One of the biggest challenges for young people interested in learning graffiti is finding safe places to learn and practice their art. Revelations, a project supported by Chicago Art Department’s “Learning is a Lifestyle” project, uses burgeoning augmented reality technology to provide safe digital space to practice large-scale graffiti.
The project was a collaboration between Kerry Richardson from Plug-In Studio and Miguel “Kane One” Aguilar of the Graffiti Institute. Kerry was looking for an interesting way to use augmented reality and Miguel was looking to expand the way he teaches graffiti. The result was an 8-week program where students from Benito Juarez High School in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood got together to learn spray painting technique with Miguel and the augmented reality image-making with Kerry.
Augmented reality technology basically lets people point the camera on their smartphones or tablets at real-world objects to reveal digital information overlaid on top of the reality. Students took pictures of buildings in their neighborhood and created digital graffiti that would go over the building. Users could then point their smartphones at the image or, if they happened to be in the neighborhood, at the actual building to reveal the digital image overlaid on top of it.
The application had primarily been used in marketing and advertising contexts, but Kerry thought there was much more potential. “It seems really stupid that you would use this really interesting technology and use it for something as uninteresting as commercials,” says Kerry.”And so I thought about it as a way that you could write in your environment without actually writing physically and kind of do the impossible. A lot of interesting places get opened up that you can write on.”
“A lot of interesting places get opened up that you can write on.”
Miguel grew up learning graffiti by painting illegally on walls. He started the Graffiti Institute to provide safe places for young people to learn graffiti. One of the biggest challenges is finding large blank walls for young people practice on, so the possibility of doing it digitally was very appealing. “Putting graffiti in virtual space is REALLY safe space,” says Miguel. “It also adds another layer of anonymity.”
The Revelations program was a great model of analog and digital learning. Students would spend half the class working with Miguel to practice spray-painting technique and the other half working with Kerry learning Photoshop. Miguel appreciated the challenge of students having to learn to draw with a mouse as much as with a can of spray paint. Furthermore digital painting and augmented reality offered students the ability to undo mistakes, work with layers, and even add animation.
Kerry is excited by augmented reality because it allows people to create work at a scale and in places that would be virtually impossible in real life. As a designer by trade, Kerry sees it as a way to add “secret messages” throughout the city. The students had a slightly different take on it. “I was thinking of it as the audience being Chicago,” says Kerry “but they really brought it down to their neighborhood.”
“I think it was a new way for them to think about artmaking and a way for me to think about new possiblities in the classroom.”
The most common space the students chose for their augmented reality graffiti was their school. One student, Edwin, simply colored in all of the windows and doors on his school’s facade simply because it’s boring and wants to add color to his drab surroundings. Kerry liked that the students were creating work for the people around them.
Ultimately, Miguel sees augmented reality graffiti as another way for people to self-publish and question those in power. “I think it was a new way for them [students] to think about art making and it’s a way for me to think about new possibilities in the classroom as well.”