Ivan Toth Depeña’s mind-bending augmented reality art

arts / Article

Above: App-activated sound art “The Sounds,” a collaboration between Brad Laner and Ivan Toth Depeña. All images courtesy Ivan Toth Depeña.

Take a break from texting and “liking” as you walk down the street, and look up, with your phone. You may encounter some fascinating art that appears only on your screen, courtesy of artist Ivan Toth Depeña. In an elaborate and widespread project, funded by Knight and Miami-Dade Art in Public Places, Depeña has created a virtual reality tour of Miami, titled “Lapse,” accompanied by a site-specific installation commissioned by Locust Projects gallery.

Using a specially created app for this project, you take your mobile device and point it at certain walls or public spaces, and visual and aural experiences emerge. “Lapse” is truly on the cusp of the new frontier of art viewing. This is how Depeña describes the process, which is called augmented reality, or AR: “[It] is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment that contains elements augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated media such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.”

So, how does this all really work? First, download the “Lapse” mobile app onto a device via the project website (it includes instructions and guides; note the app is supposed to be available after May 30). Let’s start in Museum Park in front of the Perez Art Museum of Art, with a piece titled “The Writing.” A collaboration with local artist Jillian Mayer, the project reveals itself as you move through the park with your device, with text popping up among the trees: excerpts from a fictional notebook, scribblings about love and memories. Put the phone down, and the imagery disappears.

Is this what it was like when humans first witnessed a circus or a magician–how did that magic happen? According to the description of the work, “‘The Writing’ is triggered by following icons that appear on your screen according to your GPS location at Museum Park.” For this experience, suggests the downloaded guide, “headphones or audio output is suggested but not required.”

App-activated art “The Writing,” a collaboration between Ivan Toth Depeña and Jillian Mayer.

Headphones are required for the MetroMover Omni Loop piece, called “The Sounds,” which underscores how complex this project is. Musician Brad Laner, founder of the alt rock band Medicine, has created the soundtrack, triggered again by the GPS location. Each stop, and the speed of the train, adds a harmonic layer so that a kind of symphony is created as you ride the rails.

While contemplating the composition of “Lapse,” Depeña recalled how this work evolved. He had always been a huge fan of Medicine, and one night, talking with his wife, he thought, maybe I should just contact him and ask if he would like to collaborate? He had never met him. Laner said yes.

Although currently based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Depeña grew up in Miami, and his art is familiar around town. His works can be found at PAMM and MOCA, and in venues such at the Government Center lobby downtown, which is another Art in Public Spaces commission. Not far from that installation, “Lapse” continues with “The Visions,” a multi-mural project on the façades of public institutions, in this case on the Miami-Dade Public Library at the Cultural Plaza. Without your device, it looks like some kind of scanning code, pixels in white, gray and black painted on the wall. But pick up your device and a 3-D artwork explodes out from your phone. Throughout Miami, these murals are emerging, with the art coming from over 20 artists, and more yet to come.

Site-specific installation at Locust Projects, “The Moment,” by Ivan Toth Depeña.

One of the main murals is currently up on the façade of Locust Projects, while inside is a spectacular installation–the only “real” physical work connected to “Lapse,” called “The Moment.” Depeña’s Master’s Degree in Architecture from Harvard University is plain to see here. In a cocooned atmosphere, with a soundtrack and dim, orange-ish lighting, two large asymmetric sculptures are perched on the floor. Within each are rods with very precise lighting blinking in a specific rhythm. It looks like a space capsule that has crashed and broken in two, but somehow we feel as if we are still floating around this tin can.

Depeña says it can also resemble a house that has been whipped about and dropped back to earth, dissected upon landing. Maybe by a hurricane, by a tornado à la Dorothy’s farmhouse dream scene in “The Wizard of Oz.”

In fact, according to Depeña, this project is based on a short story he wrote, titled “The Fallen Sky Chronicles,” where alternate realities and the physical world start to collide, and when he himself can no longer distinguish between the two. “This augmented reality project creates ‘real-life’ experiences from this fiction,” which we as observers are meant to experience in person, in real time. In the “Chronicles,” he describes the installation this way: “[It] illustrates the instant when a breakthrough to an alternate world occurs, the first event in the sequence unlocking the augmented reality dimension.”

Inside this space oddity at Locust, things feel disconnected and off-kilter, but also strangely calm; there’s a peace in this post-apocalyptic world. Unlike so much art that is based in contemporary technology, there are no hard, cold edges here–it’s aesthetically beautiful. Maybe we are not witnessing the end, but a new beginning. Depeña says this is only the first chapter.

“The Moment” runs through June 6 at Locust Projects (3852 N. Miami Ave., Miami). The murals from the rest of “Lapse” are an ongoing public project that will be augmented by more work from various artists, and can be viewed by downloading the app, which is scheduled to be available after May 30.

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