Anxiety is a feeling that we all know intimately in one way or another and that has arguably been an integral part of human existence since the dawn of civilization. Whether it’s a particularly dreadful traffic jam on the way home from work, a broken heart, or even just the frustration of tripping on your own two feet; there are a myriad of things that can cause this heady cocktail of anxiety, anger, and sometimes even sadness to creep into our lives and upset our emotional balance.
On the other hand, angst has often been the driving force behind a significant amount of all the art that has ever been created. In general, human beings are anxious by nature and our expression of this anxiety is often through our words, our actions and our interactions with the world around us. It is through art that we find an outlet for our anxieties and the act of creating is very often a form of catharsis for these powerful, often overwhelming feelings. From Vincent van Gogh to Sylvia Plath via Kurt Kobain; angst has been an ongoing driving force for the art we create and consume.
Hallucinating Type, an ambitious augmented reality typography project by New York visual artist Rajshree Saraf, takes the idea of angst and its permanence in society even further. The project involves her overlaying angsty AR typography on various New York locations. The result is a project that is imbued with a perfect amalgamation of the everyday emotions we all go through at some point while navigating the hustle and bustle of our everyday urban lives. There is a playful facetiousness to his art that speaks to the inner punk in all of us; giving us the means to postpone the many events that cause us anguish.
We needed to know more.
It’s only fitting that a nerve-wracking AR project like this took place in what is perhaps one of the most “angst-ridden” cities in the world. What kind of role does the living, breathing giant of culture, diversity and multiplicity that is New York play in this project? Did your experiences of the city and its people shape these AR-like sculptures? Are there any intentional nods to the city’s idiosyncrasies?
I never thought about the New York energy that specifically shapes the project. I’ve lived with anxiety for as long as I can remember and Hallucinating Type would have been just as anxious anywhere else in the world. Come to think of it, yes it would have been scary but maybe not like that; not so publicly. Well, almost publicly.
What is NYC but a bunch of people screaming and swearing all over the place all the time? At the bodega, in the subway, in parks, at any crossroads; even at 6am – there is always someone, very publicly, breaking down. I guess the project reflects New York, but that was unintentional. New York is just a place where doing something like that didn’t feel weird to me. It fits perfectly. The city does not try to calm you down and, above all, never forces you to have a “set up” front. So yes, the anxious energy of New York helped me not to be paralyzed by my own, but rather helped me cope with it.
Augmented reality is rapidly evolving into a form of cathartic escape and a space where individuals and creatives can see and shape the world around them in a whole range of dynamic ways. Could you tell us a bit more about the therapeutic aspects of AR? How has this helped you displace feelings of anxiety or dread that arise from time to time? What would you like people who see your art to take away from it?
AR is quite therapeutic, and the clue is in the name –– Augmented Reality. We’re literally trying to make our realities a little less lame. Like many creatives, crippling anxiety is part of my creative process. It’s inevitable; the intense surge of self-doubt before it all started to make sense. I didn’t start the project thinking it would be scary. I started it in a transition phase; anxiety was at an all time high and I didn’t have much free time. It was only after realizing how much AR was helping me deal with anxiety that I decided to use it as an avenue for my emotional outbursts.
It felt like I was shouting very loudly in a public place and AR allowed me to do so without repercussions. I was the only one who could see my screen, so I was basically screaming in public but no one could hear me. What a superpower, isn’t it? It took me a while but I came to terms with the fact that we don’t have much control over what people get out of our art. So, “AR is cool,” “God really is dead,” or “She needs help” — are all acceptable takeaways, if not existential self-talk, of course.
Augmented reality means the sky is well and truly the limit for experiential art and design. How do you see the technology developing further in the near future and what kind of innovations can we expect? What are you looking to experience with yourself?
We’ve barely seen all that AR can do. Explorations have been mainly in education, entertainment and art where fault tolerance is comparatively higher. That’s changing now, as our technology evolves. While it may be a while before AR devices replace our phones, we’re talking about user-friendly AR glasses, precise geolocation in AR, and virtual objects that can react to real-world physics. . How crazy is that?
Augmented reality has proven that it can inspire awe, but I’m also very excited to see how this new medium could finally fit into our daily lives. It’s so raw and the most exciting thing about it is the ability to rethink traditional design standards for an all-new medium. I was able to experiment with my way of contributing to the design of guides for AR communication. Go beyond filters and organized events. I want to experience how it will work in our guidance systems or our digital therapies. Oh, and real-time AR interventions will be a really, really revolutionary addition to our healthcare system.
As much as AR has the potential to make our environment better, I want to point out that it can also make things worse. We have to be careful who we want to give access to our very personal spaces. Virtual assistant technologies are already scary.
The advent of social media has been synonymous with the “memeification” of anxiety. People took their feelings and turned them into inside jokes that created humor from a sense of shared experience. You saw it in the early days of Myspace and Facebook and now you see millennials and Gen Z taking it even further on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. AR is the latest form of this trend, with filters recreating everything from Magic 8-ball divination to checking your soulmate’s name. Do you believe that projects like this can allow people to better express and relay this angst in the real world? Do you see a world where this would replace graffiti and wall art as a form of cultural expression? Could people hundreds of years away look at augmented reality sculptures like yours and get a glimpse into our lives?
I believe the more comfortable we are with a medium, the more creatively we can use it for expression. The filters are AR 1.0, so they’ve been around the longest. We’ve seen it go from normal fun AR face filters to more nuanced, mistrusted ones over the course of a few years as people got to grips with it.
We are still far from having reached the final form of AR, but I am sure that as the barrier to entry and distribution decreases for artistic projects like this, we will be able to express ourselves there too more freely. And we will hear many more relatable individual voices.
However, I don’t think the invention of new media should be seen as a replacement for old ones. New media is just one addition to our toolbox for cultural expression. The invention of written language or cameras did not replace drawing; so no, I don’t see a world where augmented reality replaces graffiti or wall art. Each medium has its own affordance and an individual’s unique experiences draw them to one or the other.
Some people express themselves best with words, some with photographs, some with painting, and some with AR. I loved AR because I love environmental projects and I love technology and I love design. It allowed me to combine many of my interests.
Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll be able to continue this project even next year, let alone a few hundred. With the speed at which technology is changing, we don’t know what augmented reality will look like in a few years when it’s fully developed. I may not know if, how and what they will see, but I sincerely hope what they see is the voice of the generation and not just the ads and the ruins of corporate capitalism.
You can follow Rajshree here.
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