PAMM AR + Art: Q&A with Felice Grodin

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Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) has collaborated with Miami-based artist Felice Grodin for a Knight Foundation-funded pilot project to bring art to life with augmented reality (AR).

The funding is part of a Knight Foundation initiative to help museums better meet new community demands and use digital tools to thoughtfully involve visitors in compelling experiences and conversations surrounding art.

Felice Grodin: Invasive Species is organized by PAMM Assistant Curator Jennifer Inacio, managed by PAMM AR + Art Project Manager Monica Mesa, and supervised by PAMM Deputy Director of Marketing and Public Engagement Christina Boomer Vazquez. Grodin’s digital works will be viewed via the PAMM App which is powered by Cuseum, owned by Brendan Ciecko. As part of this project, Knight Foundation is working with MAYA Design, a design consultancy and innovation lab, to assist with research into the user experience and project framing.

PAMM’s Deputy Director of Marketing and Public Engagement Christina Boomer Vazquez has been overseeing the project from its infancy. What made this particular pilot project most remarkable was Knight Foundation’s interest in funding exploratory practices versus emphasizing production of a fixed concept. Their generous grant and mentorship allowed the museum to explore the use of augmented reality in the museum space. Boomer Vazquez sat down with project participants to learn more from them about the process, the opportunities and challenges uncovered along the way, and their thoughts about the intersection of technology and contemporary art.

Boomer Vazquez: What drew you to the project?

Grodin: I was drawn to the lack of certainty. By that, I mean there was not an inevitability to the project that I could foresee. I did not know what it would look like, how it would interface with the public, and how we would produce it. Thus, I had no idea what the artwork would be. This level of experimentation and exploration is very unique.

What have you learned along the way?

Grodin: I have learned a lot about the potential of AR as a medium. What strikes me about it is that rather than situating work within an analog materiality or virtual reality, it hovers between both. To mediate between the concrete and the abstract is an incredible threshold that this project substantiates.

What have been the opportunities?

Grodin: I would say that augmenting the PAMM as a form of art has been a unique opportunity. Because of the ability to scale, the works can take on a large and transformative role. One can be ambitious and speculate on environments that might suggest alternative futures, presents or pasts. Thus, PAMM itself is part of the work and its architecture set in motion for many of the decisions for the art.

What have been the challenges?

Grodin: Because this has never been done at PAMM, the project as a whole was a challenge in a positive sense. Every step along the way has been a discovery. How does an artist, a curator, a project manager, and a technology specialist create together in a completely synthesized fashion using a band new medium? Yet we have. Therefore, trusting the process has been key and realizing that no institutional actor can be autonomous.

When you look back, is there a moment that sticks with you? Why?

Grodin: When we were able to see some preliminary renderings through AR was definitely a moment for me. Seeing how the platform can impact the way an artwork can live within the real was quite stunning. Yet, it brought so many questions to bear. The world as we see it through the camera lens of our smart devices is no longer limited to recording. It can now through AR constitute, suggest, and contest what we see. Therefore, what and how do we choose to augment? On a larger front, what then are its potentials within the field of art?

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What are your thoughts on the intersection of tech and contemporary art?

Grodin: I think that there is an interesting conflation. One, that the use of tech can circulate art, i.e. the internet and social media. The other is that tech can facilitate the making of art, i.e. software and fabrication. But perhaps the two have become one. In lieu of this, the way we experience both time and space can be manipulated through tech. Because of this evolution, I think that art should seek to speculate beyond the contemporary position. For example, the conflation or paradox of the past, present, and future can be explored in order to have more traction or agency. Thus, we no longer have to bind ourselves to the “contemporary.” I think sometimes that is bit of a trap for both tech and art.

How do you think this project plays a role in a larger worldwide discussion on art and technology?

Grodin: Specifically, I think that in this case AR is a new medium not unlike video or the camera once was. Yet, I do not believe that new mediums are guarantors of good art. Similarly, the latest tech does not guarantee that the user’s life is made better. We can each subjectively claim what makes for good art or tech. However, institutions serve as a basis for greater understanding and evaluation at large. Thus, I think the importance of this project is to present to the public one of the earliest institutional examples of augmented reality as an art medium. 50 years from now, there may be hundreds of such projects archived in some way. I find this very exciting for PAMM and for our art community in general.

What do you think was the goal of this project?

Grodin: I believe the goal of the project was to test the potential of AR through art. I believe the other goal of the project was to test the potential of art through AR. I think that it was a very early test case and therefore, I feel really excited to have been part of it.

How do you define “success” when it comes to an experimental and collaborative artist-driven tech project such as this one?

Grodin: I think that what is successful in this project is that it is neither fully artist-driven nor fully tech-driven. I, as the artist, serve a role. But, the final outcome is contingent on the collaboration and experimentation of all participants. Everyone must be OK with that lack of certainty and thrive within that.

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What would be your advice for another artist or institution looking to do something similar?

Grodin: First, I applaud PAMM for commissioning this project. It reflects a willingness to take a risk, and what is art without risk? Two, I would encourage all participants to allow for the process of discovery. Namely, that it is OK to not have a clear vision as to the end game, but to be as rigorous as possible in order to arrive there. Finally, that the process is not linear, but rather transversal.

Anything I have not asked that you would like to mention?

Grodin: Yes, I would like to thank Jen Inacio, Monica Mesa, and Brendan Ciecko for an incredible experience. I feel lucky to be part of such an excellent team. In turn, I also would like to thank PAMM and Knight Foundation for supporting such an exploration.

Any question that you think is a must when working to tap into your personal experience and process and passion for the project?

Grodin: I have always enjoyed the process of migrating between mediums. I started my career making analog drawings that look digital. In this case, we have created digital drawings into an analog view. Thus, perhaps it is no longer one directional—rabbit holes can go in many directions if you are willing to follow them.

About Felice Grodin (Miami)

Felice Grodin is an artist with a background in architecture. Her practice focuses on the speculative integration of art and design by developing strategies for modeling our present conditions and making meaningful imprints upon them. Through ArtCenter/South Florida and the Bureau for Cultural Strategies (BUX), she is currently participating in the fellowship The Recalibrated Institution, a laboratory for developing and testing intelligences that address emerging and long-term systemic challenges. In addition, she is a member of the collaborative A.S.T. (Alliance of the Southern Triangle), an initiative exploring how artistic and cultural possibilities can be reimagined in light of climate change and political volatility by leveraging the dynamics already in process. She has also contributed essays to various publications including The Miami Rail. She obtained her Bachelor of Architecture from Tulane University, where her thesis was a recipient of the Thomas J. Lupo Award for Metropolitan Studies, and her Master of Architecture with Distinction from Harvard University.

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