Image Credit: Absolute Collective
As someone who can barely scribble legibly, my paintings have always looked like a poor man’s copy of Jackson Pollock’s works; and I have torn up enough drawing paper in my childhood to be labelled a deforestation threat because of my laughable drawings of aliens and soldiers.
Still, while my dream of becoming a tormented art prodigy has burnt up, that does not mean I do not appreciate art (at least some form of it).
I have visited a few art galleries and museums over the years, and have always wondered how my apartment (or rather, my parents’) would look like adorned with fine art paintings or landscape photographs. With careful curation and the right selection of pictures, they can change the aesthetics of an otherwise dull apartment for the better.
But the problem with people living in apartments — who make the majority of homeowners in Singapore — is that, well, apartments are generally small, so it may difficult to find an art piece with the right dimensions for a nice fit. Also, the piece might clash with the overall aesthetic of the apartment.
Such was the problem for Jonathan Chew, the Group CEO of Absolute Collective, a Manila- and Singapore-based tech solutions provider that has worked with brands such as Unilever, UOB and Rolls Royce.
“When I was looking for art on my wall, I wanted a piece that popped out. You know some people have that raw talent: they can see — they can visualise; I couldn’t visualise,” Chew tells e27.
According to Absolute Collective’s business development manager Zurina Bryant, the problem with most art buyers is that they go to art fairs but can’t picture how the art prints will fit in their houses.
“They would ask questions like: ‘Would it fit? What are its sizes? What would it look like at home?'” she says. And gallery manager may not be able to provide the right answers if buyers cannot furnish enough information.
Bryant, who is also a photographer and former art gallery manager, says that some galleries actually bring the prints to the buyers’ house to install them.
But for a good chunk of art buyers (with just a casual interest in art) they may want to pick a more cost-effective option. So the team at Absolute Collective has developed a tech solution that uses augmented reality tech and virtual space to make art buying more intuitive.
The problem of the art market
Art buyers are a varied bunch: they include the small-time, casual buyers with a budget of a few hundred dollars and those willing to shell out millions for a renowned piece.
More serious buyers would measure the dimension of their walls and compare them against the dimensions of the print.
“The [casual] buyers [who go to the art fairs] may go: ‘I’m going to go home and measure my walls’ and you will never hear from them again. That’s the reality; buying art is almost an impulse buy so they have to really like it, check whether it is going fit then come back and start to talk prices,” says Chew.
The same pain points apply when purchasing from online marketplaces — casual art buyers may find the manual work needed to be a hassle (although, how difficult is it to measure a wall, really?)
Absolute Collective’s AR solution removes this cumbersome obstacle by allowing buyers to immediately see how a print will fit on their wall, by just lifting up their smartphones.
The AR tech
The AR solution is part of Absolute Collective’s art marketplace called Artzibit — which I will expand on later.
Chew says the AR solution is based off an algorithm called Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (SLAM), “which allows for the placement and manipulation of multiple AR objects within a measured environment using sensors,” he says.
Also, by integrating other various Software Development Kits (SDK), such as ARKit, ARCore, Vuforia, the solution can “create the most accurate implement of augmented reality possible,” he says.
Then, using AR markers, users would be able to accurately position AR objects at a specific location. Some form of markerless tech is available as well.
“Plane detection is currently implemented on the various platforms, allowing markerless measurements. Users are also able to key in their estimated distance should they wish to. They can lock the picture in a position they want and walk around it to view it from different angles,” says Chew.
If all of the above sounds a little too technical, just think of AR apps like Snapchat. You aim a smartphone’s camera at the environment and virtual objects inserted into this view take on the proportions and dimensions that correspond to camera’s perspective of the environment (if the AR kit is good, the measurements should be accurate).
“If I could see [the print] on my wall and I know it’s going to fit, if I go to the gallery and buy it directly because I want to touch and feel it, I’ve already know it’s going to fit on my wall,” explains Chew.
But measuring art prints to fit walls on an app isn’t all that Artzibit is about.
“And of course there are tools that allow you to measure walls, but what our solution is providing goes beyond measurement; we want to build a high quality curated art marketplace where you can buy art fast.”
Beyond the AR tech, Artzibit also offers a curated art marketplace, with over 100,000 of prints, currently. Through beta testing, the Absolute Collective team identified two camps of clients.
“We realise there are two types of people: The first are those who will scroll through and buy art from someone else because they don’t want to produce their own art; the second one — which is around 40 per cent of the pilot group that we tested — are those that want to print a memory that is valuable to them,” says Chew.
For the second group of people, they can upload their prints or photos to a private album or submit them to the public carousel. Creators who wish to sell on the public carousel name a price, Artzibit adds “a fixed markup for production of prints, framing, delivery and installation, dependent on the size of the print,” says Chew.
All files are stored on the Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) and each file has a size limit of 50 MB.
An internal team vets and curates all user-submitted content before they are put on the public carousel. Besides checking for offensive content and copyright issues, the team also puts every print to a majority vote. For content uploaded to the private album, there is no vetting process.
The team also collects data on the platform and gives action reports to the users who submit their work on the public marketplace.
These data include how long a person spends looking at a particular piece of art, and the ideal print sizing that buyers like.
“We will also give the artist a report on how many people have liked their art. Curators as well. Then, they can change and adjust [what kind of art is submitted on the marketplace] according to the report,” says Bryant.
“For example. the artist submits 10 pieces, so we might like 4 and only 4 will go up. As I approach different artists and different groups I would say: ‘Send them in and we will have an equal showcasing of many different types of art’,” she adds.
The art demand
Absolute Collective will be launching in Manilla, Singapore, and the US — which form the largest percentage of art buyers in the world, says Chew.
“American buyers look for all sorts of art: they look for Filipino art, and they look for Indonesian art. So we are testing in the US on the buying perspective to verify that Artzibit works,” he says.
“We are also testing in Singapore because of the logistics to make sure all of that works. And we are onboarding artists from all over the world especially in the Philippines where we have local partners as well on the team. We are putting a global marketplace together,” says Chew.
Submission and the curation of the art prints are just the first steps of a complicated process. The real hurdles appear once the buyer purchases a print. First, there is the production of the print.
“Print production is tricky because you have to ensure your local print partner prints on the correct quality. Then, there is also test on the print quality of the specific material,” says Chew.
“For example, for fine art prints, if you go to a standard printer, the quality is not the same. If you go to an art printer, they have a dedicated one. But even then you have to test the quality and then you ensure long-term partnerships [can be established],” says Chew.
“Then there are a lot of different formats that are popular these days: there’s canvas, metal, glass, etc,” he adds.
For art delivery, one cannot just depend on regular delivery service providers such as FedEx and UPS. In the art world, they rely on art handlers to ensure that the print reaches its destination in tip-top condition. Some prints can be extremely delicate so professional handlers who understand these specific requirements need to be hired.
Finally, there is the installation process, says Chew. “We want to ensure all these quality control processes can be refined in Singapore because the country is small and hyper-efficient. We have to think global from the get-go but there are assets in Singapore that would make it easier.”
Artzibit is currently supported by pre-seed investments to the tune of over US$700,000. It plans to expand into Australia, Hong Kong, and London in the future.