropriate light and shading (which give AR forms in real space or in the movies their lifelike and realistic qualities) based on location or time of day, AR creators will need far faster data transmission to communicate such massive amounts of information.

For my part, I have a conflicted relationship with this kind of art. I love its potential, but I also love the ethic of public art and wonder how one can describe as “public” anything that requires a $400 device. Although my talk with Skwarek didn’t necessarily respond to these concerns, it did give me a better insight into an individual committed to the creation of this work and his total admission that we haven’t seen anything yet. Even a cursory glance at the last thirty years of art and the strides made by graphic designers, photographers, sculptors and printmakers with the help of technology affirms that Skwarek makes a good point.

For more on the now concluded 2011 Boston Cyberarts Festival, please visit the festival website. For more on Manifest.AR and their upcoming projects, click here, and for Mark Skwarek, here. Interested persons can view “Occupation Forces” at the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway through May 24th. Get the software and device requirements here.

Where I Live

May 7, 2011   //   by van Gelder   //   Blog  //  Comments Off on Where I Live

"Dream Sequence - Doran" Where I Live - Alison Kotin in partnership with Urbano’s Teen Curators


Where I Live is an interactive sound installation featuring the voices of teens of The Urbano Project, a Boston based youth not-for profit arts organization.  Under the guidance of Alison Kotin, the aim of this installation is to “promote civic engagement through works of art that address issues of our time.”

The installation does address pressing issues in our society. It addresses the crime and violence that are plaguing our streets and taking the lives of innocent citizens on a daily basis. In an indirect way, it also addresses the lack of attention paid by local officials to peripheral urban areas and the teens and adults that inhabit these.

Using motion tracking software and an overhead camera, the participant in this installation is confined to a square demarcated by four columns in the center of the gallery and black tape on the floor. It is within this space that we as participants begin to experience the effects that growing up in an urban environment have had on the teens behind Where I live. More than anything, I believe the installation stresses the importance of arts education in lending a voice to those without political power or political awareness in our communities.

“We all need to support the arts” says Former U.S Attorney General Janet Reno in a report sponsored by the United States Department of Justice. “In doing so, we are telling America’s youth that we believe in them and value what they can be.[1]” Consistently throughout our educational history, arts education, in particular in public schools has been neglected and frowned upon.

Art classes offered in urban schools are seen as a waste of tax payers’ dollars, often leading to the partial or complete elimination of art programs in many of our nation’s schools. As a result of budget cuts, small community based youth arts organizations like The Urbano Project have taken on the role of bringing art education to inner city young adults, performing the work that schools, in my opinion, must do to better our society.

Studies sponsored by the United States Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, American for the Arts and other highly respected cultural policy and arts advocacy organizations, have demonstrated that community collaboration through the arts has had a more far-reaching effect on youth at risk than any other youth programs in the United States. These studies have consistently emphasized that participation in the arts by young people, in particular those living in poverty stricken inner city neighborhoods, brighten up communities and inspire and equip young people with the tools needed to make positive change happen in the world.

Organizations like The Urbano Project most often include participants who have never had any formal training in the arts and also come from families who have never been exposed to cultural institutions and related arts activities growing up. This is the case for most students who attend the Boston Public School systems as I did. Because most of these organizations are founded with the mission of serving inner city youth and other underserved populations in major cities, their impact extends far and beyond their participants, an impact that is often difficult to quantity for policy makers.

The gallery in which Where I Live is installed doubles as an office and reception space, detracting from the intensity and even more powerful impact that this interactive sound work could have had on participants who experience it.

Where I live is a perfect example where communities engage in the process of creating social change through art making. This installation demonstrates that kids are the heart and soul of organizations like The Urbano Project; they identify the problems in their communities and bond together to make change happen. This is exactly what Where I live has achieved. It has given a voice to teens “not heard or heeded by adult policymakers.”


Written for the 2011 Boston Cyberarts Festival; read more by Anulfo Baez at The Evolving Critic.

[1] Pederson, Julie and Adriana de Kanter, et al. Safe and Smart: Making After School Hours Work for Kids, United States Department of Justice (December 1999). 1.

River Street

May 5, 2011   //   by van Gelder   //   Blog  //  Comments Off on River Street

River Street Tower Still #16, Daniel Phillips, 2010. Courtesy of the artist.

A site specific installation in Hyde Park by Daniel Phillips, River Street fosters an enriching cross-cultural and multi-generational dialogue between people whose memories are encapsulated in the built environment and “outsiders” like me who might be interested in learning about the architectural, industrial, social and natural history of the site in its present state.

According to Dolores Hayden in The Power of Place, historic places help citizens define their public pasts and trigger social memory through the urban landscape. Hayden investigates the concept of “place memory” through philosopher Edward S. Casey’s formulation, in that place memory “encapsulates the human ability to connect with both the built and natural environments that are entwined in the cultural landscape.”

River Street is installed on the former site of what was until 2004, the oldest operating paper mill in North America. Built on the Hyde Park side of the heavily polluted Neponset River, the history of the Tileston-Hollingsworth Paper Company extends as far back as 1733.

Besides its social and industrial history, the site of the mill complex was architecturally significant until recent years when it succumbed to demolition’s wrecking ball. The firm of W. Cornell Appleton and Frank A. Stearns (Appleton & Stearns), and later members of the illustrious Boston architectural firm of Peabody & Stearns, designed an 1890 “handsome” Georgian Revival office building which is no longer extant. In its present state, the remaining scars resulting from the demolition of the site evoke a sense of loss and nostalgia of an era gone-by.

River Street is a multi channel video projection composed of thousands of photographic stills shot on site by Daniel Phillips. For every one and a half minutes of video, it is estimated that approximately 900 photographs are used to create a time lapse moving image. Each photograph captures the passage of time, the crumbling death of the last remaining buildings on site and the slowly renewing life of the Neponset River Reservation. Projected on the loading bays of a dilapidated water pumping station, River Street triggers our memory by capturing those moments that vanish before our eyes. Moments like ice melting from the branches of trees or the rhythmic flow of the river or the transient life of the graffiti in the area, allow us to visually connect the past with the present. Experiencing River Street is to experience a feast for the senses.

A collaboration between the artist Daniel Phillips and Finnard Properties; the current owners and developers of the site, this one night installation of River Street was presented in conjunction with the Boston Cyberarts Festival. The installation on Saturday April 30 attracted many members from the Hyde Park and Dorchester communities. “It was wonderful, breathtaking, unbelievable” says Adrian of Hyde Park, “This is my community, of course I had to be here tonight.”

Written for the 2011 Boston Cyberarts Festival; read more by Anulfo Baez at The Evolving Critic.

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