Public Art in Digital Space (#ArtofY)

It's hard to imagine artists working without the generosity of wealthy patrons. So, it may seem shocking that BC Biermann and Jordan Seiler thrive on pissing those patrons off by protesting public ad spaces.
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It's hard to imagine artists working without the generosity of wealthy patrons. So, it may seem shocking that BC Biermann and Jordan Seiler thrive on pissing those patrons off by protesting public ad spaces. Lately, however, they've found a new way to combat encroaching consumerism without butting heads. Advances in Augmented Reality have led to their new enterprise, Re+Public, new app, NO AD, and a mission to digitally enlighten your world.

Alex Schattner: What led you both to found Re+Public?

BC Biermann: I have been in the academic world for about 15 years, which includes about 7 years as a tenure track professor, though I'm currently taking a break from formal academia. In 2008, I was researching semiotics, specifically billboards and graffiti in LA, and Jordan came across one of my papers. We connected in NYC, and have been working together since. Separately, I founded The Heavy Projects, which has been developing web and emerging tech for about 15 years. It's allowed us to view augmented reality as something that allows one to make incursions into public spaces in new ways.

Jordan Seiler: I had been doing anti-advertising work since art school, but it was originally in a street-art vein. I would design a project for a specific location, execute it, document it, and then move on to the next project. I did that work under the moniker of PublicAdCampaign.

I started doing these large-scale civil-disobedience projects. In 2009, I researched illegal billboards around New York City. Then I got a group together in the middle of the day to whitewash 20,000 square feet of that occupied space. To finish it off--in a coordinated effort--artists came in and filled the space with their work.

"'NO AD' will turn every ad on a subway platform into art."

So, you really combined your expertise, art and technology.

J: Augmented Reality gives us technology to do advertising takeover work without having to physically touch that space--it's in the digital space. We began to explore A.R. as a medium unto itself. So far, we've done mural projects with other artists who share a similar ethos--using public space in a more democratic way. Now, Re+Public is working with Public House Wine (previously featured here!) on this mural in the Lower East Side, and we just launched an app called NO AD, which will turn every ad on a subway platform into art. As you're waiting for your train, instead of looking at the advertisements, you pull out your phone, hold it up to the ad, and see a work of art instead. The city becomes an unauthorized art gallery. Users get to be surprised and have a little serendipity added to their morning commute.

Who's in charge of curating the art?

J: We are. A major hurdle has been streamlining the process so that all of the triggers (ads) are associating artwork with them--keeping that going on a weekly basis as the ads change. Our goal is to work with museums, galleries, and other institutions that want to use the digital real estate for their artistic programing. For example, the MET may want to rent the space for a month?

Would institutions pay for the use?

J: Ideally, they would donate funds to help us keep it going. There are research and development costs, which we will try to get reimbursed for. We have interns going out to get ad data. It would be really nice to pay them...and us. However, we would never just award the space to the highest bidder. We want to keep it interesting, and have the public's benefit in mind.

What do you see as the future of the project?

B: I see the future of Re+Public as continuing to use emerging technologies (not just AR) to continue to blur the lines between the physical and the digital in addition to blurring the lines between physical and digital art. We want to continue to do interesting projects that push us to do better work and projects that problematize existing systems and encourage people to see their world differently.

J: All of Re+Public's work is done with the expectation that wearables will be an integral part of our lives in the next five years. Right now, it's kind of awkward to hold your phone up, and look at the art. Ideally, you'd never see the ad at all, and, if you were wearing interface glasses, that would be the case.

Learn more about Re+Public at:

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