Google co-founder Sergey Brin was recently photographed riding the NYC subway sporting a stealthy head-to-toe black outfit and a prototype pair of Google Glass eyewear. There has been some speculation that this man in black represents the future of augmented reality (AR), but that commentary is incorrect. The future of AR wears white. The future of AR is Famous New Media Artist Jeremy Bailey, and he just launched a Kickstarter campaign.
Yesterday saw Bailey unveil ‘Important Portraits’ a crowdfunding venture inviting donors to pitch in to help the artist populate an upcoming solo exhibition with custom-commissioned artwork. Taking place at Toronto’s Pari Nadimi Gallery this spring, Bailey’s show will attempt to resurrect the lost art of portraiture and–moving beyond the current milieu of dumpy social media photographs and avatars–drag it into the 21st century by deploying AR techniques and the whimsical graphic language featured in his work. More generous backers will receive a visit from a professional photographer who will collect an image that will serve as the basis of a Bailey original, and a print of the work will be included in the exhibition in April.
In order to learn a little bit more about what this undertaking has to say about patronage and representation, CAN fired a volley of questions at Jeremy and received the following replies.
In your video you infer there is direct lineage between the rich and powerful patrons of yesteryear and the contemporary ‘micropatronage’ that sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo facilitate. Why is now the right moment to celebrate the backers (in your words, the “important people”) that make crowdfunding projects possible?
In the last year or so crowdfunding has reached a popular culture apex. In the US Kickstarter raised more money last year than the National Endowment for The Arts, 10% of all films at Sundance were funded by Kickstarter. If you look at the history of art and patronage it feels like we’re entering a new era. Art was first funded by the church, then the powerful, then the government and now by private companies like Kickstarter, enabling thousands of previously disengaged people to feel responsible for the success of hundreds of cultural projects. And yet, who are these anonymous backers? Are they content to skulk in the shadows? Given their importance don’t they deserve a little more attention?
I also think it’s interesting because the history of the Internet so far has been very narcissistic: “Look at what I did, like me, love me” etc. Kickstarter appears to buck this trend, but only for those funding the narcissists. It also puts the creator/narcissist in this really interesting precarious position of self reflectivity that’s built on capitalist values. There’s just so much that’s interesting to me about this, I could go on and on…
You modestly describe how you’ve “been making yourself look amazing” for a decade within your work. How can a potential backer be sure your “techniques and technologies” will also make them look amazing?
Because I care about them, and I want them to feel powerful. That’s what the project is about, turning the pyramid upside down and celebrating the people who make people like me possible.
Given you reference the old masters quite liberally in your pitch, could you speak to the common domain between painting and working with AR?
Portrait painting has always been an important and lucrative way for artists to fund themselves, they’ve also used it as an opportunity to show off the latest techniques and technologies at their disposal. This was not only good advertising but also served as a sort of space race with other artists to prove superiority and ultimately relevance. Basically the history of portrait painting is also the history of the technology of representation. What’s interesting to me about this where AR is concerned is that portrait painting historically also had this idea of the artist revealing something more about the subject they were painting, a sort of magical inner essence. The advent of augmented reality is a great point in this proposed historical trajectory. Not only is it the latest technology, as portrait painters have always employed, but it is also a layer above reality that is being used to reveal hidden data in a way that could be compared to a portrait painter revealing an inner essence.
There’s just one more thing I’m hoping you can clear up: Is this a Kickstarter campaign about a solo exhibition or solo exhibition about a Kickstarter campaign?
It’s a little bit of both I guess. But really it’s just a story about an artist who tried to do things differently and the people who helped him along the way.