FALL 2012: V.08 N.02: FOUND – SAMPLED – STOLEN – STRATEGIES OF APPROPRIATION IN NEW MEDIA
Editor-in-Chief, Intelligent Agent Magazine.
NMC Board of Directors Officer & Media-N Associate Editor.
Julieta Aguilera Rodríguez
Associate Director, Space Visualization Laboratory, Adler Planetarium, Chicago.
Ph.D. candidate, Interactive Arts, Planetary Collegium, Plymouth, United Kingdom.
PL: Julieta, thank you for talking with me about the Moon Lust project. Could you give our readership an overview of the exhibition, and mention the artists who were involved?
JAR: Let me start by quoting from the site moonlust.org. “Moon Lust is a speculative project that explores global interests and issues pertaining lunar exploration and habitation.” Its format is that of an Augmented Reality (AR) Art Exhibition, situated inside the Adler Planetarium galleries and the area surrounding the building during the months of June through August of 2012. The exhibition is accessible through mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. When visitors come to the Adler, they can pick up a brochure with instructions on how to load the exhibition to their devices. The brochure also includes a map that indicates where the different artworks are located. The Moon Lust project is part of an Art and Science effort I initiated from the Space Visualization Laboratory, a Research and Development area at the Adler. To this end, I invited artists Todd Margolis and Tracy Cornish (co-founders of the Future of Reality artists collective) to curate the exhibition. After discussing general logistics, they came up with the concept and made the call for artists as well as created the AR exhibition platform and associated website. We launched the project at the June Adler After Dark, an adult’s only event held at the museum on the third Thursday of every month. Artists featured in Moon Lust are Bino + Cool (with Hans Hauska and Alex Hill), Tracy Cornish, Margaret Dolinsky, James Enos, John Craig Freeman, Scott Kildall, Brenda López Silva (with Alex Betts and Panos Oikonomou), Todd Margolis, Rob Rothfarb, and Mark Skwarek. We involved artists working in academic settings, museums, research laboratories, and also independent practitioners, both in the United States and abroad.
PL: Could you talk a little about the geographical context of the site where Moon Lust was held?
JAR: The Adler Planetarium is located on Northerly Island, a man-made island in Lake Michigan, linked to downtown Chicago by a man-made peninsula. This is a challenging location for GPS based AR because GPS relies on locations triangulated by satellites and refined in terms of resolution through phone towers, and there are no phone towers beyond Adler. This means that GPS located artworks do not have a stable position so they fit either outside the building or in large enough galleries inside. Wireless is helpful in increasing location resolution, but the Adler is beyond the city’s wireless range, so only the area inside the museum has a strong enough wireless signal via Adler’s free WiFi. To accommodate for these circumstances, some artworks were situated utilizing GPS signals outside Adler, or by the main entrance but viewed from inside the building, or were registered to images found in existing exhibitions utilizing the camera in visitors’ devices in order to view the augments.
PL: What do you think the most compelling pieces in the show were?
JAR: Each piece is unique in its own right. In imagining Moon exploration, exploitation, and culturization, artists came up with a very interesting variety of approaches which I can attempt to summarize here, though they are more fully described in the exhibition’s website. Bino + Cool made a statue in honor of the first lunar governess; Tracy Cornish and Todd Margolis designed a number of speculative companies that would fulfill the needs of lunar habitation; Margaret Dolinsky created sculptural visions of robots that emerge from pods created by a person’s lunar desires; James Enos visualized an architectural mass generated by the human system set on the moon; John Craig Freeman created a DIY (do it yourself) vessel for speculative Earth refugees; Scott Kildall and Mark Skwarek envisioned various war machines which moon inhabitants would use during earth-moon conflicts; Brenda López Silva built a low gravity amusement park (roller coasters included) inspired by 19th century installations; and finally, Rob Rothfarb created a space elevator that sits in the lake between the Adler and Navy Pier.
PL: Augmented Reality is a medium that I consider as a highly “attended” genre, as it usually takes a docent or a certain amount of technical familiarity/expertise to enter the space. Did you have any challenges, and if so, how did you address them?
JAR: We worked intensely on developing the exhibition’s brochure so Moon Lust could be a self-guided experience. We also developed an “educator’s guide” to address the science based aspects of the exhibition given that Adler is an astronomy museum. During the launch event and subsequent summer Adler After Dark events, we had staff available to answer questions and give tutorials on how to access the exhibition. Staff and volunteers have also sporadically helped visitors during the summer day times. The biggest challenge overall has been the early penetration of AR into the public realm. Most people have never heard of it, so a fair part of the effort has been to introduce what the devices most of us already have are capable of in terms of conceptual and embodied experiences. Luckily, Todd and Tracy, as well as most of the artists involved, have been working in AR and other immersive media for a while, and already had a good idea of the challenges we would face as well as how AR would impact the space of the Museum. Adler is in the process of improving its WiFi coverage (which was also a challenge) and we want to leverage this in developing new ways of interacting and understanding space, a goal that shares common areas of concern with these artists’ works.
PL: What has been the public reaction to the show?
JAR: Something very beautiful to witness. When looking at someone holding a smartphone and seeing beyond it, it seems as if that person had gained an organ that is then experimented with, like a new limb or a new eye held by the artwork. You can see the reflective attitude that is connecting thoughts to body motion as the person moves around virtual objects that are positioned in real space. I like to think about it as a grounding experience that brings the body into the realm of artistic representation. As you mentioned, it is not a simple endeavor, and people would get upset if the WiFi signal was weak, but on the other hand, such reaction shows the eagerness to experience and be in the now, interacting with these new dynamic modalities and renewed sense of consciousness.
PL: It has been over 40 years since we have regularly visited the Moon. Do you think Moon Lust sparked the audience’s imagination about Moon Exploration/Habitation, and how?
JAR: I believe it brought it closer to home. The way technology is extending human perception and opening up new ways of thinking. The rovers in Mars capture our attention because they have placed the two eyes of humanity in the red planet and most recently we could witness the landing of the rover Curiosity through NASA dispatches and a real time simulation of the event. In the case of the Moon, humans have walked there, played golf, rode vehicles, done science, and many of us have grown with that history. Moon Lust went beyond history and assumed human lunar habitation and how what that would be experienced through Augmented Reality. Seeing the work appear in the museum galleries moved the whole museum to a hypothetical Moon, even if for seconds.
PL: What has been the Adler’s response to this show?
JAR: It has been very positive, from guards, to staff in different departments, to the president of the museum Paul Knappenberger and the Board of Trustees. The exhibit represented the first time our museum has expanded the immediate space for our visitors to interact with. While today’s digital planetariums take people into outer space, Augmented Reality has the potential to allow them to experience physicality in new directions, from co-existence with virtual objects, to the way we relate to them.
PL: What do you think the future uses of technologies like AR might be to recapture the imagination of the public about science?
JAR: AR is already being used to simulate and visualize physical phenomena by science centers around the world. AR is just becoming familiar to the public so it is a good time to dream what to do with it. Whereas practical minds may use it to reformulate other familiar media, I look forward to imagine what other media has not been able to do that AR can do. A science of concepts and illustrations may be a bit more comprehensible with less complex and far removed constructions. I see imagination as something more fully perceptual and space aware than previous purely visual representations.
PL: Moon Lust seems to have been an evocative use of AR as space for communicating the dreams of returning to the Moon. Do you have any thoughts as how AR could be further used in the service of humanity?
JAR: That is a huge question but I can try answer aspects of it. In the case of astronomy, Augmented Reality may help us formulate different relationships with the vast Universe, a space we can hardly comprehend. The Moon is relatively close and so are some of the planets in the Solar System, but it is unlikely that humans will ever get much farther than that. Our understanding of space is largely established through visualization and simulations that are adapted to human scale in terms of space and time. Interactive capabilities can also enrich the experience, helping integrate it better with our cognitive system. Since AR is referenced to the location and posture of the body, you could say that making ideas visible naturally enhance how important it is for humans to experience and understand. We are dynamic beings: ideas, values, feelings all change as we grow and I believe AR and other interactive and immersive technologies can support that grow because in my view, change does not come from owning objects or standing still, but from interacting with the world.