Arts & Theatre

Prosthetic reality: living art

How augmented reality is breaking down the walls between viewer and art.

At the Ayzenberg sp[a]ce gallery in Pasadena, the art on the walls are coming to life. A still illustration of a rural house is suddenly engulfed in a dust storm, a Japanese village is destroyed by a wave and a fish swims off of its dinner plate. Each artwork in the Prosthetic Reality exhibit is animated through augmented reality (or AR) technology and sound elements, which can only be experienced through your phone on an app called EyeJack.

Prosthetic Reality, curated by AR and virtual reality (VR) artist Sutu (Stuart Campbell), peeks into the emerging world of art and technology. The free exhibit, which is open until December 8, showcases work from over 40 artists and sound designers from around the globe. The sp[a]ce gallery, which identifies as a non-profit project, has featured several mixed reality (AR and VR) art exhibits in the past, making it a mainstay in the emergence of interactive museums.

Sutu, who curated and created some of the pieces, said, “AR alters the artwork in real time, presenting an interesting juxtaposition of digital and physical art, which then compels the viewer to compare and analyze what the new AR layer means.”

The EyeJack app enhances the artworks with color, sound and animation that provides varying degrees of narrative to engage viewers. Visitors’ phones become a magic window into a hidden world, where illustrations have a life of their own. One of Sutu’s own pieces shows a character in the middle of a post-apocalyptic scene, staring at an undulating electric forcefield. The ominous music and buzzing creates a haunting atmosphere and paints a fuller picture of what that hidden world may be.

Inge Berman, artist and fan of the Prosthetic Realities exhibit, describes AR art as a “really beautiful form of contemporary expression [that] brings the digital world into the real world.”

“It’s almost like a secret to be uncovered,” said Berman.

The genres of the pieces range from spooky to playful, cyberpunk to celestial and conjure up images from manga, storybooks and mythology. All are waiting to tell their own story.

One of the most impressive pieces is a panoramic collaboration between artists Kozyndan, Ckoe and Tom Gerrard called “Battle on the River Tyne.” The drawing features dancing robots, humans with horse heads on top of their own heads and glob creatures all coexisting in a chaotic or lively world depending on how you look at it.

“I’m personally interested in more shared AR experiences, where people are seeing and interacting with the AR artworks,” said Sutu, “I like the idea that their collective interaction influences the art experience and acts as a conduit to engage interest and bring people together.”

Nancy Baker Cahill, a mixed reality artist, also realizes the capability that AR has in bringing people together to form conversations. She was part of 2019’s Desert X, a site-specific contemporary art exhibition held in the Coachella Valley and was also one of the sp[a]ce artists last year. She takes AR art a step further, literally and figuratively. She is the creator of a one-of-a-kind app called 4th Wall, which takes compelling art completely out of the museum space.

4th Wall, which launched in 2018, is free and gives users the chance to view different artists’ artworks at certain locations through their phones. The app showcases thought-provoking pieces geo-located throughout the world, 10 of which exist in the greater Los Angeles area. With tips on the best vantage points, 4th Wall then lets people view the thematically-relevant pieces superimposed on the landscape, which becomes a part of a visceral experience.

The works elicit conversations around political, social or environmental issues that haunt the locales. One of the pieces featured on the app is artist “Tzolk’in”, a mechanical sculpture of a metal pyramid inspired by the Mayan calendar. It is a commemoration of Claudia Gómez González, a migrant who was killed moments after crossing the border.

One of the pieces on the app called “Unprotected” is Cahill’s own. Located in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, the drawing depicts an abstraction of a mangled body in the midst of struggle. The piece was enacted on the app after the Kavanaugh hearings and before the swearing-in of the new Supreme Court Justice. The name, “Unprotected,” signifies how female bodies are still not guaranteed equal protection because the Equal Rights Act was never ratified into the Constitution.

“These conversations may not always be productive, but they are conversations nonetheless,” she said.

With creations like Prosthetic Reality and 4th Wall, the possibilities of AR look promising, whether it’s making art more fun and immersive, or deepening the meaning of a piece.

“Not only can AR present a new layer of art, it can also be used to present information about the artist and their artwork,” said Sutu, “the app can also act as an appendage to the artwork, it can save information, allow you to link to websites, or allow you to record your experience.”

For Baker Cahill, one of the goals of her art is to get people to “think about the why of the piece [and to] bring people together and form conversations.” AR is a medium that is able to manifest these thoughts and interactions. “This could really change everything if the world is your canvas,” said Baker Cahill.

Prosthetic Reality: A Collection of Augmented Reality Art is open until Dec. 8 2019 at 39 E. Walnut St. in Pasadena. More information can be found here.