Seen by tens of millions of people
The figure has been seen and shared on social media over the past few days by tens of millions of people. It’s what’s known as an “art toy”, a figurine now sold as a work of art – we can also see it as a template of sorts, even if its galleries don’t like that (see the report on the Kaws market) – which conveys a sense of sadness and solitude.
The figure, which has been baptized Companion and looks like a cross between the Michelin Man and Mickey Mouse, always has its eyes closed and is now even covering them with its hands in the ultimate sign of distress. It was created by Brian Donnelly, better known as Kaws (born in 1974), a New Yorker now ranking among the superstars of pop culture, who had a brilliant idea, which is perhaps a product of his past as a street artist. We could no doubt discuss the very real interest of this object but here the relevance relates to the way it is being disseminated.
He joined forces with the company Acute Art to use augmented reality technology (which embeds computer generated imagery into scenes from real life in a realistic way) to create a new project entitled “Expanded Holiday”. Since 12 March 2020 his monumental Companions have been floating above twelve sites around the world, including the Pyramid at the Louvre and a park in Sao Paulo. To see them, all you have to do is visit the place and connect to the Acute Art app.
In bed with your husband or wife
The other solution, which is more realistic in the current climate, involves downloading the augmented reality figure (which you can get for a free trial period) using the app and placing it wherever you like in a confined space. You can put it in the bathroom, in bed with your husband or wife…
The most popular artwork in the world
“It’s a new art form and it’s probably the most popular artwork in the world right now,” explains Acute Art’s artistic director, Daniel Birnbaum (see the report on Daniel Birnbaum). Experiencing virtual art within the confines of the home seems to be something new.
Beckham and Abloh
Given that Kaws has 2.8 million followers on Instagram, including a multitude of celebrities like former singer and footballer’s wife Victoria Beckham (28.1 million followers) and fashion designer and DJ Virgil Abloh (5.1 million followers) who have shared the image of the Companion, we can imagine this having a snowball effect and reaching screens around the world. “This is a technological extravanganza that’s generated nearly 250,000 downloads since it was launched,” observes Daniel Birnbaum.
The future of art
The curator, who is well known in intellectual art circles for curating the Venice Biennale in 2009 and for being the director until 2019 of the most famous museum in his native Sweden, Moderna Museet, is boldly charting new territory with Acute Art, which he sees as the future of art. “I bet you that over 50% of the works presented at the next Venice Biennale will involve virtual reality. I see my activities as a curatorial endeavour. But I have to admit that I have no business model. These technologies are still in their infancy.”
Prior to Kaws, he has collaborated with some of the most prestigious artists on the planet. On the Guardian’s YouTube channel you can watch the first virtual reality project by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei.
It’s a stripped-down documentary which is 50 minutes long and involves 360-degree cameras (you have to use the cursor at the top left) filming elephants in Myanmar and a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
Totally new experience
Ai Weiwei was satisfied with the experience (Watch other interviews with Ai Weiwei): “We wanted to study the relationship between animals and people. It puts the viewer right at the heart of the situation. It’s a totally new experience.”
100 000 viewers
“During the first few hours after its release the film was watched by 100,000 people. These numbers are far higher than any we could have dreamed of for an exhibition,” emphasizes Daniel Birnbaum.
Abramovic, Eliasson, Koons
His British company, which is unique in that it exclusively works on projects catering to contemporary artists, is made up of a small team of top freelance software developers. It already has a track record of producing virtual reality projects with the likes of performance art pioneer Marina Abramovic (see the report on Marina Abramovic), the star of dematerialized art Olafur Eliasson (see the reports on Olafur Eliasson) and Jeff Koons (see the report on Jeff Koons). We can only imagine what’s yet to come.
As one of the giants of 20th-century art Paul Klee once said, who the artistic director of Acute Art likes to quote: “Art is what makes the invisible visible”. Virtual reality makes this phrase seem more potent than ever.
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