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Art and architecture plays with reality

Madeleine Dore

What role does Augmented Reality play in the future of art, architecture, and the sustainability of future spaces?
Art and architecture plays with reality

Concept for Moon Calendar, 2014, Abdul-Rahman Abdullah at Subiaco pARK via

The realm of possibility for Augmented Reality (AR) is endless. From alleviating phantom limb pain (PLP), to transforming the way we window shop, our interaction with reality is shifting, and artists and architects alike are evolving the future of public space.

Felix Laboratories (Felix), the innovative architectural design team chosen as Australia's representatives at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, are a prominent example among those pushing boundaries between architecture, art and technology.

The Augmented Australia 1914 – 2014 exhibition, curated by Felix, is adding a futuristic tint to our nostalgia. ‘Architects can tell us how our world could be. This exhibition shows how our world, back in Australia, could have been,’ said Ambassador Mike Rann’s in his speech for the opening of Augmented Australia.

Launched alongside this year’s Sydney Architecture Festival, the virtual exhibition – radiating out across Sydney from Customs House – is a tour of 22 unbuilt historical and contemporary projects from around the country. From an alternative vision for Sydney Opera House, to Australia’s new pavilion under construction in Venice, Customs House is set up with trigger images for each project. The exhibition's app, Augmented Australia, brings to life real-world scale 3D models positioned around the city and at Parramatta.

Architects are not alone in their exploration of the disruptive potential of augmented technology: artists have been incorporating the technology into their practice for some time, and a new genre of art is steadfastly emerging. 

As covered by ArtsHub earlier this year, Sydney-based web developer and new media artist Warren Armstrong created (Un)Seen Sculptures, ‘a mobile 3D augmented reality art show’ designed to be a virtual version of the iconic Sculpture by the Sea exhibition.

In 2011, artist Amir Baradaran used an AR app to project a short performance, Frenchising Mona Lisa, over Leonardo da Vinci's iconic Mona Lisa.

Melbourne artist Alison Bennett used AR technology in the exhibition Shifting Skin to create 3D landscapes from her subjects tattoos, skin and scars


Shifting Skin by Alison Bennett via

While there are some prominent trailblazers, Bennett told ArtsHub that she is surprised by the slow adaption of AR in both an art and the commercial space.

‘I think it is really curious that it isn’t perhaps as widely taken up as forecasted … perhaps it’s a failure of imagination,’ said Bennett, ‘Or it might be that they haven’t quite met with the desire for how people wish to engage with the augmented reality.’

The team at Felix may hold the key to audience engagement, working in collaboration with the City of Subiaco to transform Theatre Gardens into a sculpture park ‘with a difference’ as part of the Perth International Arts Festival (PIAF) program

Commissioned as part of the City of Subiaco’s public art program, eight Western Australian artists have been invited to develop AR artworks that respond to the landscape, design and architecture of the gardens to create what will be called Subiaco pARK. Audiences will be able to experience Subiaco pARK via an app on a smartphone or tablet, and challenge how they experience nature, public space and art.

ArtsHub spoke to curator Gemma Weston who said the project will be a way to activate Theatres Gardens and get people culturally engaged with the picturesque surroundings.

‘Augmented reality hasn’t really taken off in the way other platforms of digital engagement have in the arts, it’s still relatively niche,’ said Weston, ‘We wanted to look at how to make it accessible to a public that isn’t that familiar with it,’ she said.

Working in collaboration with Felix means that a diversity of artists can participate, from traditional sculptors to artists that may be little more digitally focused.

‘Everyone has chosen to work with AR in really different ways. Some are taking on Felix 3D modelling and others have produced their own content using just text, stop-motion animation, and different kind of methodologies within that,’ said Weston.

An authentic integration of art, technology and landscape is essential to ensure the use of AR in an artistic context doesn’t fall prone to being treated as gimic by audiences and programmers alike.

Bennett has witnessed the tendency for AR to be used as a way to attract audiences, ‘I was invited to contribute to an exhibition and they wanted to have AR but didn’t actually have any rationale as to why, other than it seemed cool,’ said Bennett, ‘It was done as an interesting idea rather than something that makes sense for the project.’

How does Subiaco pARK intend to transcend the initial novelty of AR? Weston said that while it’s useful to play to whatever strengths of the medium there are, above all the artworks need to be site-specific and engage with the architecture of the park.

‘I have been really wary of just dropping things into the landscape that kind of override the actual experience of being in it,’ said Weston.

Paving a new genre of art and site-specific work is just one of the exciting bi-products of AR. The sustainability aspect is inherent in both architectural and artistic projects.

‘Even though the works are site specific, there is potential for a touring exhibition without the logistics of freight and all those kind of things,’ said Weston, ‘It is really useful for public projects as you are not restrained by the cost or environmental impact that you would think about if you are producing a permanent sculptural exhibition.’

Sailing through the centre of Harry Seidler’s 1952 design of the Melbourne Olympic Stadium in Sydney Harbour, one can see the sustainability potential of AR technology.

‘The built environment is facing some critical issues in the near future. In the sustainability and climate-change space, architecture can be considered a “waste management” issue, given building life-cycles can be as little as 30 years,’ wrote Rene Van Meeuwen, Director of Felix, for The Conversation.

‘One of the implications of augmented reality technology is allowing the creation of a hybrid building – half physical, half soft (or virtual).’

It’s been an interesting, futuristic ride collaborating with Felix, ‘The team at Felix Lab are like mad geniuses. They really kind of tested the possibilities with Augmented Australia, so when we ask, “What can we do?” they say, “Anything and everything.’”

‘It is really exciting, but also a little bit daunting in a way,’ said Weston. ‘Now we have just go do it!’

Augmented Australia 1914 – 2014
Walks beginning at Customs House
AugAusAustralia app can be downloaded from iTunes or Google Play
October 31 - December 15

Subiaco pARk
Theatre Gardens, Subiaco
Launch in early 2015

About the author

Madeleine Dore is a freelance writer and founder of the interview project Extraordinary Routines. She is the previous Deputy Editor at ArtsHub and dedicated to communities that encourage entrepreneurial and artistic careers. Follow her on Twitter at @RoutineCurator