Apple AR artists adapt to new mediums for a worldwide takeover – are you ready?

New Museum on how the Apple [AR]T Walk was put together in a collaboration of creatives and code.

There may be a lot of talk in Adobe circles about WIP iPad versions of Photoshop and tablet-friendly drawing apps like Fresco, but we at Digital Arts are more excited by the prospect of Project Aero, an AR tool which we got to play around with at last year's Adobe MAX conference.

Exploring an Alien poster made by artist Dan Mumford on his iPad alongside mushrooms and dinosaurs taking over the screen of an iPhone was a pretty neat experience, and a nice example of Adobe working well with its Californian neighbour of Apple.

I was reminded of Aero on a recent 'art walk' organised by Apple in London, where, armed with the iPhone X and a pair of expensive headphones, I was led to various landmarks in the city to view AR art installations by the likes of Nick Cave, Carsten Höller and Cao Fei (below).

The [AR]T Walk as it's called is co-curated with New York's New Museum, whose director Lisa Phillips and artistic director Massimiliano Gioni were approached by Apple to select the six artists involved in the project. Deputy director Karen Wong and NEW INC director Stephanie Pereira then selected the artist educator for the coding lab to create the perfect harmony of artistic vision and technical wonder.

"The artists were chosen last spring following a few criteria and considerations," Karen tells me by email when I ask how the talent was selected by New Museum.

"First of all, we thought of artists whose work already engaged with technology or with its metaphors and the impact that digital culture is having on our everyday life. Artists whose work engages with technology or more broadly with different images of the future.

"We also thought of artists with whom the New Museum had already collaborated with in the past, so that the project could function also as a small overview of what our program looks like.

"More broadly, we picked creators whose works share a kind of surrealist approach to images and to reality: we were interested in artists experimenting with a kind of everyday, digital surrealism, which we thought could be best embraced by this new AR technology."

Whilst the creators had previous digital art experience, the complex nature of putting together AR spectacles meant this was no walk in the park for those involved.

"AR is still a very new technology and requires quite complex procedures, so there was a fair amount of complicated exchanges between the artists, the museum and Apple who all had to collaborate on the realisation of the pieces," Karen explains.

"As often happens with new emerging technologies, artworks are really the result of intense collaborations. The artists conceived their pieces, often by presenting sketches and ideas that were either very much analogue and physical, or very abstract and conceptual. They couldn’t simply sit down and start writing code or jot down their AR ideas.

"As such it took months and months to translate ideas or physical objects into data and programs, and then have the approval and the feedback of the artists who in turn edited, improved or changed their creations, until they were satisfied with the results."

Karen wouldn't say these are challenges unique to AR, though, seeing it more as part of what happens when artists tackle new methods.

"In a sense, it's not that different from when an artist works for the first time in bronze, having to work with a team who translates their ideas into a new medium.

"Instead of bronze and monuments there were data and gigabytes and images and films to be loaded and edited and transformed, or objects to be scanned and animated," she writes. "The final results may appear simple but took the collaboration of dozens of people."

Considering the same six experiences have been adapted to six different locations around the world, it's impressive how smooth and simple the Walk comes off. Apple worked in collaboration with the artists to curate a route in each city that worked best, finding spaces that showcased the different features of each piece, for example the sky above Trafalgar Square, where John Giorno's words float from the iconic water fountain into the sky (as below, AdBlock off).


Watching their pieces, the Apple device in your hands becomes almost irrelevant at times, showcasing a nice triumph of art over details. The main exception though is Cao Fei's comment on impersonal capitalism, where nearing your iPhone to her droid-like factory workers not only lets you see smaller details, but also makes her industrial-style soundtrack ring louder in the ears.

The importance of audio in AR is one slowly dawning on creators, with the brains behind Björk's new interactive album for example seeing it as an 'editor' of sorts, the viewer's sole sense of direction in a 360° landscape.

It also helps when emotion is involved, and the inspiring beauty of seeing John Giorno's poetry against a blue summer sky is what art should be all about: to stir the emotions, no matter the medium. With Apple working on AR patents and a proper release of Adobe Aero somewhere on the horizon, digital artists everywhere would be wise to learn new tricks too.

The Apple [AR]T Walk started in August and is available as an Apple Town Square experience in San Francisco, New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong, and Tokyo.

Read next: Björk's new VR album shows emotion and audio are the future of the medium

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