As of yesterday, users of Frenchising Mona Lisa, an Augmented Reality (AR) smart phone application, can take Amir Baradaran’s conceptual art anywhere. Focusing their camera phones on the eternally mysterious Da Vinci painting—the original in the Louvre or a reproduction anywhere—the technology shows the Italian maiden (superimposed over Baradaran’s body) unfurl her hair and use some very manly hands to wrap a French flag around herself in the form of a hijab.
VIA THE ARTIST’S WEB SITE
The artist says he’s using banal means and short-form animation to make a grand gesture. “I wanted to compare one emblem of Frenchness to the other emblem of Frenchness: the dress code,” says the artist, who wonders why the French tolerate, even exalt, the scarf around Mona Lisa’s head (or, say, those by Hermès). The government notoriously banned the wearing of a hijab in public schools. Akin to a video game animation of the Mona Lisa, the kitschy effect aims to humorously gloss various levels of art history, statehood and bigotry.
Baradaran wonders whether AR technology, which superimposes digital effects over photography, might be a viable medium for artists. It’s commonly associated with medical, military, and video game applications. The artist made his case last night—for a one-night event—with the performance/release of a manifesto on the subject, FutARism, at Benrimon Contemporary in New York.
Therein, the artist invited others to join his AR movement—specifically for a project that superimposes the work of young artists over that of museum veterans—Baradaran wants to see how technology de-sanctifies the museum. The introduction for the piece was laid out across four panels wrapped around the back of the gallery. Visitors were meant to use their smartphones to view various tenets of the AR manifesto. Unfortunately, my first gen Android wasn’t smart enough to run the application, and most iPhones in the house weren’t functioning.
But the artist is helpful. “There’s nothing [the Louvre] can do about it,” jokes Baradaran. “There’s no legal regulation on this so the world becomes a white canvas for artist’s to place their art. With Second Life or those other applications in the 1990s, you always had to stay inside hyper virtual world and it forced people to stay home whereas with AR it’s pushing people to go outside.”
Whether Baradaran’s manifesto will bring AR into the canon – or even the mainstream art market – remains to be seen. “I want to leave it to critics and writers to look at what I’m doing and say, ‘Can we look at this as a new medium? Or is it spectacle for spectacle’s sake?'” says Baradaran. “I’m hoping it’s not that.”
This work isn’t the first time the artist has used a major museum to his own ends, and skirted unpopular spectacle. During Marina Abramovic’s performance of The Artist is Present at her eponymous MoMA retrospective, he staged a four-act parallel work, The Other Artist is Present. He sat opposite her in a red gown—against her blue robe—and invoked the Shiite notion of temporary marriage by asking for her to wed him.
On another day he riffed on Abramovic’s Art Is Beautiful; Artist Must Be Beautiful (1975) by chanting an Arabic mantra louder and louder and draping his face with canvases featuring quirky and self-referential slogans like “I am a nurse from New Zealand” and “Non-Resident Alien” scrawled in red. He was removed from the museum by guards-not Abramovic, who asked an HBO camera crew to tell Baradaran as much.
The Abramovic intervention aimed to question the conditions under which MoMA sanctioned displays of art. Frenchising Mona Lisa, as its title suggests, questions the French government’s appropriation of a painting who is clearly Italian by subject and creator. “She is an immigrant, she’s a displaced body… Over the many years it took Da Vinci to paint her he was traveling with it all the time,” says the Iranian-born Baradaran, who lived in Tehran until he moved with his parents to Montreal at age 12.
Even before the Abramovic intervention, Baradaran used a GPS program to “permanently install”—or permanently programmed another app to play—his phone-based piece Takeoff when you’re inside MoMA. Corny? Sure, but the work employs the first AR phone app Layar as a medium through which visitors can view a video of the artist blasting off from a director’s chair over any space in the museum, where it “debuted” as part of the world’s first international Augmented Reality exhibition, WeARinMoMA. AR they ever going to end up in MoMA’s permanent collection (or any other’s)? Depends on upon your perception of reality.
FutARism and Frenchising Mona Lisa viewable at www.amirbaradaran.com.