Blurring The Lines of Realism: Vancouver's First Outdoor Augmented Reality Art Gallery

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Hacker Noon Editor, businesswoman, podcaster, and true crime lover

Earlier this week, I interviewed Ben Z Cooper (the Production Director for the Winter Arts of the Vancouver Mural Festival) on my podcast, The Art Hustlers' Studio. What made this year's Winter Arts so interesting was its use of Spark AR to curate Vancouver's first Augmented Reality Art Gallery (and Canada's second AR Art Gallery). Participants were encouraged to use their phones to scan QR codes in different locations across downtown Vancouver to pull up AR art created by local and international artists.

Using Spark AR to Curate an AR Art Gallery

This year, VMF helped connect creative artists with technical minds who helped transfer the artists' graphics into Spark AR. Ben and his team talked to each artist about their vision, intended impact, and how to make their art fit within Spark AR. Many of the artists had no experience with AR art prior to this gallery.

To launch the gallery, VMF put out an open call to any artist that wanted to submit a piece and got over 200 submissions. They narrowed it down and curated 24 art pieces across 17 locations across downtown Vancouver. VMF is proud to promote a diverse set of artists that participate in their festivals. These artists were from Canada, Vienna, Vietnam, and other locations. Additionally, 6 of these artists are Indigenous Canadians and VMF recognizes its work on the traditional unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlil̓wətaʔɬ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations.

At each location, there was a sign that had a QR code. Participants scanned these codes and were asked to use Facebook or Instagram to view the pieces. Most people know about Spark AR through using Facebook or Instagram. This is the same technology that is used to develop filters. Ben said that using this platform increased the accessibility of the festival, as most people are already using at least one of these platforms.

I also asked Ben about the limitations of AR art with Spark AR. This platform offers only a 4MB file size and less than a quarter-million polygons, so all the code must fit within the size constraints. The artist must also consider how the viewer is looking at the piece through their smartphone. With the sizes of the pieces in VMF's AR Art Gallery, you need to be standing 15-30 ft away from the piece to see the piece in its entirety. However, you can also come up to each piece and see the details from 1 ft away.

Creating AR Art

Casey Koyczan created a piece called Caribou 3020. His submitted piece speaks to the disruption of the migration pattern for Canada's caribou. He says, "This work depicts what a caribou might look like in the future after undergoing vast environmental changes and genetic mutations motivated by survival and reproduction."

I listened to Casey participate in a webinar titled "How Is Indigenous Storytelling Transforming Immersive Technology?" — it was hosted by IM4 Lab, an organization dedicated to supporting Indigenous artists and media professionals. Casey talked about creating his piece through Google Tilt first. Google Tilt is an open-source platform that offers the Tilt Brush, which allows artists to paint in 3D in a virtual room. From there, he took his idea to Adobe Medium. Adobe's platform is similar to Google Tilt but allows the artist to refine their piece further.

You can see Caribou 3020 in detail on Casey's Instagram page @caseykoyczanart

The VMF Winter Art AR Art Gallery ran from February 12-28, 2021 and was created by the Vancouver Mural Festival. I love VMF's stance on inclusion where they say they "believe that it is crucial to the cultural health of the City of Vancouver to create tangible and lasting visual evidence of the rich diversity of voices living and working here." With over 250 murals in Vancouver, 92% of their artists are local, 42% are women, and there are 45 Indigenous artists.

Listen to The Episode

You can listen to my interview with Ben Z Cooper on Episode 19 of The Art Hustlers' Studio. This podcast is dedicated to inspiring artists to turn their creative hobbies into careers.

In this episode, we also discuss crypto art, the way the next generation will view art & technology, and the importance of highlighting art from female artists, artists of colour, and Indigenous artists.

Listen on Spotify: PODCAST EPISODE #19 - Ben Z Cooper // Instigator & Production Director

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