“Hallucinatory AR” or ‘the chance encounter of an umbrella and a sewing machine upon an operating table’

“Hallucinatory Augmented Reality (AR)”, 2007, was an experiment which investigated the possibility of non-markers to generate AR imagery.

These projects evolved out of accidents, incidents in earlier experiments in which  the AR
software was mistaking non-marker imagery for AR markers and attempted to generate AR imagery. This confusion, by the software, resulted in unexpected and random flickering AR imagery. I decided to explore the creative and artistic possibilities of this  effect further and conduct experiments with non-traditional marker-based tracking. The process entailed a study of what types of non-marker images might generate such ‘hallucinations’ and a search for imagery which would evoke or call upon multiple AR imagery/videos from a single image/non-marker.

halluc-AR-originalimgLeft: This was the final image used (non-marker) to evoke “Hallucinatory AR”.  Source: Unknown (I am searching through my original notes and files from 2007 to locate a source. If this is your image, kindly contact me.)

Upon multiple image searches, one image emerged which proved to be quite extraordinary. This cathedral stained glass window was able to evoke four different AR videos, the only instance, from among many other images, in which multiple AR imagery appeared. Upon close examination of the image, focusing in and out with the web camera, a face began to emerge in the black and white pattern (See video documentation). A fantastical image of a man was encountered. Interestingly, it was when the image was blurred into this face using the web camera that the AR hallucinatory imagery worked best, rapidly multiplying and appearing more prominently. Although numerous attempts were made with similar images, no other such instances occurred; this image appeared to be unique.


The challenge now rested in the choice of what types of imagery to curate into this hallucinatory viewing: what imagery would be best suited to this phantasmagoric and dream-like form?

My criteria for imagery/videos were like-form and shape, in an attempt to create a collage-like set of visuals. As the sequence or duration of the imagery in Hallucinatory AR could not be predetermined, the goal was to identify imagery that possessed similarities, through which the possibility for visual synchronicities existed.

Themes of intrusions and chance encounters are at play in Hallucinatory AR, inspired in part by Surrealist artist Max Ernst. In “What is the Mechanism of Collage?” (1936), Ernst writes:

One rainy day in 1919, finding myself on a village on the Rhine, I was struck by the obsession which held under my gaze the pages of an illustrated catalogue showing objects designed for anthropologic, microscopic, psychologic, mineralogic, and paleontologic demonstration. There I found brought together elements of figuration so remote that the sheer absurdity of that collection provoked a sudden intensification of the visionary faculties in me and brought forth an llusive succession of contradictory images, double, triple, and multiple images, piling up on each other with the persistence and rapidity which are particular to love memories and visions of half-sleep. (427)

Of particular interest to my work in exploring and experimenting with Hallucinatory AR was Ernst’s description of an “illusive succession of contradictory images” that were “brought forth” (as though independent of the artist), rapidly multiplying and “piling up” in a state of “half-sleep”. Similarities can be drawn to the process of the seemingly disparate AR images jarringly coming in and out of view,  layered atop one another.

One wonders if these visual accidents are what the future of AR might hold: of unwelcome glitches in software systems as Bruce Sterling describes; or perhaps we might come to delight in the visual poetry of these augmented hallucinations that are “As lovely as the chance encounter of an umbrella and a sewing machine upon an operating table.” *

*Comte de Lautreamont’s often quoted allegory, famous for inspiring both Max Ernst and Andrew Breton, qtd. in Williams, p.197.

Contact Helen Papagiannis for further information and to view other demos.

Max, Ernst. “What is the Mechanism of Collage?” Theories of Modern Art. Ed. Herschel B.
Chipp. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974: 427.

Williams, Robert. “Art Theory: An Historical Introduction.” Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004: 197.

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