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“Occupy” Chicago Virtually:  Artists use new technology to “Re-interpret Public Space” in Chicago’s loop

Artists are “tagging” the loop virtually with content that provokes, instructs, delights, and challenges the viewer.

Most of the art we encounter in our everyday, public lives has been screened, vetted, approved, funded, purchased, and maintained.   Unless it’s the kind that appears on the wall of a building in your neighborhood, which is more likely to be painted over than maintained.  Technology savvy contemporary artists interested in public art have found a new way to deliver the goods – using something many of us have in our pockets – smart phones.  Bypassing the traditional gatekeepers of curators and institutions, artists can put their work in a public setting using a new technology called Augmented Reality (AR) – a form of mobile, virtual reality – which combines images, videos, and objects with the world your camera sees.

Several artists and collaboratives have organized an AR exhibition around the theme “Expose, Intervene, Occupy: Re-interpreting Public Space”. AR combines real and virtual worlds – creating an embodied presence where the real world context enriches your virtual experience to provide a visual and aural experience that comes straight from the artist.  These artists are thinking about the big issues that influence us all – why our financial system has sucked the lifeblood out of the American economy, the presence and dampening impact of social controls on civic life, the environment and where it’s headed; as well as how we got here – who sacrificed to bring us wheelchair access to public transportation, and whose land was this before it was ours?

One work that looks at the banking system, A Game We Play, by Mat Rappaport, recalls the Mario Bros. games by using coins as rewards to lead us through the financial district.  When we attempt to look directly at any of the buildings, however, they are de-focused, calling attention to the hidden nature of their activities, which nevertheless affect us all profoundly.  Drew Browning’s Street View reveals the hidden history of the CTA buses becoming wheelchair accessible, something the CTA takes credit for but was in fact forced into by years of protests and a class action suit.  Scanning the bus stops on the east side of State St. plays movies of actions from the era showing disabled rights activists climbing into buses and being hauled away in (non lift-equipped) police vans.  Jessica Westbrook and Adam Trowbridge (Channel TWO (CH2)) give us polyCopRiotNode, a monumental police officer in riot gear posted at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Dr. – providing a chilling presence at the gateway between business and consumer districts.

Other works give the Spearman and the Bowman (Native American equestrian statues at Congress and Michigan) back their weapons, plop a giant, modified traffic cone of uncertain function in our path, or measure cultural confusion with a robo-weathervane (WithervaneAR) that runs around like a chicken with its head cut off.  Playful and user-friendly Post-it-Notes offer an intervention medium to highlight a few of the poignant ironies in the story of the global financial crisis. The vultures… well….

For a complete listing of the works and their locations, see:

To access the collection of works, a viewer need only download the free Layar app to a mobile device equipped with a camera and GPS, and wander the streets of the loop (with the aid of a map that will be provided at many downtown and gallery locations as well as on the project website: ).  Some works are location-based, appearing at a particular landmark or address, while others are revealed upon pointing the camera at an image (such as the CTA signs on State St., or the Segway rental signs on Michigan Ave.).

If the function of art is to ask questions, undermine preconceptions and challenge what we take for granted, these artists, in their imaginative interweaving of the virtual and the real, are doing just that.

Participating artists:

Drew Browning and Annette Barbier (unreal-estates)

Mat Rappaport, Gail Rubini, Conrad Gleber (v1b3 – Video in the Built Environment)

Celine Browning

Jessica Westbrook and Adam Trowbridge (Channel TWO)

John Marshall and Cezanne Charles (rootoftwo)

For more information contact:  Annette Barbier, abarbier at or Mat Rappaport, mat at

 Altered traffic cone by Celine Browning