I had the great pleasure and opportunity to ask artist, John Craig Freeman, a few questions regarding his art practice and work. Below, you will find some wonderful answers that include his perspective on the trajectory of public art and art as intervention. In addition, Freeman will be doing an artist talk at the SOMArts Cultural Center Thursday, March 29th! Lastly, there are spots left if you are still interested in taking his Augmented Reality Workshop this weekend. Please click here for more information.

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Dorothy Santos (DS): What was the impetus for you intermingling virtual art objects as interventions into physical space? Is there even room for translation to occur? Cognitively, I find it fascinating the way visual information is processed and what occurs when the two (virtual interventions and physical objects) are mixed versus an actual translation (i.e., virtual to physical, physical to virtual).

John Craig Freeman (JCF): My interest in public art as intervention precedes augmented reality technology by more than two decades. In 1990, I created “Operation Greenrun II,” which consisted of eleven 10′ X 40′ bitmap images on billboards along Highway 93 at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Colorado. This project demonstrates an early interest in emergent technology as art practice and public art as intervention. Intervention in in both institutions of high culture and intervention in government policy and the institutions of the nation state. Think of the media as a kind of virtual reality, which of course it is, that can be intervened in. The decision to shutdown Rocky Flats was made in 1991, during the media firestorm this project was created, proving that art does have a role to play in tangible political change.

Whereas the public square was once the quintessential place to air grievances, display solidarity, express difference, celebrate similarity, remember, mourn, and reinforce shared values of right and wrong, it is no longer the only anchor for interactions in the public realm. That geography has been relocated to a novel terrain, one that encourages exploration of mobile location based monuments, and virtual memorials. Moreover, public space is now truly open, as artworks can be placed anywhere in the world, without prior permission from government or private authorities – with profound implications for art in the public sphere and the discourse that surrounds it.
In the early 1990s, we witnessed the migration of the public sphere from the physical realm, the town square, to the virtual realm – the Internet. In effect, the location of public discourse and the site of national identity formation has been extended into the virtual world. Augmented reality folds the distributed, placeless network back upon location and brings it crashing back down to place.

Using emergent technologies, including augmented reality, to produce large-scale public work at sites where the forces of globalization are impacting the lives of individuals in local communities, my work seeks to expand the notion of public by exploring how digital networked technology is transforming our sense of place.

Much of my work is located in contested places such as borders and ports. I like to explore, and make evident, the edges, if you like. The metaphor of liminal space can also be applied to the boundary between the physical and the virtual. Augmented reality makes this boundary porous, allowing the digital network to spill into the physical.

DS: This issue has been brought up several times in my writings, blog posts, and general conversation about new media and digital arts. I’m curious of your perspective. How do you envision people with very little or no accessibility to technology (i.e., no smartphone or android) to engage in the discourse of Augmented Reality?

JCF: I have had to contend with this question as well, most recently during a talk I gave at the College Art Association conference.

I have to say that the concern over this issue puzzles me in regard to both art and technology. To begin with, art has always been an elitist proposition. Even if people can afford the price of admission to the museum, conceptual access to the meaning of art and its value is carefully controlled by taste-makers and marketers. Incidentally, the Rocky Flats work was a response to the art world’s mission of social class reinforcement. Further, the ubiquity of cell phone technology is our best chance at the collapse of the digital divide. From the favelas of São Paulo to the shantytowns of Kinshasa, cell phones are becoming the rule rather than the exception. It is just a matter of time before these devices will all be internet ready. Less than a decade ago, it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to create a cave environment for viewing virtual reality. Augmented reality is virtual reality in your pocket.

DS: Typically, imagination conjures images from a story or a narrative. What role does the imagination play in Augmented Reality when the images are created and inserted into our visual perception?

JCF: The most profound example I can offer was from my experiences documenting to Border Memorial project in Southern Arizona last January. Each one of the data points represents a very specific location where human remains were recovered. Accordingly, each place I visited represented a very real and tragic story of how an individual person died trying to cross the desert in search of work and a better life. Although I was careful to strip individual names from the data, prior to the project being deployed, the scene was often rich with details. These details, both large and small, evidence of a campfire; fragments of clothes; empty water bottles, as well as the topology of the landscape, a sandy wash indicating the most likely route over the pass on the mountain just beyond, painted a sobering picture.

DS: Lastly, other than a formal intervention, how do you see Augmented Reality making an impact amongst traditional art institutions and patrons? More and more individuals are learning about the impact of new media and digital arts but there still seems to be a very specific following and engagement from the art community.

JCF: ManifestAR, the international artists’ collective with which I often work, formed after the groundbreaking uninvited augmented reality intervention at the MoMA in autumn of 2010. It is now the artist, not the curator, who decides which artworks can be placed where. The group sees this medium as a way of transforming public space and institutions, by responding to and overlaying the configuration of located physical meaning. Utilizing this technology as art is a new proposition that explores all that we know and experience as the mixture the real and the hyper-real. Art world power structures, the nature of art exhibitions and discourse, are all called into question, even the border between art and life itself.

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John Craig Freeman is a public artist with over twenty years of experience using emergent technologies to produce large-scale public works at sites where the forces of globalization are impacting the lives of individuals in local communities. John is currently an Associate Professor of New Media at Emerson College (Boston) in the Department of Visual and Media Arts and a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts at UC San Diego.

Originally posted to ZERO1

[Traditional Art enters the room]

Dorothy (DS): Hey Traditional!! I’m glad you could make it. I really wanted you to meet my friend, Digital. I know you’ve heard a lot about her. She’s amazing! Just like you!

Traditional: I don’t know about this. I’ve heard a lot about Digital. She moves way too fast. I mean, all those connections. Who knows where all those wires have been?! Are you sure this is a good idea? I’m okay with all the painters and sculptors, you know. They like me but it is starting to get a bit boring from time to time. Oh, I had some time and passed by this exhibition where your voice controlled the piece! Crazy chaotic drawing that looked like a bunch of blind contours. Anyway, it was pretty cool. Look, I don’t want to give up all my drawing and painting and I just got into sculpture. You’re right though. I need to connect with more people. This is still scary for me. You know how shy I am. I still don’t know about this. What if she doesn’t like me?!?

[Traditional, nervously, steps away to retrieve her sketchbook and pencils to doodle for a bit]

DS to Traditional: Don’t take too long. She’s gonna be here any minute now.

[DS, quickly, walks to the monitor and sees Digital]

DS to Digital: Heya Digital!! [We exchange emoticons. Our waves are in slow motion so it’s faster to send a smiley face with teeth! Yes, this meeting is virtual. What did you expect?]. How have you been? I haven’t seen you in like, oh, I don’t know, 2 minutes! That’s a long time!!

Digital: I know, right? So, yeah, I’ve gotta get back to connecting the world but I know you’ve been wanting to introduce me to someone? Where is she? You told me she’s classic. You know how I love perennial style. I’m getting hard pressed by all the ladies who swing all these gigs and fancy script around. It takes more than code and all these fancy pimped out externals to get me going. I don’t mind slowing things down a bit too. I’ve got a soft spot for craftiness, an affinity for Olympia typewriters. Yeah, you know what I mean, right? Oh, if I could draw with some pencils without all these vectors and Wacom tablets. I don’t know. I’m starting to feel like Data from Star Trek.

DS to Digital: Oh, umm, hold on a second.

[DS moves away from the monitor and has TA take a seat in front of the monitor]

DS Voice: Traditional meet Digital. Digital meet Traditional.

TA and DA [simultaneously]: Ummm, hi.

Will they get together? Will their lines get crossed? Who knows?!? This is only the beginning…stay tuned. Yes…I had an imaginary friend when I was growing up. I’ll try to make the next installment a juicy one! 😉

The Master's Tools (decay goes both ways), 2008

I’ll write a little something today but not very long due to yesterday’s post on my impressions of the current exhibition, It’s All a Blur, at the SomArts Cultural Center. THAT, my friends, was A LOT.

Instead, I’ll recommend reading my dear friend, L.J. Roberts, interview with the Social Media Management for Contemporary Art organization. It’s a fantastic interview. LJ discusses her art practice, a ‘love affair’ with New York, and her thoughts regarding censorship in the arts (specifically the work of David Wojnarowicz being removed from the Smithsonian)! 

Great interview!!! Please click here to read the full interview!

Enjoy!