This new art collective is taking over Denver with augmented reality

From acting to painting to poetry, activist art takes many forms. In 1916, Dadaists Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings set up Cabaret Voltaire in a Zurich café, where they invited creatives like Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Sophie Täuber-Arp to join an anarchic performance that made a statement against the First World War. World War. . In 1937, Pablo Picasso painted “Guernica”, a legendary work of anti-war protest art. On October 7, 1955, Allen Ginsberg read his visionary poem “Howl” for the first time at the Six Gallery in San Francisco, decrying American consumerism and extolling sexual liberation.

And on October 15, 2022, the new collective of artists Denver digital land grab will flood the city with useful art through augmented reality to illustrate numerous social and political issues affecting creatives. Your motto? “We are taking space. We are not asking for permission.”

Founders Corrina Espinosa and David Hanan have been anticipating the collective’s first exhibition, manifest dystopia, since December. The road out of the pandemic has been bumpy, from the economy to housing, the civil rights movements to Roe v. Wade, the toxicity of social media to growing mental health crises, and Espinosa and Hanan acknowledged that neither the government nor benevolent billionaires were stepping up to fix any of them. So they decided to speak up and respond, and what better way to do that than through a renegade art collective?

“We were seeing artists being kicked out of their studios and places of residence in the RiNo area at the same time that entities like Meow Wolf were starting to bring the art community to life. It seemed like a great juxtaposition,” Hanan says. . “All these issues with rental space in Denver and the tech companies exploiting us. [Manifest Dystopia] it feels like a natural response to it. A feeling that we could actually do something about it: we could harness augmented reality technologies to allow artists to spread their work around the city of Denver.”

“We want to have a visual conversation about social issues and all the social anxiety that has been affecting [artists] specifically in the last three, three or so years. And that’s what this art is about,” explains Espinosa, a Denver native, who says she is personally outraged by “the real estate market right now. She literally has a deadly hold on not just Denver’s artists, but everyone. That’s why I think the companies that are taking over residential areas had better be careful, because we’re going after them.”

Instead of “going for them” armed with brushes and spatulas, the collective is using augmented reality. “The best part of AR is that there is all this free digital space and there are no laws, there are no rules. There are no regulations right now,” says Espinosa. “When space is a commodity for artists, [and there’s] all this free space, and you can do whatever you want with it, that’s what I think is one of the most exciting things about the project.”

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Espinosa, a full-time artist and professor of digital arts at the University of Colorado Boulder, says the idea of ​​creating an augmented reality arts collective hit her like a “lightning bolt” last winter. She has witnessed social and economic changes in the city throughout her life, but seeing artist friends who couldn’t afford a studio in an increasingly expensive city lit a fire in her.

“I even felt a little sick to my stomach and was shaking,” she recalls. “I have this idea that I really want to do, and David and I had just met at the time… We’re both angry about all the changes that have been happening and seeing the cracks in the system over the last three years.”

She and Hanan became “instant best friends” while working on an immersive show at Spectra Art Space last year. Although she is fluent in augmented reality, Espinosa knew that Hanan, who has worked in virtual and augmented reality for six years, would be indispensable. “It was like a fluke,” she says. “I had this great idea, but honestly, I couldn’t do it without David, because he’s the master of technology. We really complement each other.”

Hanan, who moved to Denver fourteen years ago and is the creative director of Squirrel Creek Lodge, recalls that at the time they were brainstorming the AR collective, the European Union was criticizing Facebook and Google for the wrong data usage. He remembers thinking, “There has to be a way to flex this tech muscle without dedicating ourselves to these mega-conglomerates who are clearly doing shady things with private data and who would clearly try to subvert us if we used their platforms as a means of protest or political expression.”

Weather manifest dystopia will exist online, the founders of Digital Land Grab are convinced that viewers will not give up any personal data. “We’re very, very proud and almost militant that we want to offer this on a platform that is agnostic: device agnostic, user agnostic… Any phone that can access the internet can open a browser and start interacting with the exhibit.” Hanan says. “It doesn’t require you to submit any information except your location. But we don’t save data, and we’re not interested in extracting or asking people for their private information, and that’s something we’re very proud of.”

“There are two ways to access [the exhibit]. We’ll have QR codes to scan, and the other thing you can do is go to our website, and we’ll have maps and lists, and you just click on the links based on your location,” adds Espinosa. “We’re going to have art groups in neighborhoods throughout the city. So you go to a certain group, and then you go to that section of the page, and you click on the link or links, and then you’ll be able to access the art in that area. Everything is completely online, no app.”

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Embracing augmented reality is embracing the future, says Hanan, and it’s not as foreign a concept as many believe: From Google Maps to Snapchat and Instagram filters, most people engage in AR on a daily basis. “What follows is that same kind of interaction with the spaces around us, not just our faces,” she says.

The name of the exhibition is intended to “address our dark history” by combining Manifest Destiny and dystopia. “It’s really easy to see all the hallmarks of the dystopia we’re living in right now, and that’s what we want to address,” explains Espinosa. “We only want local artists for this particular exhibit, because we’re trying to elevate local artists [and] a kind of Robin Hood the city. We want to take all this space and we want to give it to local artists, especially those who don’t have a space to show their work. We’re like champions of the underdogs, for sure.”

Digital Land Grab has been accepting art in all mediums for manifest dystopia, with the prompt asking artists to submit work that not only sheds light on a problem in a specific place, but also offers a solution for improvement. And submitting artists don’t have to know anything about AR; their work will be interpreted by the group’s encoders, who will place them in the spaces provided. “That’s something that confuses artists: A lot of them think they have to be digital artists to participate in AR, and that’s just not the case,” Espinosa says.

“If someone has a statement to make about Union Station, we can put that art right next to Union Station and allow viewers to fully immerse themselves in the mindset of the artist,” says Hanan. “If they have a comment to make about rivers and mountains, they can put that art against the backdrop of those same rivers and mountains, or they can augment those rivers and mountains and allow a user to fully interact with the idea of ​​’What? Is this seen through the artist’s eye?'”

Digital Land Grab already has art in the city and elsewhere in the state, which you can find on your online gallery. “Corrina took the very classic and instantly recognizable Welcome to Colorful Colorado signs and animated them,” says Hanan. “So, within the Digital Land Grab infrastructure, once you’re on site, you can activate the experience and then just point your phone at the Welcome to Colorado sign and it triggers one of the animations, and that’s effective on all signs .”

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Artists have also leaned into their Robin Hood nature with naughty jokes. On April Fools’ Day, they staged an “NFT Garage Sale” at RiNo, where they sold NFTs for cash in the form of “fungible wooden tokens,” which were printed with URLs on one side that would activate augmented reality art. in the other one. other.

“We made fun of NFTs,” says Espinosa. “It was satirical, but it also had a good purpose behind it: We were also teaching the community, especially the fine art community and the people who felt weird in the NFT room. We taught them how to mint NFTs and that they could participate.”

They hosted another pop-up at the Denver Performing Arts Center’s Quijote Nuevo party in May, where they began handing out printed URLs to patrons; scanned, they showed 3-D models of Jonathan Borofsky’s famous “dancers” dancing samba. Security came and told them that they couldn’t deliver materials to the event, but the artists still stayed.

“We see a fight,” recalls Espinosa. “There are people on the radio, and I’m like, ‘Well, either something really bad or something really good is about to happen.’ So this lady comes up to us and says, ‘Okay, what exactly are you doing?’ So I handed him the card and said, ‘We’re Denver Digital Land Grab, we’re taking space, we’re not asking for permission, and we have a gift for you and the people of Denver.’ And then she sees the dancers through her phone and her whole tone changed. She said: ‘We would love to accept your gift. This is great. In fact, I’ll help you deal out the cards.’ … We had such a great response, everyone loved it.”

The woman was none other than DCPA. Director of Operations Gretchen Hollrah. “It ended up being a very positive experience,” reflects Espinosa.

Digital Land Grab has big plans. The exhibits will spread beyond Colorado at some point; Espinosa and Hanan hope to set up a project in Venice Beach this winter with the help of friends Scott Bailey and Myah London Harwell, owners of Sally Centigrade, a gallery that moved from Lakewood to Venice Beach in February.

But for now, the collective is focused on releasing manifest dystopia. Denver’s virtual Cabaret Voltaire will certainly have a longer life than the Dadaists managed: the art will be there to stay and make its statements for all to see (in the metaverse, at least).

“We believe that this exhibition, and the exhibitions that we have yet to curate, can really bring about real social change through visual conversations,” Espinosa concludes. “That’s the ultimate goal: we want to make a real change in life.”

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