First-ever AR art exhibition on view at Humanities Gallery

Your cell phone. It’s an exciting, disruptive, universal device that we’ll never have. It is almost an incomparable enemy of viewing and understanding gallery art.

Almost.

An exception is the augmented reality art exhibit, “Traces,” from Camila Magrane, on view at the University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities Gallery through Feb. 10.

While viewing “Following,” a mobile phone – or a tablet provided on the site – serves as a vessel to explore the full story of the art on the gallery walls. Using the AR system of Virtual Mutations, Magrane’s collage works mostly with the device’s screen. Still images become the physical stages of an animated narrative.

“What interests me the most about this type of work and using these mixed methods is that it creates a dialogue between the visible and the invisible,” she said. “The phone or the tablet is just an intermediary between those two worlds.”

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From digital collages to Polaroid instant film, the work spans disciplines and constantly crosses between the digital and physical realms – both in its creation and reception.

Physical work always needs to be independent – it is the main thing and the beginning of the artistic process, says Magrane. He sees the visual piece as the body of work, and the visual content acts as the thoughts of that body.

“They’re like these digital creatures that live in a virtual environment but they also have ideas and thoughts coming from them, and those are presented almost exclusively,” he said of his show.

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“Magrane’s pictures feel connected to the surrealist compositions of artists like Salvador Dali, or Rene Magritte, who focus on the unconscious, dreamlike, sensual and unsettling,” said Amanda Krugliak, Institute for the Humanities curator. “At the same time, the works refer to the graphic hyperrealism of modern video game design, which continues to be an important part of Magrane’s artistic practice.”

The tactile process of folding and moving images reveals Magrane’s story ideas, giving life to the work in a way he enjoys.

Artist Camila Magrane holds a tablet up to one of the pieces in her exhibition
Artist Camila Magrane holds a tablet to one of the pieces in her exhibition “Traces,” which uses augmented reality to activate its animation. (Photo by Kiera Hollins)

“The work tells me where to go, so I just let the images lead and follow them down the rabbit hole,” he said.

With “Traces,” the mobile phone engages with the deeper story of each piece of art. It no longer serves as a distraction, but as a tool to see the full picture. It forces a pause on the viewer, who cannot take a picture or send text while using the application to view the activity. There is an uninterrupted opportunity to concentrate and fully absorb what one sees.

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“One of the things I love about this type of work is watching how people interact with it,” said Magrane. “It’s always different, it never gets old. There is that surprise that happens because this is not a human activity and it is not seen often.”

The Institute for Humanities Gallery, 202 S. Thayer St., is free and open to the public. Hours are 9am-5pm Monday-Friday.

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