Improved reality

Who does not like, or at the very least, is intrigued by the idea of augmented reality? That technology, simply defined by Julian Oliver in his talk for TEDx, as “providing add-on’s to reality” – a sort of digital-induced positive version of the Sixth Sense through a lens… suddenly you have the power to see something that other people can’t. Thus, I believe that augmented reality inherently enables a personal and private experience of an environment, it allows for a sense of discovery and childish delight in a virtual vs. real “spot the difference”. It subsequently excites and interests me as a form of communication, but as Oliver stresses its capabilites lie as a means of expression, rather than purely as a “tool mistaken for a purpose”. In fact, Oliver argues, augmented reality works best when it improves reality, which brings him on to his next point – his open dislike of advertising. Oliver is clearly not a fan.

He describes advertising as you might do an evil sea-monster (one arm and leg later). He calls it an “infestation of our daily lives” that runs amock and out of control, “violating” our public space and, more chillingly, our visual celebral cortex (“or cognitive surface area”). He quotes a German magazine comparing adverts to “a new kind of dictatorship that one cannot escape”, even if questionably the consumer is never physically compelled to listen. Oh and he also admires Sao Paulo… the Brazilian city conspicuous for its lack of billboards, although New York’s Times Square fortunately escapes his critical tirade. However, the main poster-child of Oliver’s argument is the supposed loss of public control and ownership of the commons – a lack of “writable” (as opposed to readable) space on the faces and facades of our cities. He entertains the interesting question of –

“What parts of our public spaces are open for authorship?”

Literally meaning “where can we exercise self-expression?” tied with “How can we close our minds to advertising?”. His answer, or more correctly experimental response, is artvertising – the replacement of images with a condition to sell, with those with a capability to wow. What I subsequently find less convincing about his work is his insistence on art and advertising as apparently polar forms. My understanding of the two is a lot more murged – a belief that both have the potential to elicit a powerful response, and stem from creative thought (that elusive ‘big idea’). However, the concept of the “artvertiser” still fascinates me and, as potential future “advertiser”, terrifies me at the same time.

The Artvertiser is essentially a software platform for replacing billboard advertisements with art in real-time. It works by teaching computers to ‘recognise’ individual advertisements so they can be easily replaced with alternative content, like images and video, which are then visible through a hand-held device. The Artvertiser therefore functions by successfully linking the programming and ‘rules’ of technology, with the freedom of expression typified in art. As such, besides offering a new platform for public art, The Artvertiser’s main mission is to highlight the contradiction of public space in the context of what can and cannot be written on the surface of our cities. The only problem is that you have to peer through some retro-looking binoculars to see it…

Augmented Billboards 2: The Artvertiser @ Transmediale 2010 from Julian Oliver on Vimeo.

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