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December 22, 2020

An Unreal City in Your Backyard: Acute Art’s Augmented Reality Festival

From giant spiders to tiny spinning tops, augmented reality (AR) sculptures play with the laws of physics in this curated selection of digital artworks, all available through your phone.

Visual art producers Acute Art have teamed up with Dazed Media and an international line-up of artists to present Unreal City, London’s largest ever public festival of AR art. The exhibition app brings the collection to life right in front of you (even if you aren’t in London), allowing you to move around the sculptures to capture views from all angles.

With gallery spaces around the world closed or limiting entry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to access art both outdoors and from your own home has become more important than ever. From Tomás Saraceno’s consideration of ancient megafauna in ‘Maratus Volans (Peacock Spider)’ to Nina Chanel Abney’s reflection on companionship in ‘Imaginary Friend,’ the works curated by Acute Art explore diverse themes, but they all reimagine reality with their fantastical creatures and bizarre physics. Some of the sculptures are digital recreations of the artists’ physical works, such as Bjarne Melgaard’s ‘Light Bulb Man,’ while some artists like KAWS and Darren Bader have created completely original digital pieces for the AR project.

The artworks have been arranged into a walking tour along the River Thames in London, encouraging people to get out of their homes without the need to visit an enclosed location. Visitors can follow the in-app map along the one-mile path between Millennium Bridge and Waterloo Bridge to locate real-world buoys, which mark out suggested stopping locations for bringing up the artist’s work on their phone screen and see it appear in the world. Koo Jeong A’s ‘density’ floats a block of ice serenely above the river, while Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Courageous Flowers’ sprout from the concrete slabs of the walkway. There’s a total of 36 sculptures arranged across 24 different sites on the Southbank to explore.

However, even if you can’t be in the UK right now, you can still use the Acute Art app to place many of the sculptures in your own environment without needing to travel. Some of the artworks can’t be accessed outside of London, but those that are available can be put in the world around you, standing on your own floors and tables or hovering above your friends. You can also view multiple sculptures at once, experimenting with different combinations to appreciate how they might complement one another. The digital platform allows for boundless creativity when interacting with the artworks.

2020 has been a year of discovering technologies that make the things we love more accessible, and Acute Art’s expertise in augmented reality fits right in with this artistic evolution. Unreal City is available as a physical walk in London until January 5, 2021, and you can download the app from both Apple and Android.

To see more public art pushing the bounds of reality, see our feature on sculptor Jaume Plensa.

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