Augmented Creativity

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When exploring cityscapes, especially those unfamiliar, nothing quite sets the scene like graffiti does. The striking colors, the labyrinthine designs, and the coded messages they contain are of fascination to tourists and city-dwellers alike. Although it has always existed in one form or another, graffiti as it has developed in the past fifty years regularly captures imaginations. So much so, in fact, that it has made the leap from low-brow public scourge (and bane of patrol officers everywhere) to high-brow commodity, evidenced by the popularity of coffee table books dedicated to street art, use of it to add a semblance of flavor to gentrified neighborhoods, and recognition of graffiti artists as legitimate artisans.

All of that is fine and good, but street art’s commodification betrays its original use: not as decoration, but as communication. Graffiti artists have used their medium to mark their presence in a place through elaborately-designed tags. Murals are regularly used to pay tribute to a community’s legendary figures and fallen heroes, as well as showcase its talented artists. Its more subversive tendencies emerge when the form is used to reflect and critique local happenings, current events, or society at large, thereby becoming a magazine of the streets. Graffiti has always been about creating a place.

Leave it to programmers, developers working with augmented reality technology to collaborate with artists, expanding and transforming street art into a dynamic and immersive experience that expands on the history of a place while still paying homage to the hallmarks of the form. The Portuguese capital of Lisbon, a city known for the richness of its graffiti scene, is home to the iStreetArtLisbon project. A so-called “trans-media storytelling” exploit, iStreetArtLisbon endeavors to communicate “memories of the city” by re-thinking the original concepts of the murals and pieces. The result is an invigoration of street art by way of its animation, and also by way of allowing engagement with users through a comments function to create dialogue surrounding the art. Lisbon is just one city of many around the world that are exploring the concept of trans-media storytelling. Here’s an example from Italy:

But what about AR tech that lets you create your own virtual street art – regardless of place – for others to see? An app called WallaMe allows users to create virtual graffiti pieces, utilizing not only two-dimensional surfaces but three-dimensional ones as well (imagine a virtual Spiderman suspended between buildings!). Using a “public walls” function, creators can paint and tag for others to see, leaving them to be as imaginative – or as subversive – as they see fit.

The intersection of graffiti and augmented reality technologies pose a new kind of frontier. Creative boundaries will no doubt be pushed, and street art’s transgressive, socially progressive tendencies have the potential to expand. Almost certainly, though, political and legal boundaries will be tested as well. Quartz mentions that this particular union of art and tech will inevitably clash with established laws and norms concerning ownership of property and spaces, implying that it may force us to redefine them for the virtual world.

Would you use AR technologies to leave your creative marks on the virtual world? Leave your reactive marks in the comments below!