Jan 8

Gaze: Technology for Public Art

5 min read

The Big Idea

Can technology be used to increase engagement with public art and quantify its impact on society? The output of my masters thesis at Cornell University, Gaze, is an Augmented Reality app that enables technology mediated interaction between public art and New Yorkers.

Note: This is an ongoing project. I'll be do my best to keep the page up to date!

Since the 1960s, public art in NYC has been advocated as a cultural catalyst for urban regeneration with the potential to engage New Yorkers, address their needs and promote social change. This has led to the more than 1000 artworks that we see in NYC today, each worth between $400,000 to $4 million. Why is it then that some art gains immediate prominence while most fade into obscurity?

Public art used to work because we primarily consumed urban life through physical, lived experiences. But today, we consume our city through our mobile phones. Also, there is a constant tension between the artistic vision behind the works, local residents’ preferences and the city’s sociopolitical goals. This limits the ability of the art to engage with visitors in a meaningful way. We need to digitize public art and bring it into the 21st century.

“Public art is not simply art placed outside. It is a catalyst for urban regeneration."

Gaze is a gamified mobile app that redefines the public art experience. Users are able to discover and navigate to nearby public art using an AR map. In their journey, users are encouraged to interact with urban elements and learn about the cultural history of NYC. At the artwork, users can participate in fun challenges that offer unique ways to consume the art, earn points and unlock hidden digital art in the city. They can also tip the artist or donate towards artwork maintenance. Collected user data ensures that future public art is relevant and consistent with competing stakeholder interests.

To successfully create a transformational experience for a visitor, it is important for us to avoid framing the experience of public art as a “problem” that technology can then “solve”. Technology solutionism and innovation frameworks encourage us to find inefficiencies, ambiguity or opacity in the real world and model it as something that an algorithm or interface can be used to solve. The problem with this framing is that it discards and replaces deep philosophies about art history and architectural design with a reductive model optimized for problem-solving. In actuality, inefficiency, ambiguity and opacity are what fundamentally make public art a transformational experience. Instead, it is important for us how technology can be introduced as a component of the meaning-making process of public art, enhancing its artistic, communal, and institutional impact. 

Here are some selected screens from the final prototype that gives you a rough idea of how the app functions.

Screen 1 Screen 2

The prototype of Gaze has been successfully tested for public art located on Roosevelt Island, New York City. It is currently being considered for grants that will hopefully allow it to scale and be used more widely!