Divine Comedy AR

2018 Hong Kong, China

Collaborator: Jeffrey Shaw

Hardware: Lee Hin-ching

Software: Cheong Tai-leong Leoson

The ‘wunderkammer’ as it emerged in the early 1600’s was an encyclopedic collection of objects whose categorical boundaries included natural history, geology, ethnography, archaeology, religious or historical relics, works of art and antiquities. With its collections of curious found items from home and abroad that were often a mix of fact and fiction, it was regarded as a microcosm of the world, a memory theater that provided a solace and retreat for contemplation.

Borrowing its formal and contemplative strategies, these characteristics of the ‘cabinet of wonders’ have been reinterpreted in this artwork to create a contemporary repository made discoverable by the technologies of augmented reality. It creates a mixed reality conjugation, of fact and fiction, wherein the narrative of a newly mediated ‘divine comedy’ is analogously revealed.

The constituents of Divine Comedy AR are ‘curiosities’ that derive from geology, ethnology and information technology. Marble is a rock resulting, after eons of heat and pressure, from metamorphism of limestone. Its characteristic veins are due to mineral impurities that were originally present in the limestone. The artwork’s marble slabs are 'found objects' (objet trouvé) whose fortuitous patterns now constitute QR codes that can be recognized by the iPad’s camera system. These image registration capabilities enable the ‘augmented reality’ artwork to position and orient its virtual objects – glass cabinets containing animated male and female figures - in relation to the real world scene of its arrangement of marble tiles on a wall.

The artwork’s virtual characters as well as their animations are also ‘found objects’, discovered in the global online archive of shareable data that is becoming a Borgesian trove. The elderly male and female bodies come from TurboSquid’s collection of over half a million 3D models, while the movements given to these figures derive from Moro Motion’s vast library of a motion capture animations. Consequently, Divine Comedy AR takes the shape of cabinets of wonders where ‘discovered and collected’ geological and human formations conjoin in a theater of contemplation whose grave compulsive substance is enlivened by the slapstick mien of everyday locomotion.

In his epic poem The Divine Comedy, Dante’s writes of wonderous encounters with a large cast of characters who are models for his moral and spiritual journey from a state of confusion to one where all people are combined for the greatest happiness. This artwork’s virtually sculptured microcosm follows Dante’s model in offering four methods of interpretation: the literal/historical, the allegoric, the tropological and the anagogic. To which a fifth, the cybernetic, has been added.

Exhibition Record
2018/05/25 - 08/19
Cabinets of Curiosities, CityU Exhibition Gallery, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China