Mindful of the Present: ArtVive and Art

This Article is a Guest Post by Vittoria Benzine. For more of her work, check out her Instagram: @vittoriabenzine

I am mindful about practicing mindfulness. I diligently research how to hone my intuition by envisioning a violet lotus, spinning in my mind, striving to open my third eye. I drink two liters of water a day, write down affirmations of gratefulness, and focus on each isolated muscle group with every motion in my daily workout.

Yet, I sit on the train, mindlessly scrolling Instagram, snap out of it, and instinctively, immediately, reopen the app before noticing what I’ve done. “What is your problem?” I chastise myself, irritated with my monkey brain.

We are all slaves to our phones. They are perfect candy to our too easily deceived consciousness. This is the unfortunate byproduct of “the inexorable pull of progress.” For all our advancements and innovations that make our lives more bearable, there is a counterweight being leveraged. The capitalist system that harnesses our short attention spans and dopamine binges. It is no one’s fault… except maybe those companies that stand to profit from such manipulation.

In my mind, the arts ought to be the antithesis to this development. Art, from inception through creation to completion and viewing, should enrapture its audience. Art stops time, freezes thought, as we sit in its presence and are surrounded by whatever aspect of “being” it espouses. Still, Instagram and its cohorts are riddled with selfies and squad pics, perfectly filtered and curated little galleries showing off our experiences with art.

Our relationship with publicizing our experiences exists in a grey area. When do our phones allow us to share these meaningful images, and when do they become hindrances, cheapening these moments to mere likes and comments?

I found myself asking this these question as I explored with ArtVive. ArtVive is an augmented reality platform for art. This power was harnessed by Bushwick gallery b[x] spaces for their show, “Kinetic Escapes.” The show utilized this cutting edge augmented reality tech to present an art beyond the bounds of tradition.

Upon arriving in the pristine gallery, b[x] spaces, I traipsed around to survey the works on display. The space showcased works by an array of artists, each unique in their style but common in their visual.

I am a curmudgeon in more ways than I’d like to accept. A sign explained how to access the ArtVive technology. Stubbornly, I figured it wasn’t worth the effort. It wasn’t until Bushwick-based artist Espartaco explained the show’s purpose that I decided to try it for myself.

ArtVive logs each unique image, so that when viewers use the app and hold the camera within view of the frame, the painting comes to life in an energetic animation. The technology seemed nothing short of magical – how each unique canvas transformed into an entire world, without even the press of a button. I found myself traversing the show again, excited to see what alternative realities lay behind the already beautiful facades.

When Espartaco remarked that gallery attendees would be on their phones even more than usual, I began to think again about the question of technology.

Espartaco mused, “It seems that our phones are becoming our tool to perceive and experience life, way more than we can imagine… are we discovering life or are we helping face recognition… or maybe both?”

Sure, on one hand, viewers possess a new avenue for exploring their relationships to art. On the other hand, does VR technology like ArtVive simply present another avenue for us to live through our phones, separated from reality by a sleek, rectangular middleman?

B[x] spaces curator Julie Gratz offered her insights. “I definitely feel a little conflicted about creating a show that requires the viewer to be on their phone,” she explained. “We’re all probably on our phones too often and I really value ‘unplugging’ and experiencing things in the moment.”

She continued, “I believe [ArtVive] absolutely creates a deeper relationship between the work and the viewer … these art pieces have a completely different purpose and level of art that is activated through the digital world accessed by your phone. Also, as you are the one holding your own phone, walking around the gallery and using it to activate these pieces, it becomes a much more intimate experience. You are the one in control, and your tool is your own phone.”

It’s a brave new world we’re living in, and Gratz noted this lends ArtVive a certain allure. “The novelty and newness of technology makes for really beautiful and exciting reactions from people. Much more so than just viewing art on your phone on something like Instagram. It’s the combination of physical and digital that creates the magic right now.”

Registered as a German company, ArtVive’s website cites their mission is to “[allow] artists to create new dimensions of art by linking classical with digital art.” By creating a “digital layer” ArtVive “opens the doors to a whole new world of possibilities.” Their website continues to explain that by incorporating this technology, artists “can take visitors on a journey in time and explain what lies behind, enhance the art with illustrations, or show how the artworks were made.” These claims are supplemented by multiple case studies made available on their site.

Gratz affirmed ArtVive’s value. “[This technology is ] really revolutionizing the art world right now.” She continued, “animators almost never have the opportunity to participate in a gallery show, and if they do it’s by projecting their work. I think animation is a really beautiful art form, but it’s really only appreciated by people already in the field. This technology allows us to bridge the gap and bring animation work to an audience that would otherwise never enjoy it … watching animation using augmented reality in a gallery space is completely different, and allows for immediate reaction and discussion.”

Ultimately, nostalgic souls like mine  must accept change whether we like it or not, as we are all stuck on this ship unwaveringly sailing toward ‘future.’ The best we can do under the circumstances, is to make the most of it.

In opening up new means of interaction , AR technologies like ArtVive allow for an accessible form of artistic transcendence. In contemplating the show’s success, Gratz reflected, “It’s very unlike a regular gallery show, because it asks the audience to engage and interact with the work.”

“The possibilities with this technology are truly endless, and these artists are so intelligent and talented. If I can give them a few more months to prepare and brainstorm together, I think we’ll come up with some really unique and revolutionary ideas.”

Sitting on what must be the only un-air-conditioned car on the 6 train, I repeat my daily routine of opening and closing the Instagram app.

This time, instead of chastising myself, I reflect for a moment. Maybe that impulsive photo I took on Flushing Avenue has more meaning than I thought. Maybe I can write a caption that can touch people while releasing an emotional burden I’ve grown tired of bearing. I smile. These rectangles are only as powerful as we let them become, maybe more powerful if we harness their capabilities for the better.

Written by Vittoria Benzine

Photos provided by Julie Gratz and T.K. Mills

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