City of Subiaco - Interviews
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Q&A with Subiaco pARk curator Gemma Weston

nullThe application of augmented reality (AR) may seem a little sci-fi to some people. How do you think people not familiar with AR technology will react to this new way of experiencing art?

Digital technology is already so ingrained in our daily experience that I think, although ‘augmented reality’ sounds  futuristic, the experience is very much of the ‘now’, and is in a lot of ways quite similar to how we view our world already; filtered through phones or tablets. The app itself appears quite simple and easy to navigate, and that experience should also be quite familiar, and the artworks themselves deal with quite ‘earthly’ themes and ideas. There’s definitely an element of ‘sci-fi’ in there, but there’s also plenty of reality.

The object of a traditional curator's concern necessarily involves tangible objects of some sort, whether it is artwork, collectibles, historic items or scientific collections. How does a curator's role change when the 'objects' are invisible to the naked eye? 

These works are still ‘objects’, even if they don’t behave like them – they have specific qualities and contexts, specific intents and even ‘histories’ –  they create situations and relationships through viewing. The medium has its own requirements, but the approach is still similar, I think. In a sense a curator is always working from context, and also working to create context.  A nerdy fact – the Latin root of the word ‘curator’, ‘curare', means ‘take care’. In the same way that the WACA or the MCG has a curator – someone that cares for and maintains the turf – you’re trying to create the best possible circumstances in which artists and/or objects can perform. 

How do you see augmented reality technology developing into the future, and what territory do you think is yet to be explored in terms of art?

This is definitely not my field of expertise! I do think, though, it will be very much dependent on how the hardware evolves, and whether or not AR can become essential and integrated with our daily lives.  At the moment it’s quite a niche area, but perhaps if the process and tools of creation become democratised in the way that photography has, and if the hardware can take full advantage of the relationship between content and reality, we’ll see it take off in a big way.

What kind of audience/s does the augmented reality sculpture park appeal to? Is it mainly art enthusiasts or technology enthusiasts?

Because it’s located in a public space that already has its own audience and community, I hope it can have broad appeal, and be meaningful to people outside of an art or tech audience in the way that physical public art might aim to be. There’s a lot of different angles, or points of access, so hopefully there’s something in there for everyone.

Why was Theatre Gardens chosen as the spot for the augmented reality sculptures?

It sounds cheesy, but Theatre Gardens is my favourite thing about Subiaco (other than the Earthwise opshop and the markets and Jean Claude’s Patisserie). It’s a beautiful park, but I honestly didn’t pay much attention to it before I started working on this project, but I love going there now – it’s peaceful and shady and wonderfully tended, a really great mix of plants and features, and the Subiaco Arts Centre is a really interesting building.  I didn’t choose the location for pARk, but I think that might the intended result – that Subiaco pARk can bring the park to a new audience and re-imagine it for old friends, but without the considerable environmental impact that physical public sculpture at a similar scale might have. That was why it was so important for me that the works engaged with the location rather than just plonking themselves over the top of it.

What question do you get asked the most in relation to this project? 

I often get asked about how long the works will exist for. They’ll be there in some way forever, but you’re working against software upgrades and planned obsolesce, so perhaps that’s a theoretical answer only.

When people visit Subiaco pARk what would you like them to think and feel as they walk through and interact with the sculptures, and what would you like them to take away from the experience?

I think we use our screens a lot of the time to escape, so I hope this has the opposite effect, I hope it’s a way of tuning in to our environments, built or natural or something in between. I don’t want to prescribe what people think and feel about the works, but I hope there’s room for contemplation in there, that the works will stay with you beyond their novelty. I hope people come back again, for the works and for the park.

Q&A with Rene van Meeuwen from felix. (lab)

nullThe application of augmented reality may seem a little sci-fi to some people. In your experience, how do people usually react to this new way of experiencing the world?

At first people seem skeptical and concerned about the models jumping about a bit. But after a little time experiencing the AR models when the GPS tracks correctly people get the power of the experience. This is all still relatively new technology and every year the resolution and tracking gets better and better. Google Glass, for whatever reason is still in development, however Microsoft have released their version of glasses to better experience AR.

What was it like working with the artists on the Subiaco pARk project and do you have a favourite artwork?

As a Director of Felix and as a Assistant Professor at the University I have become a true champion of collaborative processes, while it takes more time and more effort the results are always far better when many minds focus on the tasks at hand. Working with artists is always a fantastic experience. Artists bring things into being, concepts and ideas. Working closely with the artists to transform those concepts into augmented reality models and experiences was a great experience. I think everyone who experiences the park will appreciate the wonderful talents of the artists and the curatorial experience and knowledge of Gemma Weston. 

How did working on the Subiaco pARk project differ from other projects Felix has been involved with such as the 2014 Venice architecture Biennale?

I think for Felix, working on a local project is always rewarding because our very own community benefits from the public nature of such an event. I think the other exciting prospect is to see how the children will enjoy the sculptures. All of the pieces are playful and will be enjoyed by all that participate. The other advantage of working at Theatre Gardens in Subiaco is we could test the models insitu. Working in Venice from our Perth office was interesting because we had no idea how the models would look until we got there. The other great aspect of this project and thanks to those at the City of Subiaco, is the sculpture park is absolutely free to all to participate. Therefore, I feel like Felix has contributed to the city's public space and amenity. 

When people visit Subiaco pARk and use the specially designed app, what would you like them to take away from the experience?

I think that the important part of the app in this circumstance is to be able to experience art and understand its value as a part of our built environment. Our parks and gardens are also very important public spaces for community to merge and experience. The most important aspect of the app is also to promote these amazing young artists. Their exposure in the Perth International Arts Festival will hopefully help their careers and help them to further explore ideas and concepts through their work.

How do you seeing augmented reality developing into the future?

AR is effectively environmentally immersed internet, therefore rather than sitting at your desk in front of a computer or sending text messages from your hand held device, I think AR will spacialise information. There will most likely be less screens in the world and a whole lot less hardware. From the point of view of architecture maybe we can build less and augment more.Felix is committed to sustainability so we are constantly looking for new ways to reduce carbon footprint and material waste. If AR can reduce waste by three-dimensionalising what we normally build or make, rather than throwing it in the bin when it's finished, that would be awesome.

Are there any other comments you would like to make about the project?

Once again to thank all the participants, the City of Subiaco for allowing us to further innovate our technology and create a cool public experience.

An interview with Simone Johnston, Artist

nullSimone Johnston is the artist behind We are all of us always moving – one of seven artworks that can be viewed as part of Subiaco pARk.

Can you tell me about your work and what inspires you?

My interdisciplinary practice often focuses on the way people both consciously and sub-consciously arrange themselves within a public space to rest without intruding on the personal space of another, to establish temporary spatial ownership, or to provide opportunities for new interactions.

My work entitled ‘We are all of us always moving’ for Subiaco pARk plays on the conventions of constructed public space and directly references two public benches within the park grounds (near Bagot Road). These two awkwardly placed benches become a platform from which to view and consider the work. Utilising mechanisms appropriated from children’s pop-up books, I have created structures, which unfold, and pop-up from the existing park surroundings to enclosed the viewer in a private room.

Suggested moments of contemplation provided by the arrangement of public benches, subtly create an illusion of privacy and ownership in an otherwise communal space. The considered placement of such benches often locates them in areas of seclusion, offering a particular view of the park and further framing ones experience of the public space. Felix’s expertise in 3D modeling has allowed me to create a work in which the viewer can be both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ these private pop-up spaces. Small windows offer a glimpse into the outside world and subtly direct our focus to other park users.

Do you have any influences?

We are all of us always moving, appropriates mechanisms from children’s pop-up books and references temporary architectural spaces, such as tents and marquees.

Have your been working with AR technology long?

This is the first time I have worked with AR technology. The opportunity to collaborate with Felix Lab has allowed me to shift my interdisciplinary practice into a new unexpected direction. The ability to realise and animate this idea through AR technology has overcome previous limitations of scale, as physical restrictions of weight and material no longer apply.

What are people's reactions generally when you explain your artwork uses augmented reality?

People seem fascinated by this project – augmented reality is such a new technology that many people are still largely unfamiliar with (myself included prior to this project).

The artwork itself remains quite an abstract concept until you actually experience it on site. When I explain the premise of my work to people, they are generally perplexed as to how a 3D structure viewed through a small screen will appear to exist within a physical environment. The idea of then being able to be both inside and outside this animated structure is also quite abstract until you actually experience the work.

Can you talk us through the process from conceptualisation to creation and working with the app designers?

Creating a new work for pARk was both an interesting and challenging experience. After submitting an initial application, we were asked to present a storyboard to demonstrate the full experience we were hoping to achieve with our work. I had numerous discussions with both the Curator Gemma Weston and Felix to get a clearer idea of what was achievable with AR technology and how my work would actually function into this medium.

I provided Felix with 3D models of the pop-up structure to demonstrate how the pop-up mechanism unfolded and would need to be viewed both from the exterior and interior of the structure. I also provided drawings and digital mock-ups of the models inserted back into the site of the Subiaco Theatre Gardens, along with surface textures and sound samples. The work was designed to locate directly over two awkwardly placed public bench seats located near the Bagot Road end of the park. The structures were designed to the scale and layout of the benches, with a small window located in each structure to direct the viewer’s focus to a third bench off in the distance.

Testing the functionality of the App on site to see how it functioned within the space was an important part of the process for my work as it was particularly site specific. This was also the first time I was really able to test what the experience would be like for a viewer. Once the test app was live, Felix were able to tweak finer details to more accurately locate the 3D animated structures within the space. Due to the complexity of the technology and methods of GPS locating, there were a few details, which were unable to come into fruition for this work, such as tethering the structures to unfold directly over the benches etc.

Working with Felix and gaining insight as to how a 3D animated structure is built within this technology was of particular interest to me.

How has working with AR changed the way you would normally work?

Creating a new site-specific artwork for pARk was both an interesting and challenging process.This presented a new way of working for me as I was essentially designing a tangible 3D mechanical object or structure (in the form of small models, drawings and photo documentation) in order for the work then to be translated back into a work that can be viewed and exists only through a mediated device or screen.

The collaborative process with Felix was also a very different way of working for me. I design and tested the work, which was then built in AR by Felix, so it was quite a hands-off approach in regards to the final outcome of the work.

The opportunity to collaborate with Felix Lab has allowed me to shift my interdisciplinary practice in a new unexpected direction. For some time I have been considering using pop-up mechanisms to create structures which can be easily carried, concealed and then unfolded to pop-up and temporarily occupy a significant area of space with in a public realm. The ability to realize and animate this idea through AR technology has overcome previous limitations of scale, as restrictions (e.g. weight of structural material) presented by creating the physical structure no longer apply.

In your opinion, how will augmented reality technology impact the art world in the next five to ten years?

I think there are really exciting possibilities for augmented reality to filter through the art world in the next few years. The ability to animate a 3D object within a particular environment and be able to walk around it and really get an idea for how the structure might interact, alter or affect the location is pretty impressive. It also has the capacity to offer a new life span to contemporary public artworks, as they have the capacity to change or be altered according to how spaces are being used and interpreted.

How did the park setting of Theatre Gardens influence the way you work?

Creating a site specific work for this constructed public space was of particular interest to me as the site directly references the transitional urban spaces and resulting social interactions my work often derives from. Much of my previous work focuses on the way in which people both consciously and sub-consciously arrange themselves within a public space to rest without intruding on the personal space of another, to establish temporary spatial ownership, or to provide opportunities for new interactions.

For pARk, I wanted my work to play on the conventions of constructed public space by referencing the subtle private / public tensions already created by the park’s layout and environment. Public spaces such as the Subiaco Theatre Gardens always intrigue me for their suggested moments of privacy and contemplation whilst at the same time provide a platform for people watching and unexpected encounters.

An interview with Loren Kronemyer, Artist

nullLoren Kronemeyer is the artist behind Understory – one of seven artworks that can be viewed as part of Subiaco pARk.

Can you tell me about your work and what inspires you?

My work is driven by the idea of interspecies communication. Making art that can be perceived or shared by other species is my dream.  I am interested in how humans can channel our creative impulses to transcend the physical, temporal, and sensory limitations of our bodies. This is often a futile and absurd exercise, but one I am intent on pursuing. I also like making art that is ephemeral or extremely durational, and that corrupts time and our perception of our bodies. Every day I think about the apocalypse, so I am always trying to justify making creative actions in a time of chaos.  

Do you have any influences?

I grew up around science, and I am heavily influenced by scientific observation. I draw a lot from the field of behavioural ecology, the study of animal behaviour and adaptation in response to ecological pressure.  Many of my works interact directly with other species and their unique abilities; this necessitates conducting rigorous scientific research in order to realise the works and understand the animals participating. I was lucky enough to grow up with lots of people showing me things, a fact which contributes to the work I make today. There is a long list of artists related to drawing, the body, performance, environment, and conceptualism that I am always thinking about.

Have you been working with AR technology long?

This is my first project working with AR technology. Up to this point, I have found real reality to be a sufficient context for my work, maintaining a critical distance from the augmented reality milieu for superficial and ideological reasons. But when the opportunity arose to work with AR, I thought maybe I should follow through with these criticisms and see if I could make a work that used the tech on my own terms. I don’t shy away from technology, but in my own work I prefer to have technology be in service of concept, not the other way around.  Many augmented reality works I have seen are driven by the novelty of the technology itself, plopping virtual artworks into a screen-based environment without creating a relationship to place, the viewer, or their own virtuality. I wanted to make something that felt organic and had visual longevity, but that also was enriched by being contained within a mediated screen experience.   

What are people's reactions generally when you explain your artwork uses augmented reality?

Most people are familiar with this technology at this point, so it really depends who you are talking to. People’s minds jump to different reference points depending on where they’re coming from. We all have many daily screen-based experiences, so there is a lot of shared cultural territory there. It has led to some interesting conversations, and at some point all of them involve miming that we are holding screens and looking at something.

Can you talk us through the process from conceptualisation to creation and working with the app designers?

When meeting initially with the amazing designers of Felix Lab, their advice was, 'We will tell you what we can’t do rather than what you can do'. They really empowered my to let me imagination drive the project and its format, giving me the freedom to pursue whatever ideas I felt most stimulated by. Very quickly I arrived at the idea of my project, which involves using live insects to create drawings that are embedded in the environment. Using photography rather than digital graphics was important to me, because I wanted the work to feel very real and like it had longevity beyond the state of digital rendering technology in 2014.

The next step involved ensconcing myself in the studio to create the three videos that are now part of my work Understory in the pARk app. The methodology I used to create these videos was developed in 2012 as part of my masters thesis MYRIAD, in which I manipulated ant trails to create text and drawings. For Understory, I used three different species of insect and annelid to create living drawings that take shape on the pavement. Creating these videos was a long process of trial and error, as often occurs when working with other life forms and their varied needs and lifecycles. They are very handmade, and you can see the dynamic between my influence and the insects’ will play out quite clearly. Eventually the videos came together and I handed them off to Felix Lab.  From there it was their own process of building the app and embedding the content, a process with its own complexities and hurdles. Working with Felix.has been a pleasure for me. We share a lot of common interests and I could tell they were very invested in staying true to my initial vision. Through their tireless efforts, the pARk app was brought to life.

How has working with AR changed the way you would normally work?

Strangely enough, the majority of the work I did on this project didn’t deviate at all from my usual studio practice.  I gave myself the job of creating the content, which was captured through my old friends video and time-lapse, and Felix Lab had the job of embedding it in the pARk app. Doing a work like this would be impossible for me without their collaboration, since I am severely inexperienced in the world of coding and app design, so I benefited a lot from their expertise. Going forward, I am broadening myself to think of how future collaborations like this could help me extend my work in new directions.  

In your opinion, how will augmented reality technology impact the art world in the next five to ten years?

I wonder how grand the impact of AR technology will be in the long run. If augmenting something means adding more to it, then artists have been augmenting reality since Neolithic times. AR technology provides one more novel channel through which to send ideas, but it relies on the familiar tools of sound design, animation, and graphic design to create its content. Proficiency with those tools is essential to making a high quality AR work, and in many ways AR serves just as another venue to bring art made with those tools into our lives.  

Artists are always early adopters and subverters of technology, so I think that many artists who pioneered AR are already moving on to new realms. Many artists are leapfrogging over augmented reality and pushing into purely virtual spaces. There is a generation of artists now who grew up and were educated with purely digital content, who navigate that as its own limitless world.  Ideologically, I welcome this. Why make physical things that consume resources and litter the environment, when we can just leave corporeal space entirely to transmit our ideas digitally?

But of course, it is the undeniable attraction to physical experiences and phenomena that keep us grounded. So I think the harder technology pulls us away from the physical, the more forcefully people will be drawing in the opposite direction, seeking radical experiences built with the body and in our terrestrial world.

Augmented reality inhabits a funny middle ground between these extremes: lets take our familiar friend reality but overlay it with a scrim of information and content that makes it more – more what?  More interesting?  More data-driven? 

One of the most intriguing aspects of this project for me was learning about how AR ages.Through AR, a digital map of the world is accumulating that is littered with virtual objects: out-dated projects, experiments that are still tagged to their geo-locations, content that didn’t catch on or wasn’t meant to. It is also a very delicate technology, as I learned, and needs constant tweaking and updating to remain functional within the operating systems that run it.  What is the longevity of this technology, and how will its accretion function over time? I have talked to many older artists who saw their bodies of work become obsolete, with archives of Betamax tapes and the constant job of transferring old content into newer platforms. I embrace AR as ephemeral, and look forward to its digital decay.

AR has the potential to infiltrate everyday life more deeply, empowering certain people or behaviours. It primarily reaches the people who are financially able to access the technology it relies on, so there are limitations there, and that chasm will grow wider as AR moves off of smart phones and onto ever newer devices. The deeper we become embedded in AR, the more creative artists will have to become with how they respond to it, hopefully in more reflective and critical ways.

How did the park setting of Theatre Gardens influence the way you work?

The Theatre Gardens attract a wide audience of all sorts, people young and old. This inspired me to make something playful and humorous, something that could be appreciated by anyone but that also had a bit of magic to it independent of the work’s technological complexity. I wanted to appeal both to the teenager whose life is saturated with phone-based experiences, and to the elder who finds them foreign. I also wanted to make something that drew the audience into a unique physical position. A lot of AR experiences involve standing, holding your screen at eye level, and sweeping around the landscape with it, so I was happy I got to make something small and detailed that you have to crouch to find.

Are there any additional comments you would like to make about the project?

There was a lot of love that went into creating the park, and it was a massively collaborative experience in many ways. The council has a lot of foresight to hire visual artists to create the works in collaboration with app designers – having artists drive the content gives the entire experience a bespoke and affectionate quality.These works are coming from a diverse array of artists and practices, most of who are working in AR for the first time, which is significant. These artists were curated together by the wonderful and knowledgeable Gemma Weston, who did a remarkable job selecting works that fit together yet function as discreet entities. The stars at Felix Lab, who are at the top of their game, had to shoulder a massive burden collaborating with such an eclectic group.  They managed to do so with respect and grace and humour throughout, as have all the parties involved. As an artist I have felt entirely deferred to through the whole process, and that is a good feeling when you are covering new territory in your practice. I hope audiences enjoy the experience, and that it opens people up to new worlds and possibilities.