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The Louvre is the Mecca of the art world. And its prized possession, of course, is the Mona Lisa. Last year, an experimental artist based his own artwork on Da Vinci's masterpiece. The viewer had to simply hold up a smartphone camera, tap a few buttons, and the Mona Lisa would come to life, raising her hands to don a head scarf in the colours of the French national flag.
New York-based Amir Baradaran is only one of many artists to have chosen augmented reality (AR) as his medium. His project, Frenchising Mona Lisa, sheds light on the naturalization of the Mona Lisa - a painting that's iconic of the Louvre and France, even though it is the portrait of an Italian woman, painted by an Italian artist.
"I use AR in art-making because it portends significant conceptual-experiential shifts, which relate to my interest in radical subjectivities, " says Baradaran. "AR object tracking alters spatial understanding. Further, it provides a platform for a new type of graffiti while leaving the physical space untouched, defying our notions of sabotage and vandalism. "
For his artwork, Baradaran shot a video of a woman, dressed up as the Mona Lisa, and then superimposed the famous painting's face onto hers.
This video was uploaded onto the Junaio (see box) augmented reality app. All a user has to do is download the app, search for the channel 'Frenchising Mona Lisa', and point it at the painting (or any other image of the Mona Lisa).
The Mona Lisa has also been a part of another AR art project. Her smile has always been mystically alluring, but point your iPhone's camera (loaded with the ARART app) at her and she winks mischievously, before her face crumbles apart to reveals Da Vinci's.
"ARART (Augmented Reality Art) lets a new story unfold, as if time trapped inside the painting had been stirred alive. It offers a glimpse into the hidden story veiled behind the painting, " write its Japan-based inventors Kei Shiratori, Takeshi Mukai and Younghyo Bak on their website, arart. info.
Then there's Johannes Vermeer's classic Girl with a Pearl Earring. Viewed through ARART, the 'girl' shyly turns away before casting a teasing look.
But while classic paintings go a long way in demonstrating ARART's potential, it is AR as a medium of art itself that artists find thrilling. The art project "seeks to employ mobile phones as a new platform of expression, connecting artistic creation with reality, " its creators say.
Japanese artist Dr Masayuki Akamatsu demonstrated this with his series of paintings, titled Uroboros Torch. When the camera points at a painting, it can play a video, made by the artist himself. In fact, different parts of the same painting activate different videos, telling a new story each time.
The first step to create such work is to register certain images in the ARART app, so that it can recognize them when the camera is pointed. "It's not a mark, such as a QR code, but the natural photo or illustration itself, " Dr Akamatsu explains on his blog, akamatsu. org.
Once the camera detects a part of the painting by matching it with the preregistered image, it gets to work 'augmenting' it. "By superimposing different images quickly, it looks like an animation is playing out on the painting, " he says.
Dr Akamatsu also uses sound to augment his work. When a certain image is detected, the ARART app sends a signal (over Wi-Fi ) to a computer in the studio or gallery. This computer plays back appropriate music over four-channel stereo speakers, installed near the ceiling of the exhibition space, creating an immersing experience for the viewer.
Another artist, Yutaka Kitamura, used ARART in his artwork "Flowering" that features plants recorded in high speed. In "Bloom Color", the paintings display flower buds and when the camera is pointed at the paintings, the app shows clips of the buds blooming into flowers.
LOCATING UNSEEN ART
Still, not all AR art is about pointing a camera at a painting. The two-year-old (Un)Seen Sculptures project in Australia is a mobile 3D AR show that displays art based on where you are, not what you are seeing.
"The type of augmented reality delivered by Layar (a free app available for major mobile platforms) is location-based AR. It came to prominence in the last couple of years with the arrival of smartphones with GPS, compasses and accelerometers, " write the organizers, dLux MediaArts, on their website, www. unseenscultures. com.
Sculptures by artists from Australia, USA, China, Netherlands and other countries are rendered in a 3D modeling tool like Maya or the open-source Blender.
These virtual sculptures are then placed in parks or famous landmarks that are "hidden from the naked eye but visible to anyone with an iPhone, Android or Nokia smartphone and an app called the Layar Reality Browser, " the organizers say.
Users can simply visit the website for geo-location data on where the AR sculptures are placed - and once they're at the designated location, they can simply point their phone's cameras to see the 3D artworks. What's more, when these artworks are "touched" (on the touchscreen, of course), further information about them is revealed.
Since AR relies on the virtual, not the physical, it can take the place of actual structures - or ghosts of them. 110 Stories (www. 110stories. com), for instance, is an art project by New Yorker Brian August. He and his team developed a "smARTphone" app that people can use to go back in time and share what the 9/11 attack took from them.
"110 Stories (named after the number of floors in the twin towers) lets each of us show and tell our personal stories and share them with the world, " August says.
Take for example, a post made by New Yorker Hermann Mazard: "I grew up in New York, went to school in New York, got a job in New York and partied like a real New Yorker. Since I can remember, the Twin Towers stood atop the skyline, overlooking my every move to make sure I wasn't getting in trouble. They were a constant reminder that someone is looking over me, whether I want them to or not. When I saw the Towers fall, it was like losing a parent. "
Once a person is at a place where the twin towers of old could be seen, holding the phone up will show silhouettes of the towers on the screen. At night, the outlines are made of shimmering light.
"These lost views conjure vivid memories in much the same way as hearing a favourite song from the past. 'Seeing' the towers come to life through your iPhone will transport you back in time, " August says on the project's page at crowd-funding site Kickstarter.
All the user has to do then is snap a picture and add a personal tale to make it to the website.
LAYERS OF AR
Layar and Junaio are augmented reality browsers for smartphones, available on a variety of mobile platforms, including iOS and Android. These apps provide developers with an ecosystem where they can add layers of virtual content to everyday objects. Users can then activate this content when they are at a certain location, or by pointing the phone's camera at a certain object that has been pre-registered as a 'marker' in the app. Layar and Junaio have been employed to augment product user manuals, magazines, and tourist attractions.
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