Viewing Art in the Time of COVID-19


1. Koo Jeong A, density, 2019, Augmented Reality. Installation view: Frieze Sculpture, London, 2019. Copyright & courtesy Koo Jeong A & Acute Art, London. / 2. Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The London Mastaba, 2016-18, 7,506 barrels, polyethylene cubes & steel frame, 600 metric tons. Installation view: Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park, London, 2018. Re-released in 2020 in Augmented Reality. Copyright the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation, courtesy the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation, Acute Art, London & the Serpentine Galleries, London. / 3. Visitors reacting to Jordan Wolfson’s Real Violence at the Whitney Biennial, 2017. Photo: Therese Öhrvall. Copyright & courtesy Therese Öhrvall & the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. 

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“Christo and Jean-Claude’s towering The London Mastaba was installed in the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park in 2018. Acute Art worked with the artists to capture the sculpture, in situ, in order to present it in VR for audiences across the globe, via their own headsets, smartphones, tablets, and the associated Acute Art apps. But — perhaps piggy-backing on the wider spread of AR through everything from Instagram Stories and Snapchat filters to Pokémon Go — Acute Art has focused its efforts in AR, which sidesteps VR’s display hurdle by being viewable first and foremost through smartphones and tablets, making use of their inbuilt cameras to bring the artworks to life. VR must be adapted to be viewed outside of headsets; AR is designed to be viewed outside of headsets. AR is then (currently) not only set up to reach much wider audiences, but is also able to move with those audiences, offering up the potential for site-specific artworks, exhibitions, and experiences. In late 2019, Acute Art presented Koo Jeong A’s density in The Regent’s Park as part of Frieze Sculpture. Using a smartphone or tablet and Acute Art’s app, viewers located in the Park conjured the AR sculpture through their device. density, a shimmering, floating, opaque ice cube, moves with the viewer, reflecting and refracting the shifting surroundings in real-time. (Since the time of writing, The London Mastaba has been re-released in AR.)

AR engages with viewers by asking them to play an active role in its materialisation, offering a degree of play and a dimension of audience engagement that is not commonplace in the art world. But XR offerings that take viewer experience further are those that engage with and reflect on the medium. These tend to be artworks, exhibitions, and experiences created for XR, rather than those simply created in XR. Perhaps the best example of this is Jordan Wolfson’s Real Violence, presented in 2017 at the Whitney Biennial. The 2-minute-25-second meditation on violence had the long lines that are a hallmark of VR headset experiences, with each headset acting as a one-person bottleneck. The long line, however, moved quickly, as few could bear the ultraviolent, bloody work for even half a minute. As such, the artwork simultaneously demonstrated our collective disdain for violent action and the reflexive manner in which we look away.”

© 2022 Harriet Flavel Ltd