Artist’s AR Exhibit Shows Two Sides Of The Same Reality

Adobe’s artist in residence explains how augmented reality proved to be the perfect medium to express herself.  

Coming from an immigrant family of Chinese descent and living in Oakland, California, Estella Tse recalls her struggle having to navigate between her strict, traditional heritage – and her more liberal American upbringing, which encouraged individualism and freedom of expression. Art, she explains, was her form of escapism, as well as a way to reconcile the two worlds she found herself caught between.

Her professional background is as diverse as her heritage, including web design, front-end development, sociology, illustration, and visual design. Through her work, she now explores the intersection between art, technology, and impactful storytelling using immersive technologies such as VR and AR.

Participating in Adobe’s Immersive Artist in Residency Program, Tse was given early access to Project Aero, Adobe’s new augmented reality (AR) authoring tool and multi-platform system that aims to provide a user-friendly and intuitive interface for artists, designers and developers to create immersive content.

“AR content development today requires a combination of creativity and technical skills,” says Abhay Parasnis, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Adobe. “Project Aero will deliver a system for both developers and creatives to build simple AR scenes and experiences leveraging Apple’s ARKit. Designers can easily create immersive content that can then be brought into Xcode for further refinement and development.”

Tse’s project, developed using Project Aero software, was recently showcased alongside that of 14 other artists at the Festival of the Impossible in San Francisco, where her piece – half of which existed in the physical world and half could only be seen in AR – was appropriately called “two sides of the same coin.”

Viewed with the naked eye, the real world exhibit is nothing out of the ordinary. Bland, white walls covered in blue writing surround the small exhibit space, which features a small clay bust as its only inhabitant. Once viewed through an iPad using AR technology, however, the seemingly empty room erupts into a chaotic blend of red and yellow colors as an augmented phoenix rises from the emptiness.

“I wanted to make a piece that could really justify the use of augmented reality as an art medium,” she explains “As a designer who loves exploring the intersections between new technology and art, AR allows me to express myself in brand new and exciting ways. I strive to make art that is meaningful, inspiring, and uplifting, in hopes that viewers feel less alone in their struggles, too. AR allows me to do just that.”

Blending realities to create art requires a brand new way of thinking, a challenge Tse was more than eager to tackle:

“It forces me to be more thoughtful in the ways I create art. Coming from traditional and digital 2D illustration background, AR is more like sculpting and environment design. I’ve had to put on my gallery show and exhibit designer hats to achieve a more holistic viewing experience. Creating for AR is more like placing a sculpture in a courtyard or someone’s living room — I have to consider how and where my viewer will be experiencing my piece. Unlike virtual reality, AR begs for interaction with the real world. How does my piece relate or conflict with the space or manner in which it’ll be viewed?”

According to Tse, there’s also an additional layer of social interactivity that AR provides, which encourages people to share the content with friends on social media: ”Even though my work was designed to be a static gallery piece, so many people took pictures under my phoenix as shown through the iPad, they wanted to explore and discover the piece together. I think as multi-user AR becomes more ubiquitous, we’ll be seeing very exciting art pieces that will play with multiple perceptions and interactive explorations of the art.”

“We see the potential of immersive design to enable new forms of creative expression, customer experiences, and business models that we can’t even imagine today, but to deliver on the promise of AR requires a fundamental rethinking of what it means to create with new tools, technologies and interaction models” Parasnis adds.

Tools like Project Aero will, Tse believes, make the process of creating immersive art more accessible, allowing more creators to jump on board and define this growing space, which could very well turn out more open and diverse than other, more established creative industries.

“There’s a huge thirst in the artist community for pieces with movement, depth, interactivity,” she concludes. “From static paintings, to moving pictures and film, and now sculptures pop out of the canvas and frames — this is an exhilarating time to be an artist. Like new mediums that have come before, AR needs artists and creative energy to push the boundaries of what this technology can actually do. As a woman, as a POC, there are all sorts of opportunities I’ll be allowed in a new space that I wouldn’t have had in a more established medium.”

Image Credit: Festival of the Impossible

About the Scout

Alice Bonasio

Alice Bonasio runs the Tech Trends blog and contributes to Ars Technica, Quartz, Newsweek, The Next Web, and others. She is also writing VRgins, a book about sex and relationships in the virtual age. She lives in the UK.

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