SXSW 2014
10:59 pm
Sun March 9, 2014

Watch This Mural in Downtown Austin Come Alive on Your Smartphone

The side of the Recess Arcade Bar on the corner of San Jacinto and East Sixth Street looks a little different.

Artists Jordan Seiler and BC Biermann spent the entire weekend pasting an 84 foot long mural on the side of the building.

Sieler, based in New York, says the mural deals with ideas of production and consumption.

“On the right hand side we have this production cycle where the guys and gears are producing a semi-abstract sphere," Sieler explains. "On the left hand side we have the vixens of consumption who take that product and blow it out to the world.”

But if you hold your smartphone up to the wall, it looks really different. 

“Figures animate. They run as a video loop," he says. "The gears and the TVs turn on.  The spheres begin to move around this track.” 

The project creates what's called augmented reality: it takes a physical environment, like a mural on a wall, and covers it with something digitally on your smartphone screen. 

The artists have developed a mobile app that uses three-dimensional and interactive technology to bring the mural to life. It’s part of a public art project called Re+Public and created in conjunction with the South by Southwest festival.

“Every body already has their phone out anyway," says Biermann. "It seems like a logical leap just to look through your device at things." 

Eventually, they want public art pieces like this one to be used with wearable technology, like Google Glass.

“We also want it to exist as a piece of art and you don’t have to look at it through your phone," Biermann says. "We don’t want to exclude people who aren’t equipped with smart devices. That’s a small demographic these days especially at something like [SXSW]."

Biermann and Sieler see these projects as a way to force people to interact with public space and question how public space is used, especially when it comes to advertising.

“You want a public environment to be an environment in which people feel they can have discussions, they can talk about politics, air issues they’re concerned about. That conversation is cut off because they own all the space," says Sieler.

Using augmented reality also allows the artists to collect information from those who interact with the art.

“As the user touches certain objects within murals, we’re collecting data on where they’re touching and what they’re touching so that we can potentially ask people questions through murals, you know, ‘how do you feel about specific issue in Austin is?" Sieler says. "Murals and/or two dimensional objects in public space can be access points for that kind of information gathering."  

While Re+Public has worked with other artists on projects in New York, Brussels and St. Louis, this is the group’s first solo digital mural.

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