ManifestAR: an augmented reality manifesto

SPIE Engineering Reality of Virtual Reality

Date & Time: Tuesday, January 24, 2012, 4:00 – 5:20 PM

Location: Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport Hotel
Burlingame, CA.

Session 4: VR Hybrids: Augmented Reality

Chair: Todd Margolis, Univ. of California, San Diego

Author: John Craig Freeman, on behalf of ManifestAR
Emerson College, Department of Visual and Media Arts 120 Boylston Street Boston, MA. 02116-4624

Abstract: ManifestAR is an international artists’ collective working with emergent forms of augmented reality as interventionist public art. The group sees this medium as a way of transforming public space and institutions by installing virtual objects, which respond to and overlay the configuration of located physical meaning. This paper will describe the ManifestAR vision, which is outlined in the groups manifesto.

Keywords: Augmented reality, virtual, locative, public art, collective, intervention, global, international

ManifestAR is an international artists’ collective working with emergent forms of augmented reality as interventionist public art. The group sees this medium as a way of transforming public space and institutions by installing virtual objects, which respond to and overlay the configuration of located physical meaning. Utilizing this technology as artwork is an entirely new proposition and explores all that we know and experience as the mixture of the real and the hyper-real. Physically, nothing changes, the audience can simply download and launch an Augmented Reality Browser app on their iPhone or Android and aim the devices’ camera to view the world around them. The application uses geolocation, marker tracking and image recognition software to superimpose computer generated three-dimensional art objects, enabling the public to see the work integrated into the physical location as if it existed in the real world. The ManifestAR collective and individual members have produced projects, exhibitions and interventions worldwide, including in New York, Venice, Istanbul, Beijing, Cairo, Copenhagen, Tokyo and Berlin.

ManifestAR History

The story of ManifestAR is a story of collaboration, the confluence of art and technology and the emergence of a new global art practice, including the transition from virtual reality to augmented reality.

A number of the ManifestAR founding members exhibited together at International Symposium of Electronic Art 2009 in Belfast.

Children of Arcadia

Mark Skwarek, Children of Arcadia, ISEA 2009, Belfast.

Mark Skwarek’s contribution to ISEA 2009 was “Children of Arcadia.” Created in collaboration with Joseph Hocking and Arthur Peters, Children of Arcadia drew from the tradition of artists creating works to give context to their society’s condition. The room-sized installation continually updated with information gathered from the Internet about national socio-economic events. It translated stock market data into a large-scale Baroque-style projection. If the stock market was down, the clouds would gather and the world would become foreboding and apocalyptic. If the stock market was up, the clouds would part and shafts of sunlight would illuminate a utopian world.

52 Card Psycho: Deconstructing Cinema

Geoffrey Alan Rhodes, 52 Card Psycho: Deconstructing Cinema, ISEA 2009, Belfast.

Geoffrey Alan Rhodes exhibited the interactive table top film “52 Card Psycho: Deconstructing Cinema,” which allowed participants to re-edit the 52 shots of the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” with playing cards using an augmented reality marker tracking system.

Physical Virtuality Platform

During the ISEA sessions that year, Sander Veenhof presented his mixed reality project, the “Physical Virtuality Platform,” which brought the real and virtual together, physically using a platform which was extended into the virtual reality of Second Life. The estimated weight of avatars standing on the virtual side of the platform was calculated, and processed together with the total weight of the people standing on the physical side of it. This lead to continuous adjustments in both the hydraulic powered part of the installation and the virtual part, making it a seesaw that let both types of visitors experience and feel the weight of each other.

Virta-Flaneurazine Clinic

Virta-Flaneurazine Clinic, Will Pappenheimer and John Craig Freeman, ISEA 2009, Belfast.

Will Pappenheimer and John Craig Freeman exhibited a version of the “Virta-Flaneurazine Clinic.” Virta-Flaneurazine is a potent programmable mood-changing drug for online virtual worlds and other social networks. Identified as part of the Wanderment family of psychotropic drugs, it causes the user to aimlessly roam the distant lands the Internet. Virta-Flaneurazine was developed to treat Wanderlust Deficit Disorder (WDD), or Internet Addiction, an increasingly common disorder characterized by rote repetitive Internet use and the inability of individuals to depart from their daily routines in their physical and virtual lives. Freeman and Pappenheimer developed a clinical trial program in order to test if Virta-Flaneurazine was effective in treating WDD and to determine if it is safe for human consumption. The clinical trials include an installation and participatory performance in a clinic setting that dispensed and evaluated the drug’s effects on volunteer subjects.

Vita-Rat, "Out of the Box," Future of Reality, Chinatown San Francisco, January 22, 2012.

Look for the Virta-Flaneurazine test subject avatar in the streets of San Francisco. It has been identified as an unauthorized, rouge augment by the Department of Augmented Reality Protection. If you spot it, please alert the authorities or return it to quarantine.

Virtuelle Mauer

Tamiko Thiel, ReConstructing the Wall and ReVisioning the Virtual Wall, 2010.

Even before ISEA 2009, many group members had exhibited together in New Media venues in the Northeast. Tamiko Thiel has worked with virtual technology since the early 1990s including “Virtuelle Mauer,” a virtual reconstruction of the Berlin Wall.

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, 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.


Website screenshot, The Virtual Public Art Project, by Chris Manzione.

Skwarek’s logo hacking work attracted the attention of Chris Manzione, who was developing the “The Virtual Public Art Project,” at the time. VPAP has gone on to produce several augmented reality public art exhibitions in New York and Philadelphia.

Tunneling at Famous Accountants

Tunneling, curated by Will Pappenheimer, Famous Accountants, Brooklyn, New York, August 7th — September 4th, 2010.

In the summer of 2010, Will Pappenheimer curated a show at Famous Accountants, a little underground artists space in Bushwick, New York. The exhibition, titled “Tunneling,” included work by Virta-Flaneurazine and a version of “Leak in Your Own Home Town.” Sarah Schmerler of Art in America wrote, “The group show Tunneling, on view at this Bushwick venue, offered more groundbreaking media, mind-expanding imagery and diverse sensory experiences (performance included) than its claustrophobic-sounding title might imply.”

Augmented Reality as Intervention

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

We Are in MoMA

ManifestAR formed after the groundbreaking uninvited augmented reality intervention at the MoMA in the fall of 2010. In 2010, Skwarek had been invited to participate in New York’s Conflux Festival. In preparing his proposal, he began to imagine mounting an exhibition of augmented reality art in the Museum of Modern Art without asking permission. As he was conducting some preliminary research, he came across an image of a fictitious sign from inside MoMA that Veenhof had posted on the Internet, which read “No augmented reality beyond this point.” Skwarek contacted Veenhof and a plan for the first augmented reality intervention was hatched, “We AR in MoMA.” Skwarek contacted the artists he had come to know at ISEA and other digital art circles and invited them to participate. Many constitute the ManifestAR membership today.

We Are in MoMA

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.

The AR Art Manifesto

On January 25, 2011, the group published its manifesto.

“All that is visible must grow beyond itself and extend into the realm of the invisible” (Tron, 1982)

  • Augmented reality (AR) creates coexistent spacial realities, in which anything is possible – anywhere!
  • The AR future is without boundaries between the real and the virtual. In the AR future we become the media. Freeing the virtual from a stagnant screen we transform data into physical, real-time space.
  • The safety glass of the display is shattered and the physical and virtual are united in a new in-between space. In this space is where we choose to create.
  • We are breaking down the mysterious doors of the impossible! Time and space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent geolocative presence.
  • In the 21st century, screens are no longer borders. Cameras are no longer memories. With AR the virtual augments and enhances the real, setting the material world in a dialogue with space and time.
  • In the age of the instantaneous virtual collective, AR activists aggravate and relieve the surface tension and osmotic pressure between the so-called networked virtual and the so-called physical real.
  • Now hordes of networked AR creatives deploy viral virtual media to overlay, then overwhelm closed social systems lodged in physical hierarchies.
  • They create subliminal, aesthetic and political AR provocations, triggering techno-disturbances in a sub-stratosphere of online and offline experience.
  • Standing firmly in the real, we expand the influence of the virtual, integrating and mapping it onto the world around us. Objects, banal by-products, ghost imagery and radical events will co-exist in our private homes and in our public spaces.
  • With AR we install, revise, permeate, simulate, expose, decorate, crack, infest and unmask public institutions, identities and objects previously held by elite purveyors of public and artistic policy in the so-called physical real.
  • The mobile phone and future visualization devices are material witness to these ephemeral dimensional objects, post-sculptural events and inventive architectures. We invade reality with our viral virtual spirit.
  • AR is not an avant-garde martial plan of displacement, it is an additive access movement that layers and relates and merges. It embraces all modalities. Against the spectacle, the realized augmented culture introduces total participation.
  • Augmented reality is a new form of art, but it is anti-art. It is primitive, which amplifies its viral potency. It is bad painting challenging the definition of good painting. It shows up in the wrong places. It takes the stage without permission. It is relational conceptual art that self-actualizes.
  • AR art is anti-gravity. It is hidden and must be found.It is unstable and inconstant. It is being and becoming, real and immaterial. It is there and can be found – if you seek it.

Endorsed by the founding members of the cyberartist group ManifestAR, on 25 January 2011:

Mark Skwarek (US), Sander Veenhof (NL), Tamiko Thiel (US,JP,DE), Will Pappenheimer (US), John Craig Freeman (US), Christopher Manzione, (US), And Geoffrey Alan Rhodes (US).

Public Art in the Virtual Sphere

Boston Common, the oldest public park in the nation.

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.

Stereoscopic view of the Old Elm Tree, Boston Common.

The Old Elm Tree in Boston Common which was used for public hangings until it was destroyed in a storm in 1886.

Etching of Mary Dyer being led to her execution on the Boston Common for spreading Quaker principles in 1660.


Tiananmen SquARed, by 4Gentlemen

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

The Goddess of Democracy model with reference image, 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.

The Goddess of Democracy augment at Tiananmen Square, 2011.

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

Tank Man model and Tank Man 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.

Both augmentations have been placed in Beijing at the precise GPS coordinates where the original incidents took place.

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 2011.

Occupation Forces

Occupation Forces, by Mark Skwarek and Joseph Hocking, image by Mark Skwarek, 2011.

First exhibited in downtown Indianapolis as part of the city’s Intermedia Festival in April 2010, “Occupation Forces,” by Mark Skwarek is a very early use of augmented reality as public art for mobile phones. In this version, virtual alien invaders occupy the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy in Downtown Boston during the 2011 Boston Cyberarts Festival.

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 discovered that a subspecies of Bufo Virtanus originating from Virta-Flaneurazine, had spread to the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea, New York.

Researchers from VF Labs went there to see the spectacle. 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

Shades of Absence: Schlingensief Gilded

Shades of Absence: Schlingensief Gilded, by Tamiko Thiel, image by Tamiko Thiel, 2011.

Tamiko Thiel, who was the main curator and organizer of the Venice Biennial Intervention, created “Shades of Absence: Schlingensief Gilded.” It is an ironic memorial consisting of a hovering gold silhouette of Schlingensief’s absent/presence, surrounded by a halo of terms of censorship often used to describe his work. It was geo-located in the German Pavilion of the Venice Biennial.

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.

The Island of Hope

The Island of Hope, by Mark Skwarek, image by Mark Skwarek, 2011.

Pictured here in Giardini, “The Island of Hope,” by Mark Skwarek, brings people’s hopes and dreams to life. The Island and Fountain Goddess generate objects of people’s hopes. People could tweet their hopes from the around the world.

Battling Pavilions

Battling Pavilions, by Sander Veenhof, image by Sander Veenhof, 2011.

Viewing all of the art on display at the Venice Biennial was infinitely more difficult to achieve in 2011 because of the massive appearance of illegal artworks in augmented reality. “Battling Pavilions,” by Sander Veenhoff allowed anyone in Giardini to delete any illegal virtual pavilions encountered or to add their own.

DUMBO Arts Festival 2011

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.

Sky Pavilions

Sky Pavilions, by John Cleater, screenshot by John Cleater, 2011.

In “Sky Pavilions” by John Cleater, an alien Sky Pavilions takes over DUMBO. “Sky Pavilions” includes audio by The Magic Stranger and Dewanatron.

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.

Show Me

Show Me, by Todd Margolis, screenshot by Todd Margolis, 2011.

Show Me,” by Todd Margolis, explores virtual tourism using augmented reality with his avatar agent.


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.

#arOCCUPYWALLSTREET” takes the protest to the heart of the financial district directly in front of the Stock Exchange. Augments now blanket the entire financial district.

Occupy Wall Street Bufo Colony

Occupy Wall Street Bufo Colony,” by Will Pappenheimer/Virta-Flaneurazine. Video documentation of Occupy Wall Street colony breaching the barriers set up at the NYSE with mounted police. Later strange clump-like behavior above the drum circle at Zuccotti Park, with a very large rising uber OWS toad.

Zuccottii Park After the Raid

Zuccottii Park After the Raid,” by Mark Skwarek. Video documentation Zuccottii Park after the police raid with AR occupation still intact, November 15, 2011.

Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos

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.

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.

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

On Tuesday, January 16th, after three days of driving from New England, I arrived in Benson Arizona, which put me on the shore of the Border Memorial database. I spent the next two days driving throughout southern Arizona documenting as many of the individual data points as possible. The work was sobering and intense, but the projects performed perfectly.

There was a dusting of snow in the mountains the night before, but it is already 50 degrees. So the conditions can be pretty extreme, more on video.

On the road to Ajo along Arizona Highway 86.

Border fence near the Lukeville crossing in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.


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