Art goes high tech

The Virtual Public Art Project is changing the rules of how art is displayed with virtual public works around the globe.

One can look around City Park in Bayonne, N.J., and see no sign of artistic endeavor. But within virtual space, the location is one home to various 3-D sculptures by Christian Meinhardt in his exhibition titled “Cargo.” Only with select smartphones like the iPhone or Droid can one see the hidden sculptures planted around the world by the Virtual Public Art Project.

VPAP officially made its mark in March 2010. Christopher Manzione founded the project. Manzione, as a M.F.A. student at Rutgers University, worked with 3-D modeling programs and wanted to get art from the computer out to the world for the public to see.

“I was interested in giving 3-D computer models real space,” Manzione said when asked about his inspiration for the project. “[A]fter seeing what Layar was doing with the phones it got my gears going, and it seemed the next logical step.”

Layar is an augmented reality browser that can be downloaded for free to any iPhone or Droid. The application is specific to phones that include GPS and compass systems. Augmented reality can be more or less defined as the phenomenon of seeing digital works within a real space.

Layar contains numerous other “layers” of augmented reality applications. One of the layers you can choose can reveal restaurant locations in an area you are unfamiliar with. As you pan the area with the camera of the phone, the application brings in digital icons to emphasize the areas you are looking for. VPAP has become one of these layers within Layar, only revealing public works of art rather than pinpointing restaurant locations.

Working with virtual space allows for a different kind of public art flexibility, as Manzione and his artists are able to place their works in any location around the world.

“I can build a model on my computer and place it to scale in Australia in a matter of hours,” Manzione said.

Placement at the beginning of the project stayed straightforward and simple, however, models stayed within high traffic areas for augmented reality viewers.

VPAP’s work has received a great response from the technology- and science-forward side of its audience. Manzione said that because it is still a very new approach to art, the projects will become more immersive as technology becomes more advanced.

However, in the past few months, VPAP has moved from presenting intricate models to placing thought-provoking art into its virtual space – speeding up the “immersive-ness” of the public art project. An upcoming exhibition titled “Drill, Baby, Drill,” featuring work by Justin Shull, will act as a reaction to the BP oil spill.

Another project in the making for VPAP includes the virtual replacement of the World Trade Center in New York City. Once the project is complete, viewers will be able to stand where the Twin Towers once stood and see a true-to-scale replica of the buildings through their smartphone cameras. The creator of the project is Meinhardt, the same artist of the current “Cargo” exhibition in New Jersey.

While some may see the upcoming projects of VPAP as controversial within the space of reality, Manzione said this was one of the angles to his project.

“‘What’s an acceptable kind sculpture?’ ‘Who owns virtual space?’ I wanted to bring up these questions with public art,” he said. “With the latest technology, a new conversation between virtual and physical space needs to happen.”

Amid its upcoming exhibitions, VPAP is currently working with Bread Board to give a call-to-artists in Philadelphia for both professionals and students. The project hopes to gain eight to 12 artists to add to its team, requesting not only portfolios and examples of work, but also proposals for locations of any 3-D models.

Nicole Welk can be reached at nicole.welk@temple.edu.


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