(Un)seen Sculptures: Warren Armstrong

April 6th 2011


Proust once described memory as ‘real but not actual’. Hard to say it doesn’t exist, but impossible to see with the naked eye. It’s kind of like the 'Miracle on 34th Street' Santa Claus defense – you’ve never seen a million dollars, yet you know it exists. (Un)seen Sculptures, an augmented reality exhibition opening at Surry Hills Festival this Saturday, plays on this strange world between fact and fiction – the seen and the unseen. I caught up with curator and AR artist Warren Armstrong for a chat about reality, technology, and psychotropic toads.

FBi: Can you describe for the Luddites among us what augmented reality actually is?

Armstrong: (Un)seen Sculptures consists of a series of 3D virtual works, 14 in all. Each of these is being given a specific geo-location, so what happens is when you rock up to one of those locations with a smart phone, the phone’s got the GPS in it, so it works out what its location is and then it says 'ok, there’s a piece of work here, I’ll display that on the camera view'. So basically you hold up the phone, you’re seeing what’s on the camera and then you’re seeing the work superimposed on it, and it can work out what angle you’re looking at it from by the compass and whether you’re tilting the phone up and down from the accelerometer and things work based around that.

So what are some of the works we’ll see at Surry Hills Festival this Saturday?

Ok, some of the stuff we’ll see. We have a singing virtual tree, we have a Notitiaviridae Internets, the virus that causes internet addiction, we have a series of characters from a traditional Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet, we have an infestation of colour-changing, psychotropic toads, we have giant sculptures made out of cargo containers, which were inspired by William Gibson. Um, what else? There’s so much in there. Um, an 18th century GPS device.

This technology is reasonably new to the art world – I’m interested in how it can be used. I know there’s been some interventions into galleries. Could you talk a bit about the potential of this kind of medium?

Oh look there’s a lot of potential for intervention because you don’t need permission to set these works up. All you need to do is know the geographic locations of where you want to put works up and you just put the works there. One of the first big international shows of this art happened back in October of last year, it was called We AR in MoMA, and it was basically just two artists who decided they wanted to create an augmented art exhibition in MoMA. They didn’t bother getting any permission or anything, they just got a whole lot of international artists to submit works, and they placed them inside the gallery, and people just rocked up with their phones and saw them. So there’s plenty of potential for that. You can put anything anywhere. This group of artists is working on this piece called Sea of Tweets. What you do is send a Twitter message with a hash tag in it, a message of support for people in Japan, and what he’s going to do is attach each of these messages of support to a little origami paper crane, and the origami paper cranes are each going to be


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