It’s just a few stones sitting on paper, rocks that look like they’ve been pulled from the nearest river and placed on a sheet of A9. But suddenly a lilliputian shadow appears, skipping across each stone as if it’s a boulder peaking out of a creek.
The scene is just one of many strange and beautiful moments from Mirages & Miracles, an installation at France’s Scène Nationale Albi that runs through April 8th. Described as “a delicate coincidence between the virtual and the material,” the art exhibit is filled with sculpture and drawings that, when viewed through an augmented reality headset (we assume the Microsoft Hololens), blossom with an animated layer of media. The show was conceptualized by Claire Bardainne and Adrien Mondot, but it took a considerable team of digital and analog creators to bring it to life.
Watching the video walkthrough featured on Prosthetic Knowledge, it can be hard to pinpoint why its pieces are so compelling–as with any piece of art that takes you by surprise. But view the clip and you’ll see what I mean. Some sketches grow long, hairy tendrils. Others extend off their canvases like bats swarming through the studio. And in my favorite moment, a shadow climbs from a pointillist sketch, dropping inky splotches in its wake. The effect is that of a drawing that’s in fact drawing itself in front of your eyes.
Why are these pieces so fresh in an industry overflowing with AR gimmicks? I can’t help but wonder if it’s the mix of organic materials–rocks, hair, and even inks–and the pixels themselves. We’re used to seeing AR pop up from a QR code. Alternatively, we’ve seen AR that can annotate objects in our environment, like a projector that casts a digital interface onto your kitchen table from above.
But in Mirages & Miracles, it’s handmade art that comes to life. And so it feels bespoke rather than mass produced and digitized. Fast forward five or 10 years, and it’s easy to imagine this marriage of Etsy-style prints and fashions being packaged with a whole secondary layer of augmented beauty. Because today we may weave in yarn. But tomorrow we’ll be able to lace every thread with pixels, too.