Art is at a new turning point: new technologies mix with the art forms of yesterday. Indeed new technologies have introduced massive changes in the perception of art. Many apps have been created on smartphones, such as the popular mobile game Pokemon Go and the famous videos/photos app Snapchat for instance. These two applications both use a mix of art and technology through augmented reality (AR), a new promising use of this technology that is becoming more and more popular. Augmented reality is used to blend the lines between the real and virtual world.
Snapchat is a social media application allowing people to make short videos and pictures that disappear after only a few seconds. Its popularity is due to the ‘filters’ that fit your face and move at the same time as you. For instance, some of them provide better lighting, the possibility to add funny virtual masks or even virtual animal ears.
Snapchat has decided to extend its content to a more artistic app, called ‘Snapchat Art’. It is a platform where artists can show their work in augmented reality. The first to collaborate with Snapchat for their new project is the famous American artist Jeff Koons. Represented by David Zwirner, he is one of the prominent (and most expensive) contemporary American artists. He is both celebrated and attacked for the glittery and glamorous surfaces of his artworks, such as his Balloon Dog sculptures, all made in stainless steel. His collaboration with Snapchat is recent, dating from October 2017, and the goal is to allow people from all over the world to access Koons’ sculptures. The artist did not build the same sculptures over and over again, but instead he used the same Snapchat filter by locating it in different big cities around the world. Thus, he created his own ‘filter’ on Snapchat. According to Jeff Koons, “Snapchat is a creative platform and let us be able to communicate with each other and to transmit ideas”. The concept of Snapchat Art also allows users to bring people together at a same place to admire a work of art that is not physically there. This popular application is also a way for the artist to promote his work and enables people to have an easier, quicker access to art in a playful way.
A question we should ask ourselves though is who do Koons and Snapchat target? Art lovers? Teens? Snapchat is an app made for young people who love using social media. People just need a smartphone with Snapchat to see what Koons proposes. The concept is simple: the lenses are virtual images that are directly put on a real picture or video. Distance does not seem to exist anymore. This is what virtual reality permits, by reaching out to people all around the world. However, the strategy of Snapchat and Koons seems to mainly be commercial. Their project displaces art on the grounds of publicity and business. This may work to promote art, but when an application holds its benefice to itself, this can create some controversy debates.
Besides, the success of augmented reality is not exclusive to Snapchat. Another app was very successful quickly after its launch: Pokemon Go. The phone game was immediately praised (and criticized) for making people go outside to chase virtual ‘Pokemons’ (small pocket monsters first created by Nintendo). The mix of video game and augmented reality has been one of the major reasons of its success.
However, Pokemon Go also questions the border between private and public spaces and was the source of controversy when there were cases of people trespassing in order to capture a Pokemon. People also referred to Pokemon Go players in the street as ghosts.
A “symbolic protest against corporation invasion”
The question of public space has also been raised by Sebastian Errazuriz, another artist. In opposition to Jeff Koons’ virtual art, Errazuriz decided to create an identical 3D AR Balloon Dog covered in graffiti. He even geolocalized it at the same public space and coordinates as Koons’ work, but it is only visible on another app because Snapchat did not accept his demand. According to Errazuriz, his virtual vandalism of Balloon of Dog is a “symbolic protest against corporation invasion”. This protest questions the legitimacy of the digital public spaces because, as Errazuriz argues, Central Park belongs to the city of New York. According to him: “Corporations like Snapchat should not geo-tag the GPS coordinates for free. By doing that, Snapchat will make money with ads without paying any rent.” He thinks that citizens should be able to approve or reject what can be put on their digital public spaces.
We can ask ourselves if these different works of art using technology came about as an artistic revolution or as a misuse of technology. Art is no longer only displayed in museums anymore. Street art and virtual art are spreading more and more, creating a new form of museum.
However, technology here seems to mistreat art by invading spaces. It is important to understand how to use public spaces since the Jeff Koons x Snapchat project is coming to many cities. Should every space be given freely to commercial art?
It is obvious that art and new digital tools will work more and more together in the future and they already have. However, some artists could question this blend and fear the end of traditional art. Besides, if art is becoming even more accessible through the virtual world, does this distort the very concept of art? In the end, by invading the virtual world, technology and art seem to have no limits.
Cécile Delon et Leila Hassona