Arts & Culture » Visual Arts

Augmented reality artists add a new layer to your world in Snap’s ambitious 'City Unseen' exhibition

Seen and not seen

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Last year Snap Orlando brought a project by international artist JR to Orlando: the Inside Out "photo booth." In this photo studio on wheels, JR's team of dedicated assistants shot and printed large-scale portraits of Dreamers – immigrant children seeking documented status under the DREAM Act – and their allies, then pasted them over an entire wall, where they greeted southbound drivers on Mills with clear eyes.

But the Mills 50 portrait mural was ephemeral and eventually came down, living on only in hasty social media documentation – until now.

Thanks to Snap's persistent Patrick Kahn, the black-and white portraits are virtually resurrected via augmented reality. City Unseen resuscitates the Dreamers and other buffed-out murals, and adds the world's newest art medium to Orlando's repertoire of fine art.

"They may phase out DACA and the DREAM Act, but it is still part of us," Kahn said to Orlando Weekly recently. When City Unseen goes live Friday, Nov. 2, not only will the mural be visible again with the mediation of your cell phone, but three of the Dreamers will come alive and speak to you about their experiences as immigrants to America. "We were sad to see the mural go, but the City Unseen will vivify the Dreamers' experience in a way that the physical mural could not."

And this is only one of the 10 augmented reality experiences Snap will bring to Orlando, many to live on in cyberspace after the show is over. Download the City Unseen app from your smartphone's app store; when opened, the little orange tile takes you to a map of Orlando showing where you can augment our built environment's drab reality with a fine art experience. At each location, holding your phone over a City Unseen plaque snaps a three-dimensional object onto the screen or adds a new layer to the known world.

At the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Miami artist Felice Grodin presents "Below Sea Level." With a master's degree in architecture, she sees the city as a bit more malleable than most. Close by in Lake Eola Park, artist Matthew Swenson interprets Andy Warhol's "Silver Clouds," a series of chrome silver pillows he floated in a gallery. Here in Orlando, they are free to float in the sky.

At several other locations, including the Mall at Millenia, in Mills 50 and even in Winter Park, Snap installations will feature AR work by Los Angeles' Nancy Baker Cahill and Can Büyükberber, a Turkish artist. Mark Gmehling will re-create his lost street art mural "Drinsch," painted six stories high above the Mills 50 Snap gallery in 2014. When you point your camera at the new Drinsch, he'll unpucker his lips a bit for you.

Inside the Snap gallery, more artists make use of the ubiquitous camera phone to put a twist on their work. Bizarre effects emanate from art by Ivan Toth Depeña, Mark-o-matic and Dengke Chen. Local artist Synthestruct invites you to don biometric headgear so you can witness giant shapes that change depending on your stress level, breathing and heartbeat. Mark Gerstein's more classic work uses projection mapping to investigate the eerie side of suburbia. And finally, Matt Roberts will invite you to explore your personal space (well, don't get too personal) with a microscope, the result projected on a screen and interpreted in text by poet Terri Witek.

AR technology has recently smoothed out its rough edges, allowing viewers easier access into an artificially enhanced visual world. As always, fine art quickly found the cutting edge (as when digital artist Sebastian Errazuriz plastered virtual graffiti on artist Jeff Koons' virtual balloon dog). With so many people shuffling along the sidewalk nose down, instead of eyes on the surrounding city, artists are going where the action is – on the tiny screens that sadly pass for the new reality. Some of the best artists working in this new medium will be on display at Snap Space. If you can't take your eyes off your screen, the screen will bring its own reality to you.