Sutu curates Prosthetic Reality at MOD.

Sutu (Stuart Campbell) is the curator of the exhibit Prosthetic Reality at MOD. Australia’s leading future-focused museum in Adelaide, South Australia. Prosthetic Reality brings together a collection of work from 45 artists from around the world, showcasing augmented reality artworks that combine sound and animation with print and paint.

Verse Magazine had the opportunity to ask Sutu a few questions regarding Prosthetic Reality and the new frontier of augmented reality art.

Sutu how did the partnership with MOD. come about?

We launched our Prosthetic Reality AR book about 18 months ago and the promotional video for that book went a bit viral online. It was viewed close to 7 million times on Facebook. I’m guessing MOD. saw it too and then reached out to us to inquire about exhibiting the work featured in the book.

VICE described this exhibit as “the most ambitious AR art project to date.” What does this exhibition mean for AR Art and artists?

Well at the time there wasn’t an easy way to create AR art. It still required a fair bit of programming knowledge. We really wanted to bridge this gap, so my business partner Lukasz Karluk and I decided to reach out to artists and offer them a go at using our technology to create their own AR art. What began as a call out to artist friends quickly grew into an invitation to artists all around the world. I had a lot of enquiries coming in so I set up a Facebook group to manage the conversation and guide the curatorial process. It was a lot of work to manage but it was also wonderful to see a community forming around the project and all the enthusiastic artists from all different walks of life sharing their ideas and approaches to making the AR art.

The exhibit was a new experience for me. I can only imagine what the future holds. Where do you see AR Art going over the next decade?

Oh man, I could talk about this all day… I actually wrote an online comic a decade ago called (I think it still works!) where I created a future city where an artist, using a chip in his head, is projecting his imagination on to a digital ether that overlays the City. We may not be ready for chips in our heads, but the next step is definitely glasses like the Magic Leap ML1’s, that can replace the phone for a more seamless view of AR content. The glasses are just the technical means for accessing the content and the content itself is going to go into some crazy territories. What I’m seeing a lot of at the moment is a convergence of art and various technologies. For example, if we are showing 3D AR art in physical space, we might in the future also tap in to BOM data to know where the sun is, to accurately reflect the natural light conditions to light up the art and cast shadows correctly so that reflect the natural environmental conditions and maybe we access wind data so that artistic objects in the scene could be flying in the breeze at the same speed as natural objects.

I think there will be more emphasis on shared experiences, making sure you see what I see at the same time and being about to interact together in those augmented spaces. And to make those experiences more believable we are relying on machine learning AIs, that assess the physical world in real time to ensure that your digital content respects the physical world properties i.e. when Pokemon Go came out there were a lot of Pokemon looking like they were half buried in the ground, but soon we taught the camera to recognise a surface, then we could at least make the Pokemon stand on top of the ground. And we’ve also taught the camera to recognise faces and bodies and body movements and identify body language i.e. the computer can recognise a person waving, so if you wave at the computer, maybe a digital character will wave back at you or if you look away from a digital animation maybe the digital character will notice and say, “Hey don’t look away, you need to see this!”

This kind of AI awareness is creepy, but also incredibly powerful for making more immersive art experiences and it’s becoming more and more accessible. I mean the fact that we can use an app like Snapchat to recognise our faces and attach content to our faces or heads (like some bunny ears) is pretty amazing – that was really hard to do just a few years ago on a powerful computer, now you can do it with a pocket computer.

One of the artworks that had the deepest impact with me was the soldiers with skulls being transformed into horrified faces. What do you think is AR Art’s largest strength compared to other forms of art?

Yeah, one of the strengths of AR is its power to provide an alternative perspective on reality. For example, maybe you’re reading a comic about gender dysphoria, the printed comic could show a young boy going through life, but then through AR you could see the boy represented as a girl or transitioning back and forth from girl to boy – the AR becomes a lens into the mind’s eye of the protagonist.

Augmented reality is starting to seep into a few different industries. When do you see AR being integrated into society at a large scale?

I think holding our phones up to the world is still a weird way to interact with AR, so as soon as we migrate to AR glasses the uptake will be much faster and provide a more seamless experience. And the glasses (like with the Hololens) can also be tracking our hand gestures to make it easier for us to interact with the AR content.

Can you talk about the relationship between the physical artwork and the augmented art?

I personally love this relationship between the physical art and the digital art. It creates an opportunity to bring the art to life but also to allow the digital art to provide a new layer of meaning to the physical art. The intention could be to provide a fun, magical experience or it could be to utilise the AR platform to introduce new information, for example, I recently AR hacked the front page of the New York times to overlay some ‘alternative facts’ for an exhibition at the Tech Museum of Innovation in the US.

Something that struck me whilst viewing the AR artworks at MOD. was the combination of traditional art, animation, sound, technology and design all going into one piece. Does this take a toll on the artist or is this an opportunity for collaboration with others?

A lot of the artworks in the exhibition were collaborations between artists, animators and sound designers. As the curator of the exhibition, I made a lot of introductions and tried to pair artists whose work resonated with one another.

So, is this the future of art?

Well, It’s one future of art. But within the broad umbrella of ‘AR art’ I expect there will be many augmentations utilising many different technical approaches.

Prosthetic Reality can be viewed free at MOD. on North Terrace, adjacent Morphett Street Bridge until November 2018. 

Words by Simon Telford

Images provided by MOD. and Man Cheung

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