Who Controls Augmented Reality?

Apple’s AR artwalk is the latest in a growing crowd, but the growth of augmented reality raises questions about the future of our parks and public squares

Thomas McMullan
OneZero
Published in
6 min readSep 19, 2019

--

Illustration: Seth Thompson

When you stand in New York’s Central Park, phone in hand, what reality are you living in?

Perhaps you’re trying to catch a monster. Perhaps you’re fighting an officially licensed wizard. If you have a particular brand of smartphone, maybe you can see a giant straddle a building; a conveyor carrying boxes across the pavement; words from a poem wafting through the air. The park is getting crowded.

You’ll need to have signed up for one of Apple’s [AR]T walks to see those latter vignettes, made by a handful of artists, including Carsten Holler, Cao Fei, and John Giorno. The programs were recently commissioned by the company and co-curated by New York’s New Museum to showcase Apple’s take on augmented reality (A.R.), layered across public spaces in a small number of cities.

“Augmented reality will prove to be as huge an invention as electricity.”

It’s a PR boon for augmented reality, with one of the world’s wealthiest companies exploring the technology and what it can bring to our cities. Nor is Apple isn’t the only company to overlay AR artworks on our parks and squares. Back in 2017, Snapchat collaborated with U.S. artist Jeff Koons to bring copies of Koons’ Balloon Dog and Rabbit sculptures to public places across the world.

But in New York’s Central Park, the piece met with resistance when the designer and artist Sebastian ErraZuriz situated his own graffiti-covered version of Koons’ dog in the same location. If you looked through the lens of Snapchat, you’d see a big balloon dog. If you looked through the lens of ErraZuriz’s own app, you’d find a defaced mutt. He described at the time as a “symbolic stance against an imminent augmented reality corporate invasion.” How does he feel about it now?

“Augmented reality will prove to be as huge an invention as electricity,” he tells OneZero. “In 5 to 10 years from now we won’t believe there was a time without augmented reality, let alone a time when no legislation existed…

--

--

Thomas McMullan
OneZero

Freelance writer | @BBCNews @guardian @frieze_magazine @SightSoundmag @wiredUK @TheTLS others | Also @GardensBritish | Rep’d by @harriet__moore | Novel coming