Augmenting Interventions

The Center for Research in Computing and the Arts (CRCA) is pleased to invite you to:

Featuring CRCA Visiting Researcher: John Craig Freeman

Wednesday February 15, 2012, 6pm – 7pm
CRCA Performative Computing Lab
Room 1606
Atkinson Hall
UCSD Voigt Drive, La Jolla

Emergent Technology as Art Practice and Public Art as Intervention

Operation Greenrun II

Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, 1989.

In the second half of the twentieth century, Rocky Flats was one of the network of seventeen national nuclear weapons facilities operated under the direction of the Department of Energy. It was the only plant that manufactured the plutonium detonation systems, or triggers, for the nation’s nuclear arsenal throughout the Cold War.

Rocky Flats Colorado, 1989.

In the summer of 1989, Rocky Flats was the subject of an FBI investigation. The resulting inquiry led to the suspension of plutonium operations and made public a history of gross environmental mismanagement including the detection of sixty-two pounds of plutonium dust in the duct work of the ventilation system (enough to build six nuclear weapons). To this day it is considered one of the most contaminated sites in the world.

Empty billboards on Highway 93, Rocky Flats, Colorado, 1989.

Before I had arrived in Boulder, a group of environmentalists known as Citizens Against Billboards on Highway 93 had organized a successful boycott against a group of billboard that were lined up in a row, just outside the front gates of the Rocky Flats plant. The ads, located along one of the most scenic parts of the drive along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, were considered an eyesore. Plutonium contamination is, of course, invisible. Unable to convince local businesses to advertise on the billboards, the owner was driven out of business and the billboard structures stood empty for several years.

Empty billboard with Rocky Flats and Denver in the distance, 1989.

This image shows the proximity of the billboard structures to the Rocky Flats plant, with the water tower, and the Denver skyline just twelve miles down wind.

Sketch prints of "Operation Greenrun II" in studio, 1989.

I recognized the billboards potential for public art and began making proposals using early Macintosh desktop computing technology.

Fabrication of "Operation Greenrun II," 1990.

Each of eleven 10′ X 40′ billboard faces were made of over 2,000 individual bitmap images printed on a simple office laser printer. Keep in mind that commercial billboards were hand painted at this time. The technology to print a billboard would not exist for another five years.

"Operation Greenrun II," Rocky Flats, Colorado, November 14, 1990.

The reason I am returning to this project after over two decades, is that it 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. Over the course of about a mile, the billboards read Today, We Made, A 250,000 Year, Commitment. The half-life of of plutonium is a quarter of a million years.

"Operation Greenrun II" media coverage, 1990-91.

Think of the media as a kind of virtual reality, which it is, that can be intervened in. The decision to shutdown Rocky Flats for good was made in 1991, during the media firestorm this project created, proving that art does have a role to play in tangible political change.

Imaging Place, 1997 to 2006

In 1997, four years before the initial release of Google Earth’s predecessor Earthviewer, I began work on “Imaging Place,” a place-based virtual reality project that combines panoramic video, and three-dimensional virtual worlds to document situations where the forces of globalization are impacting the lives of individuals in local communities.

The goal of the project was to develop the technologies, the methodology and the content for truly immersive and navigable narrative, based in real places around the world.

“Imaging Place” includes hundreds of individual locations and hours of content from Cape Verde, Beijing, Taipei Taiwan, São Paulo, Kamloops BC Canada, Warsaw, the U.S./Mexico Border, Kaliningrad Russia, Niagara, New England, Appalachia, Florida and more.

On May 25, 2007, two years after executives from Google attended an exhibition of “Imaging Place” at Evos Arts in Lowell Massachusetts, the first version of Google Streetview was released.

Imaging Place SL, 2006 to 2009

The derive, was a kind of open passage, ignoring the normal traffic flows and circulations of the planed urban developments, where participants instead moved through a city in a way that followed its moods, that tried to track its emotions, the feeling and atmosphere of a place, to find what they called the plateau tourné, which are turntables or hubs, vortices, which were these centers of power if you like, where forces came together to create strong atmosphere.

In early versions of “Imaging Place,” the derive was represented by dolly shots from point to point and the plateau tourné by panoramic still photography.

In Second Life the avatar does the drifting and the plateau tourné is represented by panoramic video.

Imaging Belfast

“Imaging Belfast” is an immersive, user activated art installation and virtual environment, created on location along the peace line that separates the Protestant and Catholic communities of West Belfast in 2009.

Networked Monumentality and Virtual Memorials

Boston Common, Google Maps, 2011.

For the past eight years, I have worked on the corner of Tremont and Boylston Streets overlooking the historic Boston Common, the first public park in the United States. I walk across the park every morning. As I do, I often contemplate the role that the town square plays in shaping of political discourse and national identity formation. As the location of the public sphere, the town square is where we air grievances, display solidarity, express our difference, celebrate our similarities, remember and mourn.

Nineteenth century stereoscopic view of the Old Elm Tree in the Boston Common. The tree was destroyed by a storm in 1876.

Public hangings took place at the Old Elm Tree on the Common until 1817, an example of the public reinforcement of the shared values of right and wrong. The Common still maintains a tradition of soapbox oratory and we even have a town crier, who exchanges weather forecast and sport scores for spare change.

Etching of Mary Dyer being led to execution on Boston Common for spreading Quaker principles on June 1, 1660.

In 1660 Mary was executed on the Boston Common for spreading Quaker principles.

This is why monuments and memorials are located in town squares. As Greg Ulmer points out in his book Electronic Monuments, it is an expression and acknowledgment of sacrifice on behalf of shared values. The public square is a geographical anchor for the public sphere.

In the early 1990s we witnessed the migration of the public sphere from the physical realm, the town square and its print augmentation, 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.


Tiananmen SquARed

The 1989 student uprising in Tiananmen Square with the "Goddess of Democracy" in the background, by Catherine Henriette/Afp/Getty Images, June 2, 1989.

In 1989, students from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing erected a 10 meter tall plaster statue known as the “Goddess of Democracy” during the uprising in Tiananmen Square, taunting the government officials to tear it down, which of course, they did.

"Tianamen SquARed: Goddess of Democracy, 4Gentlemen, 2011.

Tiananmen SquARed” is a two part augmented reality public art project and memorial, by the anonymous ARt collective 4Gentlemen, dedicated human rights and democracy worldwide. Built for smart phone mobile devices, this project allows people to see virtual objects integrated into the physical location as if they existed in the real world.

The "Goddess of Democracy" model with reference image, 2011.

The project includes a virtual replica of the “Goddess of Democracy.”

The "Goddess of Democracy" augment at Tiananmen Square overlooking Mao's portrait and the Forbidden City, 2011.

Placed back in Tiananmen Square.

"Tank Man" model and reference image, by Jeff Widener of the Associated Press, Chang'an Avenue, June 5, 1989.

The other indelible image from the Tiananmen Square uprising was, of course, “Tank Man” facing down a column for Type 62 tanks.

"Tank Man" augment at Chang'an Avenue, 2011.

"Tank Man" augment at Chang'an Avenue, 2011.

Visible only through the view finder of a smart phone, both augmentations have been placed in Beijing at the precise GPS coordinates where the original incidents took.

The "Goddess of Democracy," Al Tahrir Square, Cairo, 2011.

The “Goddess of Democracy” has also been placed at Al Tahrir Square in Cairo, and elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East during the Arab Spring last year.

DéchARge de Rebut Toxique

"DéchARge de Rebut Toxique," Eiffel Tower, Centre Pompidou and the Musée du Louvre Paris, 2011.

With locations in New York, Boston and Paris, “Décharge de Rebut Toxique” consists of sprawling radiotoxic waste dumps at a time when the world is reconsidering its policies on nuclear energy after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

Azadi SquARed

Viewer Discretions is Advised

Azadi SquARed” is an augmented memorial to Neda Agha-Soltan, who was gunned down in the streets of Tehran during the 2009 Iranian election protests. If the viewer walks beneath the Azadi Monument, the virtual object will redirect the user’s phone and play the original video footage from the incident, which went viral at the time.

Augmented Reality as Intervention

No augmented reality beyond this point, photomontage by Sander Veenhof, 2010.

ManifestAR is an international artists’ collective working with emergent forms of augmented reality as interventionist public art.

We Are in MoMA

The group formed after the groundbreaking uninvited augmented reality intervention at the Museum of Modern Art in the fall of 2010. It is now the artist, not the curator, who decides which artworks can be placed where. We see 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, nation states, the nature of art exhibitions and discourse, are all called into question, even the border between art and life itself. It is now the artist, not the curator, who decides which artworks can be placed where.

ManifestAR Projects:

Leak in Your Own Home Town

Mark Skwarek and Joseph Hocking, with Arthur Peters, Leak in Your Own Home Town, 2010.

During the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Mark Skwarek produced his logo hacking augmented reality project, “Leak in Your Own Home Town.”

Using image recognition and tracking technology, the project would convert the British Petroleum logo into a gushing oil spill when viewed through a smart phone.

Gagosian Gallery Anselm Kiefer Infestation

Gagosian Gallery Anselm Kiefer Infestation, by Will Pappenheimer, screenshot montage by Will Pappenheimer, 2011.

In December of 2010, during the Anselm Kiefer exhibition entitled, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” Will Pappenheimer, of Virta-Flaneurazine Labraotories, discovered that a subspecies of Bufo Virtanus originating from the Virta-Flaneurazine Clinical Trials, had spread to the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea, New York.

It is not yet known what habitats the subspecies gravitates towards, other than heroic or sublime artworks, which certainly would include those of the Anselm Kiefer exhibition.

ManifestAR @ ICA

Art Critic Face Matrix Reloaded: You call this ARt!?!?

Art Critic Face Matrix Reloaded, by Tamiko Thiel, screenshot by Tamiko Thiel, 2011.

In “Art Critic Face Matrix Reloaded: You call this ARt!?!?,” by Tamiko Thiel, a matrix of art critic faces, with animated expressions ranging from skepticism to outrage, hovers inside the ICA, Boston.

Biggâr and 1px

Biggâr and 1px, by Sander Veenhof, screenshots by Sander Veenhof, 2011.

Biggâr,” by Sander Veenhof consist of 7.463.185.678 virtual blocks encapsulating the whole earth, making it the biggest possible virtual sculpture in the world. A leap forward in terms of scale, based on new limitless dimensional possibilities brought to the physical space through augmented reality.

The one-dimensional “1px” work is an attempt to discover the limits of augmented reality in the opposite, minimalistic direction. Never before was it possible to actually create a truly one-dimensional piece for real. But with augmented reality, it is. Augmented reality gives us total dimensional freedom. Even to skip redundant dimensions.

Mao Wants His Money!

Mao Wants His Money!,” by Geoffrey Alan Rhodes, included two augmented reality features. The first is a set of augments hovering in space above banks and ATMs near the ICA, Boston. The second converts users’ dollar bills into Mao Dollars when viewed on a smart phone using the “Mao Wants His Money!” app. Each bill becomes an I.O.U. and reminds us, “The United States of America owes China One Dollar.” Oh no! Mao wants this dollar!

Butterfly Lovers

In “Butterfly Lovers,” by Lily & Honglei, the painted figures in traditional costumes are derived from a popular Chinese folktale regarded as the equivalent of Romeo and Juliet. The augment reality installation, at the Ruby Red Steps in Time Square, addresses issues of cultural displacement and diasporas, and visualizes the restless, roaming cultural spirit of the East hidden in western metropolis.

Manifest.AR Venice Biennial 2011 AR Intervention

Water wARs

Water wARs, Giardini, by John Craig Freeman, image by John Craig Freeman, 2011.

Water wARs,” by John Craig Freeman, is a pavilion for undocumented artists/squatters and water war refugees, which anticipates the flood of environmental refugees into the developed world caused by environmental degradation, global warming and the privatization of the world’s drinking water supply by multinational corporations like Bechtel. This version was exhibited as part of the ManifestAR Venice Biennial 2011 AR Intervention, in front of the main pavilion of the 54th Venice Biennial, International Art Exhibition, ILLUMInations in Giardini…

Water wARs, Piazza San Marco, by John Craig Freeman, image by John Craig Freeman, 2011.

…and in the Piazza San Marco in Venice.

DUMBO Arts Festival 2011

Water wARs, DUMBO

"Water wARs," DUMBO Arts Festival, Brooklyn, NY, September 17, 2011.

In September 2011, ManifestAR was invited to participate in the DUMBO Arts Festival. Here is “Water wARs” beneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

Revolving Bridges

In order to facilitate more movement and foot traffic across the East River during the DUMBO Arts Festival, “Revolving Bridges,” by Will Pappenheimer, allows two of Manhattan’s busiest bridges, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge, to detached from either side and slowly rotate 360°. Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s prototype, automobiles and pedestrians can board the bridges from many vantage points but only in limited numbers. The twin bridge configuration also resembles the barnyard turnstile, which regulates human and animal flow.

Crystal Coffin

Crystal Coffin, by Lily & Honglei, with John Craig Freeman, screenshot by John Craig Freeman, 2011.

Crystal Coffin,” by Lily & Honglei, is inspired by the crystal coffin displayed in Mausoleum of Mao Zedong on Tiananmen Square since 1977, a year after Mao’s death. In the twenty first century, while China has been transforming itself into a modern society in many ways and gaining more influences economically and politically around the globe, Mao’s crystal coffin, the immortal-looking shell, remains a symbol of an authoritarian ruling system.


Zuccatti Park, November 11, 2011.

Of course Zuccatti Park is not a public square at all, it is privately owned.

AR Occupy Wall Street, Screenshot montage by Mark Skwarek, 2011.

Protesters were not allowed to protest at Wall Street during the Occupy Wall Street uprising, forcing them blocks from the New York Stock Exchange to Zuccotti Park. Wall Street was barricaded off. Only part of the sidewalk is accessible to the public and there was a constant police presence around both the protesters and the Stock Exchange at all times.

The “#arOCCUPYWALLSTREET” flashmob, organized by Mark Skwarek, took the protest to the heart of the financial district directly in front of the Stock Exchange. Augments now blanket the entire financial district.

Mark Skwarek re occupied Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, after the raid.

Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos

The "Border Memorial" Calaca Model, 2011.

The “Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos,” by John Craig Freeman and Mark Skwarek, is an augmented reality public art project and memorial, dedicated to the thousands of migrant workers who have died along the U.S./Mexico border in recent years trying to cross the desert southwest in search of work and a better life. This project allows people to visualize the scope of the loss of life by marking each location where human remains have been recovered along the border and the surrounding desert.

Visualization of the "Border Memorial" Data in Google Earth, 2012.

Based on a traditional form of wood-carving from Oaxaca, the virtual augmentation objects consist of life sized, three dimensional geometric models of a skeleton effigy or calaca. Calacas are used in commemoration of lost loved ones during the Mexican Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead festivals.

This visualization was created by importing the database, which was acquired from the Arizona medical examiners office, into Google Earth.

Imagine now, the entire mobile Internet, and its physical manifestations’ of place, as a world wide public square.

The “Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos,” screenshot outside of Nogales, Arizona, January 17, 2012.

In January, 2012, I drove across southern Arizona for field testing and to document as many of the individual data points as possible.

On the road to Ajo along Arizona Highway 86.

Border fence near the Lukeville crossing in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, January 18, 2012.

LA Re.Play

“LA Re.Play,” is an Exhibition of Mobile Art in conjunction with Mobile Art: The Aesthetics of Mobile Network Culture in Placemaking at the 2012 College Arts Association Annual Meeting in Los Angeles on February 22-29, 2012.

On Febuarty 22, ManifestAR will open a citywide AR intervention in association with LA Re.Play, an exhibition of mobile art in conjunction with the “Mobile Art: The Aesthetics of Mobile Network Culture in Placemaking” session during the College Arts Association Annual Meeting in Los Angeles.

Compass Rose

“Compass Rose,” by ManifestAR. converts the revolving bar atop the Hotel Bonaventure into a giant mobile device for viewing augmented reality art citywide.

La Lotería Aumentada

“La Lotería Aumentada,” by Patricia Espinosa and John Craig Freeman, a Borderline Projects, Olvera Street, Los Angeles, 2012.

Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street is in the oldest part of Downtown Los Angeles. La Placita Olvera or the Plaza should be regarded as Los Angeles’ first public square.

In “La Lotería Aumentada,” I collaborated with the New York based painter, Patricia Espinosa and Borderline Projects to transform the Mexican card game La Lotería into a vortex of contemporary cross-cultural icons at Olvera Street.

Monumento a las Mujeres Desaparecidas

"Monumento a las Mujeres Desaparecidas," by John Craig Freeman and Christina Marin , Olvera Street, Los Angeles, 2012.

I collaborated with performance artists Christina Marin on “Monumento a las Mujeres Desaparecidas,” a monument to the missing women of Ciudad Juárez and the opium brides of Afghanistan at Olvera Street.

Olvera Street is arguably the oldest theme park in existence. With its foundations in Old Town Los Angeles, El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, Olvera Street was converted to a festive Mexican marketplace in the 1930′s, a full two decades before the founding of Disneyland. For over eighty years, Olvera Street has provided a safer alternative border experience for tourists. It is perfectly plausible that Walt Disney‘s ideas of transporting people to imaginary places for amusement were formed in part during his visits to Olvera Street and nearby Chinatown. “Monumento a las Mujeres Desaparecidas” turns this border-themed virtual reality on its head by introducing very real contemporary border issues through augmented reality technology.

Southeast Flies the Peacock

Southeast Flies the Peacock,” by Lily & Honglei, assembles images of some most influential folktales of China in Chinatown.

Metro-Next: with Service to Lausanne/Thonon

Metro-Next: with Service to Lausanne/Thonon,” by Lalie S. Pascual, Lili range le chat and John Craig Freeman, will teleport users to a virtual realm, a mixed reality portal, linking the cities and people of the world at the LA Convention Center, City Hall, Olvera Street and Chinatown.

Works in Progress

Foxconn worker in the Apple Store

Foxconn Suicide nets, Shenzhen, China, 2011.

Foxconn, a multinational electronics manufacturing company, is the world’s-largest maker of electronic components. It manufacturers the iPhone at its plant in Shenzhen where 18 employees attempted suicide between January and November, 2010. Fourteen succeeded. Since that time the company has installed suicide nets on its taller buildings. Please see Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory, This American Life.

Foxconn worker in the Apple Store, by Mark Skwarek, 2012.

In “Foxconn worker in the Apple Store,” 2012, Mark Skwarek placed images of Foxconn suicides in the Apple Store in New York City.

EEG AR: Things We Have Lost

The goal of “EEG AR: Things We Have Lost,” is to develop a user interface that will allow participants to conger up augments by simply thinking of them existing at a specific location using biometric sensor technology. A database of augments will be generated base around the broad theme of “Things We Have Lost,” things such as pensions, empires or dodo birds. Participants, or test subject, will be outfitted with EEG brainwave sensors and asked to think of a specific object or idea from the database. Once a measurable and consistent pattern is detected, a database call will be issued which will instantiate an augmentation just in front of the participants current GPS location. The person will then be taken out into the city to see if it is possible to create and place augments just by thinking them into existence. These augments will remain at the location where they were produced and be visible on any iPhone or Android device.


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