Seol Park > American Landscape(s) AR
"AMERICAN LANDSCAPE(S) AR" (2019) is an independently produced augmented reality art installation addressing themes of migration, cross-cultural dimensions, Realism/reality, landscape painting traditions, and technology. The work augments three iconic 19C paintings by American masters in the Metropolitan Museum (NY)'s collection, and is on view in situ across three galleries in the museum's American Wing. My composition, in which imagery of the country's present day challenges adds dimension to these "quintessentially American" views, resembles the way immigrants come to America and expand/build upon/add dimensions to the country's foundations. [beta installation now on view]
The work aims to 1) introduce to viewers nuanced readings of these historical paintings through a contemporary lens, 2) heighten the viewer's awareness about the world we live in today, and, 3) deepen their engagement with the physical environment of historical galleries of a museum.
American Landscape(s), a recent painting of mine from the CROWDED WATERS series, captures my impression of America, observing the society from within as a resident alien — a view of the nation caught between guarding national sovereignty and taking pride in its humanitarian leadership on the world stage, and between preserving (a somewhat Romantic notion of) its national identity while embracing multiculturalism. The composite landscape conjoins four historical paintings by American masters* along the horizon. Encased in the inverted reflections of the historical compositions are present-day imagery of and headlines on the migrants. Themes of struggle, identity conflicts, matters of diversity and representation (or the lack thereof), as well as the spirit of hope and resilience can be gleaned as much from today's discourse on the migrant issues as from the referenced historical pictures.
Of the four referenced historical works, G.C. Bingham’s painting hangs in the Green Room at the White House. And the other three are at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
American Landscape(s):AR extends the thoughts that fed into my painting to a form of experiential digital installation. In this augmented reality work, I’ve taken the above-mentioned three paintings by American masters at the Met upon which to overlay digital compositions of my own, to be viewed via an AR app. The original paintings on the Met’s walls are at once triggers (without which my AR work won’t come into view) and necessary readymades (without which my AR compositions aren’t complete) -- which is another way to say, yes, one still has to make the pilgrimage to the museum in order to see my AR installation.** To me, being in the physical presence of the elements is as important as working in the virtual realm.
Gallery #759, American Wing
Thomas Cole’s “View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow "(1836) is laden with strong juxtapositions and union of the opposites -- the sublime and the picturesque, the untamed wilderness and the pastoral settlement --, conveying the artist's (and his contemporaries') ideals of the national landscape, the future prospect of the American nation. Conceived romantically, composed metaphorically, and rendered realistically.
What kind of romantic ideals and reality has the nation's landscape come to hold since?
In my composition, the dramatic bend of Cole's river casts an inverted reflection, an aerial view of the part of Rio Grande river with Trump's proposed border wall. AR text, videos, and images of migrant rafts spill over the painting's gilded borders.
The notions of water, flow, and the sublime indifference of Nature were highly present on my mind as I was working on this composition. No matter the gravity of tragedies that unfold before it, Nature never intervenes. It doesn't take sides. While Nature indifferently observes man's struggle, how do we humans respond to the calls of distress emanating from our international waters?
Gallery #767, American Wing
Winslow Homer’s “The Gulf Stream” (1899) is usually read as to depict the vulnerable facing peril, with the sharks lurking in the water representing imminent danger. In Homer’s shark-infested water, I’m seeing cruelty of men preying on the vulnerable.
The lone figure in Homer's boat now casts a reflection on the ocean surface of a boat jam packed with refugees. The present-day parallel I see in Homer’s shark-infested water is the cruelty of men preying on the vulnerable: the Gulf Stream ocean current originates off the Mexican Gulf Coast. Today, the coastal land here is fraught with kidnapping gangs and smugglers (the real sharks) that prey on the migrants en route to south Texas. As if sharks, images and headlines reporting on the rampant crimes targeting migrants encircle the boat(s).
Gallery #764, American Wing
In "The Champion Single Sculls" (1871) by Thomas Eakins, Max Schmitt looks out over his shoulder after a race. The mood has the kind of euphoric, contemplative calm and clarity of mind that come after physical or sensory exertion.
In this AR composition, I try to convey the almost paralyzing amount of noise that envelops the country today, and the difficulties we face trying to make sense of it all. When sensationalist noise obscures our vision, how do we find voices of coolheaded reason?
This augmented reality installation, as with my painting bearing the same title, is my impression of America as it stands today -- the country I came to live in, whose artistic history I studied, whose present day struggles I observe.
All text elements in the work are interactive -- when tapped, they take the viewer to corresponding source articles that had informed my canvas and digital compositions -- equipping the viewer to track his/her way backward in the artist’s process. As in my paintings that bear the imprints of my photogram technique, I enjoy making visible my process.
Viewing the "American Landscape(s):AR" installation at the Met requires ROAR app (free download; iOS & Android). I’m grateful for the Metropolitan Museum’s free public wifi.
This installation is independently produced.
*Champion Single Sculls (1871) by Thomas Eakins, The Gulf Stream (1899) by Winslow Homer, Lighter Relieving a Steamboat Aground (1847) by George Caleb Bingham, and The Oxbow (1836) by Thomas Cole.
“American Landscape(s),” the painting, joins a group show titled “America is…,” at Touchstone Gallery in Washington D.C., Aug 2-29. Touchstone Gallery is the closest commercial art venue from the White House where Lighter Relieving a Steamboat Aground (1847) by G.C. Bingham today hangs in the Green Room.
**Michael Kimmelman, an art writer I greatly admire, has noted that, as the Web and mass media flood everyone with the same images, sufficient appreciation for the virtues of the pilgrimage is being lost, and that, it also resulted in creating a “newly heightened role for the one-of-a-kind encounter.” [Michael Kimmelman, The Accidental Masterpiece On the Art of Life and Vice Versa (Penguin Books, 2005), 176.]