Browsing articles tagged with " Rose Kennedy Greenway"

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.

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