Augmenting Art and Activism


Museums are now filled with people looking at art through their phones, but one collective in New York has taken the concept to another level. Visitors to the Jackson Pollack gallery at MoMA in NYC can download the MoMAR appand see a layer of virtual art on top of the iconic paintings — it’s the first in what will hopefully be an explosion of people using AR to remix classic works and add commentary as a digital layer on top of the physical world.

The idea of using AR for activism is still fairly new, but if the technology allows us to reshape the world we see, there’s no reason we can use it to try to educate others about social issues. Gabo Arora, best known as an award-winning VR director, created an AR piece that allowed users to learn more about a civil rights leader in Baltimore while exploring the neighborhood where she did most of her work. Other potential use cases could involve reclaiming spaces — if you can’t remove a Confederate statue, for instance, you could encourage people to use AR to overlay statues of more positive figures and share those.

As cities change and morph, AR could also be used to make sure history isn’t forgotten. Many neighborhoods have gentrified and those changes have meant erasure for some communities; using AR to allow viewers to project images of what once existed is a way to confront history. In New York, it would help preserve the identities of what were once vibrant arts and ethnic communities and are now a sea of Duane Reades and bank branches.


In terms of art, AR could almost be the seen as the next wave of the Guerrilla Girls movement, which used activist tactics to call attention to the lack of female artists in major museums. If you can’t get real art in a space, adding it virtually might be the next best thing. As more people use AR to customize what they see, patrons could potentially create their own museums out of blank spaces, and then curate virtual spaces for others.

Of course, the downside of all this is that AR could be used to spread messages of hate and intolerance. It’s one thing to remix art, but it’s another thing to alter the message or destroy it, even if the destruction is virtual. Graffiti on the side of a temple or mosque in an AR world presents a different challenge than graffiti in the real world, but those messages could be hidden and if most people don’t see them, the hate could keep hiding in the shadows.

Despite this, augmented reality provides real opportunities to bring remix culture to a mass audience. We’re more able to customize our realities now than we’ve ever been, and AR will take this ten steps further. In a few years it’ll be common for us to use AR to beautify and change our world, and hopefully usher in a new wave of education and growth.