THE UNLIKELY TRIO OF SNAPCHAT, AR AND JEFF KOONS
By Thomas Boldt
Messaging app Snapchat is probably best known as the provider of self-destructing texts and goofy real-time additions to selfies and videos, but recently it’s been looking to expand its repertoire in the world of ‘augmented reality‘. This may seem a bit counterintuitive, but Snapchat has a history of making counterintuitive ideas work – after all, text messages that erase themselves are what propelled them into the limelight.
Many technology companies are touting augmented reality as the next big thing, a type of virtual reality where digital images and data are superimposed over views of the real world, which is essentially how Snapchat’s selfie snaps and video adjustments work. But they’re not happy with just turning your best friend’s face into a rabbit in real time – they’re looking to expand into the art world.
Snapchat has announced plans to partner with artist Jeff Koons on an augmented reality project that would place digital versions of Koons’ artworks into the real world in various cities around the globe. The only way to view the digital sculpture installations is using the Snapchat app on your smartphone while you’re in a specific place. GPS sensors in your phone combine with the camera and gyroscope to allow you to look at the sculpture as though it was a physical object in front of you.
Koons’ featured works will be found in Paris, New York, London and countless other cities around the globe, but only in digital form. The goal of the project isn’t just to work with one artist, however, as Snapchat is actively soliciting work from other artists who want to be featured on the platform. You can learn more about how the program works by visiting art.snapchat.com for a quick rundown on the current locations, and the steps for adding your own work.
Of course, Koons is far from the first artist to be interested in augmented reality, also known as ‘AR’. Many artists have been exploring the possibilities of augmented reality for some time, but there have been significant technical hurdles involved. Headsets have always been clunky, and require all sorts of wired connections for power and data to operate effectively, which naturally limits the amount of interaction that people have with a digital AR piece. But thanks to the ubiquity and power of modern smartphones, that kind of capability is now something we can carry around in our pockets.
Microsoft, Magic Leap and other tech giants are experimenting with more robust AR experiences, but they are not intended for portable usage. Still, it will be very interesting to see how the art world responds to the unique blend of digital and physical media that augmented reality provides.