[ISEA2016] Artist Statement: John Craig Freeman — Portal To An Alternative Reality

Artist Statement

Art installation in Public Space with geo-located augmented reality 2016 Wood paint, other construction materials, and photogrammetry virtual assets

“Portal to an Alternative Reality” has been produced in partnership with the ZERO1 American Arts Incubator, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the U.S. Consulate General, Wuhan, and K11 Art Foundation China, Portal to an Alternative Reality acts as an access point where the public can immerse themselves in virtual and augmented reality experiences that document the rapidly changing city of Wuhan.
In 2014, ZERO1 and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs launched a new media and digital arts program, the American Arts Incubator. It showcases artists as engaged and innovative partners in addressing social issues, in addition to creating a cross-cultural exchange of ideas.
In 2015, public artist John Craig Freeman was selected by the U.S. Consulate in Wuhan to spend 28 days in Wuhan where he was asked to engage and empower the youth of the city. Early in 2016, a portal gate was built in the courtyard in front of the K11 art village in Wuhan. The construction was directed by local master craftsmen and mediated with four iPad viewing devices connected to a powerful projector with screen for evening events.
In April 2016 Freeman led an intensive five day virtual and augmented reality workshop, where he assembled and trained four production teams made up of faculty and students from local Universities. The goal was to have the teams engage the community to determine which parts of the city to document in virtual and augmented reality. The resulting work was then placed at the precise GPS location of the portal gate in the courtyard of the K11 art village. The public was able to experience the work on smartphone mobile devices using a free downloadable augmented reality browser app and during special evening events using the iPad viewing devices. The virtual and augmented reality scenes were created with photogrammetry techniques. Photogrammetry is the science, technology, and art of obtaining reliable information from non-contact imaging and other sensor systems, in this case, to create 3D models from series of photographs taken at various angles. If an object, person or scene is photographed at multiple angles, software can analyze the parallax difference between key features in the image and extract a three dimensional reconstruction of the image in the form of a point cloud, points in space with XYZ coordinates and RGB color values. Polygons can then be created by connecting the dots, so to speak.
Augmented reality is virtual reality in a physical location. It is a new medium that has the capacity to support aesthetic research and artistic creation, particularly in public space. Viewed through the camera of common smart phones and other mobile devices, augmented reality allows vast audiences to experience new and emergent realities. Virtual objects can be located at precise longitude and latitude coordinates anywhere in the world. The mobile device becomes a kind of cybernetic prosthesis that can extend human perception and the sensorium, making the virtual world that is forming around us, visible.
Meaning is constructed in augmented reality much like montage in filmmaking where shots are juxtaposed. Rather than adjacent film clips cut together over time however, augmented reality juxtaposes the real and virtual, over space. Furthermore, looking through the virtual world to the physical world beyond disrupts our sense of what is real and what is virtual, causing a profound shift in our established ontologies.
In May 2016 the project was moved to Hong Kong for exhibition during the symposium, and to seed a possible expansion of the project.

Video: ZERO1 American Arts Incubator, China, 2016

  • John Craig Freeman (USA) is a public artist with over twenty-five years of experience using emergent technologies to produce large-scale public work at sites where the forces of globalization are impacting the lives of individuals in local communities. With his work, he seeks to expand the notion of public by exploring how digital networked technology is transforming our sense of place. 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 public art. Moreover, public space is now truly open, as artworks can be placed anywhere in the world, without prior permission from curators, governments 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 and its print augmentation, to the virtual realm, the placelessness, the everywhere-butnowhere of the Internet. In effect, the global digital network has facilitated the emergence a new virtual space, which corresponds to the physical geography around us. The public sphere is now crashing back down to place in the form of place-based virtual and augmented reality, without losing its distributed character or its connections to the vast resources of the world-wide digital network. Freeman is currently a Professor of New Media Art at Emerson College in Boston, USA.  johncraigfreeman.net

Full text and photo (PDF) p. 109-111