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Where Virtual and Physical Meet -- Projection Mapping and Augmented Reality

Where Virtual and Physical Meet -- Projection Mapping and Augmented Reality

I like to think of projection mapping as temporary moving graffiti — thought provoking geurilla art that actively interacts with surfaces and people and environments. It is the act of projecting images and video and graphics onto an uneven surface, such as a building, in order to raise issues, tell narratives, and otherwise change conceptions of space.

For a class on critically exploring virtual reality, we used projectors and a software called Resolume to perform a projection mapping event on campus with the help of a group in Los Angeles called the MapJacks.

What resulted was an event that was amazing to be a part of, and raised many questions about the interaction between the physical and virtual.

Each group took a different approach, but largely we seemed to be interested in the reclaiming of urban/academic space for nature. My group projected time lapses of flowers and grass growing out of a concrete planter housing a tree, the group next to us highlighted urban sprawl, and another group projected lightning and flowers and natural phenomena. But possibly the most interesting project was projection of water onto a fountain.

Occidental College’s Gilman Fountain is its most recognizable space, and one that is loved by everyone on campus. It is the first thing most people see when they come to Oxy for the first time.

However our campus is also in the middle of a drought ridden city and state. As a result, the imagery of fish and coral reefs and text onto the landmark was something that moved me deeply and made me really think about the space in a different way than I do every other day on my way to class.

This is the true power of projection mapping, especially if it is in the hands of academics and artists who are attempting to make a distinct point. It has the ability to manipulate and warp space in a way that is thought provoking, but also deeply visceral — especially in the case of projecting onto a space we are so emotionally and physically connected with.

This connection makes it harder to ignore the content. This is you in a familiar space experiencing an event, even if you are aware it is something virtual, it is harder to distance yourself from something that you are perceptually witnessing.

It is easy to forget problems that are far away from us, and seeing things on TV and reading articles online heightens awareness, but seeing an event as if it is happening right in front of you evokes a very different empathy, and one that I think can be incredibly moving, but raises many questions. How and when and why should this technology be used, and who should use it? Should it be displayed in museums, on a normal street, at events, or in all three circumstances and more? Like any modern media, it has the potential to be used as propaganda and advertising, but I believe changing a physical space through virtual means can be used to raise questions and issues that might otherwise go under-represented.


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