Layers of Vision, 1: Art and Technology in Environment

Once upon a time, many thousands of years before the internet, there was public performance. It was part of the whole culture then, part of pre-literate memory — gathering around the fire, telling stories, singing songs, passing on the history of the community.

09 Barn Dance - Bonfire

Once upon a time, hundreds of years before the internet, there were public performance and street art, grafitti and broadsides and soapboxes (oh my). Except, well, for graffiti, that’s been around pretty much as long as there have been people, to express political views as well as personal.

Blood in the Streets

I’m not thinking of performance art in the sense of formally sanctioned art performed in public spaces for a select audience, like operas or string quartets or ballets (or even works by official performance artists, such as “Color + Form + Frequency = Memory and Dreams”). Nor am I thinking of collaborative activities that are less performance than play, such as maypole dances, fairs, and festivals, even though those will certainly include public performances.

Dancing in the Streets 2010Dancing in the Streets 2010

I’m thinking more of things like a cross between street performers and flashmobs and slow poetry, in which individuals or communities bring a message to the public through art, in which they attempt to reshape perception of that public space or their message within a public environment.

Slow Poetry:

In the above video of slow poetry, David Morley has embedded poems in a nature walk, allowing passersby to engage with the space in an unexpected way, ideally to slow things down and to shift perceptions of the space, to engage the passerby in deeper thought about the space and its meaning. The idea of hidden treasures is similar in many ways, especially treasure hunts in which each “treasure” contains a clue leading to the next. Those are ideas that have been in play, like graffiti, also as long as there have been people, but which are now taking on new forms directly due to technology, and those forms have drastically expanded over the past couple years and show no signs of even beginning to slow down.

David Brin describes one possible direction for this in his new book, Existence.

“Viewing the world through some virt overlayers, you might see the city transformed into fairy-tale castles with leering gargoyles lining the roofs. Or everyone overpainted with cartoon mustaches. On one coded level, all clothing would magically seem to vanish, replaced by simulated flesh, while supplying unsuspecting pedestrians with exaggerated ‘enhancements,’ all by the design of some prurient little snot. On another, Post-it tags reported tattletale rumors about any person who walked by….”
Brin, David. Existence. Part One: Slings and Arrows, ch. 3. Sky Light. NY: TOR Books, 2012, p.21.

David was talking about this on his Facebook page, resharing a link I’d sent him about something now that sounds very much like what he described in his novel.

Graffiti goes virtual with augmented reality app LZRTAG

I’d encountered previous iterations of this concept, many of which never built up enough traction to take off, such as Krikle. I’ve been keeping an eye on the whole AR idea (AR = “augmented reality”), both tools and ways people are using it.

On David’s Facebook page an extended conversation leapt into being (as usually happens with ideas David shares), with an initial emphasis on, “Oh, no, not more graffiti and spam to avoid.” Here was my response.

“The thing is that this can be made incredibly useful as well. Really. I’ve been checking some of the Layers made in LAYAR (aka Hoppala) and lobbying for the library to create embedded historical layers that would allow people to stand in a location and browse its history through time. That’s one example. The alumni donor folk wanted people to stand in a location, browser recent publications & current ongoing research, get a button to donate to support the scholars in that space. Heavily used in Wisconsin is ARIS, the free open-source alternative to SCVNGR, which is being used by academics to create historical or scholarly tours, by students to create games. People can embed both art and poetry in public spaces, but only accessible to those with the software. This is really pretty cool stuff! As David said in his book, there can be puerile layers that you ignore, advertising that you block, games and treasure hunts and challenges, and pretty amazing creations by performance artists branching out.”

So graffiti? Is taking on a whole new life. What I’d like to do is take time for another post or two to look at some of what is going on in this space, and brainstorm a few ideas for how it might apply to education, libraries, healthcare, and research. If you want me to talk about anything in particular, or have questions, please note those in a comment.

Conformity is the New Pink


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