An AR art wonderland lurks inside Apple’s new store in London

Behind the glass façade of Apple’s newest store in London lies an AR art wonderland

Artists Tin Nguyen and Ed Cutting have created United Visions, an augmented reality world for Apple’s Brompton Road store that brings poet William Blake’s chaotic inner world to life

As if there weren’t enough terrors to deal with, Apple celebrated the opening of its new London store by introducing Blakean demons to the world. Practical anyway.

The writhing augmented reality specters and snakes – with their raging inner hellfires visible – are the work of Australian but New York-based tech-art duo Tin Nguyen and Ed Cutting, together Tin&Ed.

Tin Nguyen and Ed Cutting, Tin & Ed

Enchanted by the just-launched United Visions app, now available on the Apple App Store, the AR artwork is a link to a Covid-delayed William Blake exhibition at LA’s Getty Museum, originally planned for 2020 and now has been kicked off until next October. With Apple products being used solely to develop the app, an early preview of the opening of a new store in Blake’s hometown seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.

Tin&Ed are currently members of New Inc, the arts and technology incubator run by the New Museum, have created digital, AR and vintage physical art for Rockefeller Center, Space10 in Copenhagen, the Sydney Opera House and an interactive digital piece is currently at the The Barbican as part of the Our Time on Earth exhibition. They insist that Blake is the perfect artist for AR treatment.

“Blake had these visions and hallucinations and it’s such a perfect connection for AR,” says Nguyen. “AR is about taking what’s going on in someone’s mind and bringing it into physical space in a really immersive way that could be real and there, but maybe only you can see it. It’s a very hallucinatory medium.”

The pair worked with the Unity3d game engine and digitally sculpted Blake works from the Getty, Yale and Tate collections and animated them with motion capture technology. The exhibition delay caused by the pandemic gave the artists additional time for research and development and to refine the digital evocation, but also to redefine their ambitions for the exhibition and the form itself.

“We’ve made thousands of prototypes of this thing, but even with the rudimentary prototypes, you could still feel something, that presence and that entity and the heaviness of it,” says Cutting. “It’s such a new medium, so we’re still working on how we can tell stories with it.”

They suspect that these angels, demons, and strange hybrids were a constant and very real presence for Blake, a visionary poet, painter, and printmaker. The United Visions app is a perfect glimpse into his dreamy imagination as these apparitions form and transform, with limbs emerging from walls and forked tongues appearing out of nowhere, all in ways specific to your surroundings. “It’s spatial, multi-sensory, and fully immersive, responding very differently to each space, whether you’re in an Apple Store, the Getty Museum, or at home in your kitchen,” says Nguyen.

At the heart of this multi-sensory assault is an otherworldly soundtrack by Grammy-winning hip-hop producer Just Blaze, who recruited his four-year-old son to read Blake’s poem The Tyger, and Dominican spoken-word artist Oveous Maximus, the other shred turns Blake’s poetry into an incantation.

For Tin&Ed, the play also hints at our mixed reality future. “We’re very interested in this hybrid space that mixes the physical and the digital,” says Nguyen. “We all have these digital identities now, and that’s how we interact with each other, and it’s important for us to underscore how the physical and the digital are merging and becoming a new space.”

As Tin&Ed says, most of us are currently experiencing AR on smartphones and tablets, but that’s about to change. The pair say they’ll keep updating United Visions as AR tech advances (and we imagine some sort of Apple mixed reality spec is almost certainly on the way).

John Giurini, associate director at Getty, describes how the United Visions project is also a taste of the future. “Museums in general, but museums that deal with older art in particular, need to get more creative when it comes to how they attract audiences. AR is one way younger generations interact with their world, allowing you to either get on the train or watch the train pass you.” §

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