Head of a Man (?Ira Frederick Aldridge), by John Simpson
Eight pieces being displayed at Tate Britain were transformed using Facebook’s Spark AR augmented reality camera effects platform, giving museum-goers more depth, context and background.
Visitors to Tate Britain can use the camera in the Instagram application to scan the museum’s Instagram name tag and activate the experience, after which they will see a welcome message and a map to guide them to all eight AR-enhanced paintings.
Facebook said in a blog post, “Museums are among our most important cultural institutions, preserving art and history, while also forming the backbone of many vibrant urban communities. Our partnership with Tate is a first step. We’re excited to continue exploring how AR can reframe museums and galleries to increase awareness and appreciation with new generations.”
Spark AR product manager Matthew Roberts added, “Unlike traditional cameras, today’s smartphones have both immense computing power and an always-on connection to the internet—a combination that turns out to be profound. More than just capture, this is a camera that can see. By tapping into a wealth of relevant data alongside AI (artificial intelligence) and computer vision algorithms, we can help people learn and connect to the world around them in meaningful ways.”
Facebook also shared details and descriptions of the eight paintings that are part of the initiative:
- Fishing Upon the Blythe-Sand, Tide Setting In, by Joseph Mallord William Turner: It’s rumored that Turner owned seven cats and may even have used this painting as an impromptu cat flap. Previously torn into five pieces, the canvas has since been repaired. When viewed through the Instagram camera using the Tate’s Spark AR-powered experience, the canvas appears to tear apart once again as a lone tabby jumps through.
- Amateurs of Tye-Wig Music (‘Musicians of the Old School’), by Edward Francis Burney: In keeping with this painting’s theme of musical rivalry, the AR effect produces a visual cacophony as a lamp swings wildly, an errant parrot steals a wig, children play pretend instruments, a dog barks and more.
- A Youth Relating Tales to Ladies, by Simeon Solomon: Forming an important prelude to queer visual culture of the late 19th century (Solomon was arrested for homosexuality three years after completing the piece), this painting lends itself well to ambiguity. Look through the Instagram camera for some visitors who seem as out of place in our own time as Solomon may have felt in his own.
- The Cholmondeley Ladies, by an unknown artist from Britain: Bringing the painting’s inscription to life, this Spark AR effect here emphasizes symmetry through a series of kaleidoscopic vignettes that show twin girls from birth, to their marriage on the same day, to the delivery of their own children in tandem.
- Self-Portrait, by Gwen John: A bisexual woman working in an industry largely dominated by men, John was also largely overshadowed by her brother, Augustus, and her wildly famous lover, Rodin. In a moment of empowerment, the Spark AR effect lets you watch as she completes her self-portrait.
- Farm at Watendlath, by Dora Carrington: This piece juxtaposes the large scale of voluptuous mountains with two tiny female forms in the foreground. Rejecting social norms and conventions around womanhood, the Instagram camera’s AR effect triggers an animation in which the relative scales are switched for a powerful role reversal.
- Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, by John Singer Sargent: Sargent was a firm believer in the golden hour—those precious few moments when the light is perfect to capture a scene. This Spark AR effect lets you track the passage of time and its effect on the scene as lanterns flicker, flowers wilt and die and the light fades to black—to begin again.
- Head of a Man (?Ira Frederick Aldridge), by John Simpson: After leaving the U.S. for London in 1865, Ira Frederick Aldridge became the first black actor to play Shakespeare on a British stage. Is this the portrait of a leading man or an everyman—or is it symbolic of human bondage and the struggle to be free? Moving from left to right with the Instagram camera, the lighting and Aldridge’s gaze change from dramatic to downcast.