America has been increasingly having some difficult and meaningful discussions regarding how it remembers itself through its public monuments. While not anyone can put a monument up and not everyone is prepared to take a monument down, increasingly accessible augmented reality content is changing how we think about public spaces. And, Snapchat is getting involved.
“LACMA × Snapchat: Monumental Perspectives”
In December, Snap and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) announced a partnership to bring artists and technologists together to create alternate monuments using augmented reality. The project, called LACMA × Snapchat: Monumental Perspectives, intends to focus on less commonly told stories that are still important to the local history and communities.
“Building new physical monuments takes a great deal of time, but the issues around monuments in America are urgent,” said LACMA CEO Michael Govan. “Utilizing Snap’s advanced augmented reality technology, artists and their virtual artworks mapped to specific places can inspire immediate conversations around real histories.”
After months of work by the first five artists to contribute to Monumental Perspectives, the initial round of experiences is launching today in time for the International Day for Monuments and Sites. While the most exciting rollout will be in LA county where the physical monuments are located, people will be able to see the virtual monuments from anywhere on Snapchat.
The five artists who created the “virtual monuments” are:
- I.R. Bach – Think Big. Think Big may be experienced at Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park (905 E. El Segundo
Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90059) or from anywhere.
- Mercedes Dorame – Portal for Tovaangar. You can experience Portal for Tovaangar at LACMA (5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036) or from anywhere.
- Glenn Kaino – No Finish Line. No Finish Line can be experienced at Christmas Tree Lane Park (within Exposition Park) near the entrance of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (3911 S. Figueroa St.,
Los Angeles, CA 90037), Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park (905 E. El Segundo Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90059), or from anywhere.
- Ruben Ochoa – ¡Vendedores, Presente!. You can experience ¡Vendedores, Presente! at MacArthur Park (2230 W. 6th St., Los Angeles, CA 90057) or from anywhere.
- Ada Pinkston – The Open Hand is Blessed. The Open Hand is Blessed may be experienced at Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park (905 E. El Segundo Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90059) or from anywhere.
Bringing the Team Together
As monumental as Monumental Perspectives is on its own, the project was made possible through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as part of their 5-year $250M Monuments Project.
“We are thrilled to join with LACMA and Snap in supporting this exhilarating new initiative,” said Andrew W. Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander. “These visionary artists will chart bold new ways of experiencing and understanding the complex history of our country’s monuments and memorials.”
The collaboration process has been a long one, but it has proved rewarding and fruitful for all parties involved. Lens Creator Michael French, who worked with artist Glenn Kaino on the piece “No Finish Line” for Monumental Perspectives, shared some of his insight on the process with ARPost:
“We learn so much about how to best express an idea or interaction or experience in AR simply by allowing it to evolve in the medium as we experiment and iterate (…) it helps to allow any proposed AR solution to remain very flexible for as long as possible, and to iterate on multiple alternatives, while listening carefully to what the medium is telling us along the way.”
How Tech and COVID-19 Brought the Experience Out of LA
In case the heated discussions happening in America regarding monuments weren’t a significant enough moment, the COVID-19 pandemic also shaped how Monumental Perspectives took shape. As we’ve seen in XR communities and projects before, the obstacles presented by the pandemic became an opportunity for innovation and inclusion.
“We realized the value of exposure as our team used an ‘at home’ version (of the Snapchat lenses) while working remotely,” said Snap’s Head of Camera Platform Partnerships Sophia Dominguez.
The versions of the lenses designed for out-of-office Snap workers evolved into an at-home version that Snapchat users anywhere in the world can view in addition to the versions that open in the physical locations in and around LA. This is only one of the ways in which Dominguez is happy with how Snapchat plays into the project.
“All of the lenses were created with Lens Studio (…) they were all working with the same technical constraints,” said Dominguez. “It really shows what the technology can do.”
Snapchat, XR, and the Changing Narrative of Public Art
Snapchat’s involvement in Monumental Perspectives isn’t just timely because of how it was shaped by COVID. XR is participating in the national conversation at a scale sufficient for independent invention.
If you’re a regular reader of ARPost or closely following location-based experiences and how XR can amplify voices, you might know the Pedestal Project by Color of Change. The experience, which was included in our XR Black History Month article, places digital statues of civil rights leaders on pedestals once occupied by statues of figures like confederate generals.
While this is a potentially sensitive and highly politicized discussion right now, art and culture – particularly in public spaces – has always been an evolving narrative.
“Art is always changing and it has always used technology to stay relevant and change over time,” said Dominguez.
Will You See Monumental Perspectives?
In the short term, we can say with certainty that Monumental Perspectives is an exciting use case for location-based social augmented reality. In the long term, we might look back at Monumental Perspectives and Snapchat’s role as a touchstone in the conversation on how we view the nature, role, and duration of art in public spaces.