Well, this was something of a treat to arrive through the letter box… Apparitions is a set of augmented reality artworks created by Luciana Haill.
First off a description of what augmented reality or AR is may be helpful:
“AR is an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real-world are ‘augmented’ by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple senses including visual, audio, touch and smell. The overlaid sensory information can be constructive (i.e. additive to the natural environment) or destructive (i.e. masking of the natural environment) and is seamlessly interwoven with the physical world such that it is perceived as an immersive aspect of the real environment. In this way, augmented reality alters one’s ongoing perception of a real world environment, in contrast to virtual reality which completely replaces the user’s real world environment with a simulated one.” (Edited from text at Wikipedia.)
To view Apparitions you use an Apple iPad or iPhone (an Android version is in the process of being developed) and the Apparitions app, which is triggered by viewing with the device’s camera one of the three postcards which were produced specifically for the project.
These postcards each feature a vintage sepia tinged photograph of a lost British seaside landmark; St Leonards Pier, The Hastings Albert Memorial Clocktower and Edwardian Beach Huts in Bexhill (and appropriately they come packaged in a traditional candy striped seaside-esque paper bag).
All these places no longer exist; the Clocktower was damaged by arson and subsequently demolished in 1973, the pier suffered bomb damage in World War II and then severe gale damage and was demolished in 1951, while the beach huts were destroyed in a storm in 1905 and almost all of their contents washed out to sea.
Once the app has been triggered by one of the postcards a form of real world “apparition” appears on the device’s screen; the resulting image is a three-dimensional computer generated model of one of the lost landmarks, set on top of the postcard and combined with the real world background that the postcard is in.
An example of this is the above screenshot of one of the app’s augmented reality artworks; the Clocktower is computer generated and it appears almost as though it has been “projected” from one of the Apparitions postcards beneath it – the teacups, paving stones, plants etc are part of the “real” world. Further screenshots of the app are also shown above and below.
The images are each accompanied by their own individual soundtrack which adds an extra sense of immersive layering to the artworks; an older gent with a personal family connection to the site narrates the story of the Beach Huts washing away, holiday makers’ conversations interweave with recordings of period entertainers in the Pier section and the sounds of celebrations, day-to-day life, chiming bells and traffic can be heard while viewing the Clocktower (accompanied by the sounds of seagulls, this being the seaside).
I had first read about augmented reality and related locative digital art, where reality is augmented in a specific location/s, in William Gibson’s novel Spook Country (2007) but viewing Apparitions was the first time that I had seen such work myself; one of the things that struck me was that I had not expected it to be so “real”. The computer generated images onscreen are stylised rather than being photo realistic but they appear very present in the actual world.
The effect brings to mind a form of modern-day conjuring or seancing of ghosts or phantasms (which in turn brings to mind The Eccentronic Research Council’s talking in their lyrics of taking photographs with their iPhones, which they describe as “modern-day magic on a monthly tariff”) or alternatively a form of assisted imaginative time travel that enables you to peer through a portal and down the corridors of history:
“In my new artworks Apparitions these augmented reality landmarks are like ghosts which Smartphones can allow us to see.” (Quoted from the Apparitions site.)
In this sense Apparitions explores some similar and overlapping territory with hauntological work and theories in its creation of spectral imagery and sound in relation to lost landmarks and futures. Accompanying which the use of the words ghosts and apparitions in the project is not dissimilar to the use of ghosts or spectres within some hauntological related work in the way that it infers a sense of the spectral after-images or echoes of items from previous eras.
Due to the technology in the app and sensors in the device you can literally wander around the lost landmarks and view them from different angles. I was particularly struck by the Clocktower portion of the project, with the computer generated image of the tower appearing to literally spring out of the postcard into the real world and as the soundtrack plays sections of it gently fade in and out of view, revealing a form of spectral image within a spectral image.
Adding to the sense of unreal-reality is the shadow that this spectral Clocktower apparition casts on the screen and onto the real world background that the postcard is situated in; there is something subtly unnerving about this aspect of combining the artwork with the real world (or should that be invading rather than combining?).
If you should have a chance to view Apparitions it is worth also reading the accompanying text at the website, which adds further layers to the artworks as it provides historical background on the lost landmarks and other connected information.
For example when the app is first loaded a metal plated teapot bobs gently in one corner, which you touch to launch the artwork and it is also featuring during the Beach Huts section of the augmented reality experience.
At the Apparitions’ site it is explained that the teapot was chosen in part as it represents the only surviving possession from when the Beach Huts were destroyed and their contents washed out to sea as it was rescued after being seen bobbing about in the sea on the shore the next day.
There is something particularly evocative about this item, its sole survival and prominent use in Apparitions:
“Within the app, the teapot becomes an unlikely but quintessentially English symbol of survival and continuity.” (Quoted from a piece on Apparitions in the Hastings Independent Press newspaper.)
As with Apparitions, Luciana Haill’s other work is often in areas that combine, cross over and explore the boundaries between new technology, creativity and research – with dreams, the brain and the unconscious being recurring inspirations.
Connected to which Apparitions and some of her other work could be considered to connect with surrealism, an art movement that originated in the 20th century and which is often associated with striking and unexpected juxtapositions of images and explorations of the unconscious and dreams; in Apparitions a not dissimilar juxtaposition at times occurs by the combining in the app of the digitally created Clocktower, Pier and Beach Huts and the real world, with the resulting images and their soundtrack having a dreamlike nature and her installations and illustrations are also in part dream inspired and related three-dimensional artifacts juxtapose found objects in a surreal manner.
Some of her other work could also be seen to connect with both a form of neo-psychedelia and the flickering light Dream Machine experiments of The Beat era and it at times focuses on interactive experiences controlled by monitoring participants’ brainwaves, which are sometimes combined with the use of Dream Machines or their more modern technological descendants such as the kaleidoscopic PandoraStar programmable strobe light. These are devices which produce moving and/or changing light patterns that are viewed with closed eyes and used to alter the brain’s electrical oscillations or waves and potentially aid the user enter a meditative state; in the interactive experiences resulting changes in the brain’s activity are measured and the data this produces is used to trigger changes in a soundtrack which is heard by the participant, creating an intertwining feedback loop of light, brainwave activity and sound.
The interactive and immersive elements of these previous projects combined with the use of digital technology is something which can also be found in Apparitions and the app effectively becomes a portable art installation, one where the view it creates by combining the real world with the digital “ghostly” dreamlike conjuring of a lost landmark is in part decided by the person experiencing it and where they choose to do so. Potentially also background noise from the real world location that is chosen can become combined with the immersive quality of the soundtrack, with these decisions about viewing locations and the way in which the landmark can be viewed from different angles and physically wandered around meaning that each experience of the app can have a unique character.
As referred to previously dreams are one of the recurring inspirations within Luciana Haill’s work, which at times draws from Lucid Dreaming, a phrase which relates to awareness within a dream and the ability to take control of the dreamscape and Hypnagogia, which is the state experienced just prior to sleeping or during day-dreaming, with for example illustrations being created during Lucid Dreaming or liminal/transitional states of consciousness.
Lines of connection could be drawn between the dream aspects of this other work and Apparitions as the phantasms that are digitally created could be seen as a form of waking dream.
- The Apparitions site and app
- The Apparitions Twitter feed
- An article on Apparitions at the Hastings Independent Press website
- Luciana Haill’s main website
- Luciana Haill’s work in brainwave controlled music featured in Deconstructing Dad – a documentary on electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott
- William Gibson’s Spook Country novel
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
- Day #207/365: The Eccentronic Research Council: Modern Day Magic on a Monthly Tariff and the Rhyming (and Non-Rhyming) Couplets of Non-Populist Pop
- Magpahi, Paper Dollhouse and The Eccentronic Research Council – Finders Keepers/Bird Records Nestings and Considerations of Modern Day Magic: Chapter 35 Book Images
- Ether Signposts #37/52a: The Raymond Scott Press Pop Figure, Something of a Growing Family of Electronic Music Innovators and A Dream Center Where the Excitement of Tomorrow is Made Available Today
- Hauntology – Places Where Society Goes to Dream, the Defining and Deletion of Spectres and the Making of an Ungenre: Chapter 3 Book Images
- A Lineage of Spectres Part 1 – From Hauntology to Hypnagogic Pop: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 19/52
- A Lineage of Spectres Part 2 – Hauntology, Hypnagogic Pop, Synthwave and the Creation of Mystical Half-Hidden Worlds: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 21/52