Experiments in AR – Case Study

4th Wall AR App

4th wall is defined as “a free, augmented reality (AR) public art platform exploring resistance and inclusive creative expression”. It was created by the mixed media artist Nancy Baker Cahill in partnership with app developer Drive Studio.

Nancy Baker takes her dimensional drawings on paper, and then finish them on VR and ends up translating them into AR and share them through 4th Wall, so the user “can create their own context and content with the works, locating them anywhere in the world”. In this version of the app, there are 4 different versions of her AR artworks and another page called Coordinates, which is a “curatorial and site-specific AR public art project”, where Baker installs geo-located artworks all over the world on public spaces, especially addressing political issues, such as frontiers.

I discovered this app while searching for augmented reality examples in the contemporary art world. Although AR is becoming more common in this context, with big international artists such as Marina Abramovic exploring it, I was expecting to find more cases than it actually happened. In general, I feel that the most common for contemporary artists is to translate to AR a work that could be done in another medium, but not reflect its potentiality as uniqueness in a more metalinguistic approach and critically engaged perspective.

I ended up choosing 4th wall because its creator has a declares politic approach to the project. In Nancy’s words “4th Wall serves as a way to collectively share an augmented experience without expensive or inaccessible VR headsets and technology”. Thus, it breaks the 4th wall of the traditional art space, such as a gallery, and allows everybody that has a cellphone to access its content from anywhere. Indeed, I’ve been thinking a lot about this power on accessing and creating AR with relatively cheap tools, especially after hearing this podcast, in which Zach Lieberman and Molmol Kuo point that as well as an interesting peculiarity of this medium. On the other hand, who will get access to the existence of an app such as the 4th Wall and how? It is accessible, but is the information that it exists enough accessible?

I find interesting that it is built in its own app because it can create a unique user experience that dialogues better with its own goals. If it was on Instagram for instance, more people would have access to it, but the user experience would be limited to the logics of another platform, not necessarily designed with the same intentions. How public or free is Instagram (considering, for example, the amount of compulsory publicity in it and data collected from the users) if compared to the 4th Wall app?

Video found in the project’s website

The experience is artistic and I found interesting experiencing her drawings in different spaces and interacting with them, entering them, kind of dancing the visualization of the drawing. Somehow you embody the body of the artist when visualizing it and can create different compositions with space, which kinds of makes you part of the process of creation. I guess this project is more focused on the art community as a target audience, because it has a more abstract approach, although it provides an experience that can be easily enjoyable for anyone slightly interested in art and tech.

Although the interface of the app is simplistic and does not look well elaborated, it has all the functions it needs and works pretty well – you can move the object with touchscreen, take a picture or make a video. I haven’t tried the geo-located ones, but feel like doing it, and the app kind of makes you feel it with a simple arrow pointing the way to the closest artwork and giving you easy access to a map with the exact location. This technical sophistication of geolocating the works and installing them anywhere in the world really makes me fill excited, although I have heard from people who have worked with it that it is not precise, so it works more for large scales, where you don’t need to be accurate with the location itself.

“Is AR breaking down walls”? The creator of the 4th Wall app answers yes enthusiastically. I agree but not completely. It has great potential, it can be cheap to create and if designed for mobiles, but it guarantees access just for those who have a mobile connected to the internet (which is not a global reality thinking about capitalistic catastrophes of poverty production). It also does not really open access to canonized art spaces – it creates other kinds of spaces, which has another kind of potential. At the same time, it still can interfere in an interesting way inside those spaces.

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