As part of my research into augmented reality this short essay examines art works that require participants to engage in physical movement to experience or activate the virtual; works where the somatic is part of the boundaries conditions of the AR. The term ‘augmented reality’ has largely replaced ‘virtual reality’ in discussions of participant interaction with virtual assets. This change may indicate a cultural shift in favor of the corporal, or at least a new perspective on the biological body. The emerging attitude is not interested in, or fearful of, becoming enveloped in fully virtual worlds, such as in eXistenZ or the Matrix. Rather the trend is to design and employ digital devices where the virtual is manifestly in service to the physical. The practical, pedestrian marketing for the Google Glass project is instructive.  Digital content and dataflow, no longer isolated to gaming stations or traditional computing machines, are braided into and across our environments. While this new state in some way resembles Douglas Englebart’s seminal designs to augment the human intellect, his system could fully exist within a single, stationary workspace.  Distributed media happen through motion, as part of our trajectories through personal and public space. Is this an elevation of, or a return to, the biological? Or is this recognition that biological and non-biological things are engaged in completely new conditions, conditions that often overwhelm people, and favor a small economic elite? Toward a balance, certain AR art projects offer participants moments of agency, small but significant. Seminal mixed reality works by Jeffrey Shaw, Rebecca Allen, Teri Rueb and Slava Balasanov present opportunities, I propose, for dialogue in which biological and virtual bodies are on equal footing.
Jeffrey Shaw’s influential Golden Calf (1994) instigates a dynamic conversation between the corporal and the simulated. The full splendor of the calf as apparition is discovered only as the viewer moves her body. She must twist and turn as she holds the monitor to experience the shifting light and reflection on the surface of the virtual calf. Shaw refers to this requirement as a “specifically physical process of disclosure.” 
Rebecca Allen’s Coexistence (2001) offers a unique biometric interface in which a participant’s breath triggers interaction with virtual elements, and an exchange with another person across the room. Players receive both visual and haptic feedback; the hand-held device vibrates when the other player blows into the sensor. Breathing and touching are distinctly sensual states. Allen’s piece sets up an intimate encounter with another player, but also an intimate exchange with virtual forms.
In Teri Rueb’s Drift (2004), a location specific sound walk set along an expanse of tidal flats in northern Germany, participants wear headphones attached to a mobile sound and GPS unit. The piece invites them to find and follow mobile circles of sound that drift slowly, but persistently, across the beach – movements patterned on the tides and the shifting satellites overhead. The work is structured to simulate both natural and computational movement – ocean and machine – with no clear distinction between the two.
My final example is Slava Balascanov’s The Digit (2011). When activated the app reveals a giant palindromic finger hovering over Union Square Park. The visitor follows the form’s trajectory from one public sculpture to another, from the 19th Century stature of George Washington, stationed at the southern edge of the park, to Metronome, a large relief embedded on a building façade just south of the square. Metronome, an expensive public work installed in 1999 and not always popular with the public, contains an enlarged replica of the hand of George Washington as depicted in the older sculpture. Balascanov reduces the hand to one imposing pointer. The viewer moves her body to see the full scope of the hovering giant and to consider what the finger might be implicating. Again, the importance of the active human body, yet Balascanov’s piece also points to another constellation of possibilities that artists are realizing with augmented reality. New AR projects may expand the sense of art works as physical and symbolic sites for conversation in the public sphere – focus for my next essay.
1. I am referring to marketing items such as this video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c6W4CCU9M4
2. My sense of Douglas Engelbart’s designs comes from reading excerpts of his Augmenting the Human Intellect published in The New Media Reader, eds. Nick Montfort and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, 93-108.
3. This quote was extracted from text on the page devoted to The Golden Calf, on Jeffrey Shaw’s website: http://www.jeffrey-shaw.net/html_main/frameset-works.php
Meredith Drum is a digital artist interested in place-based augmented reality. She and her collaborator Rachel Stevens are co-producing an AR historical walking tour of lower Manhattan, titled Oyster City. This spring a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council residency is supporting the production of this project. Meredith has spoken about AR, and presented prototypes of Oyster City, at ISEA2012 in Albuquerque and at the MobilityShifts summit at the New School in 2011. As a founding member of the startup Augmented Mountain, Meredith has co-produced four augmented reality apps, Pyrite, CATT, OuterSpaces, and Silicon Monuments. In the fall of 2012 she co-taught a graduate level AR course at Pratt Institute with programmer Phoenix Toews. Recent grants and residencies from Free103point9; the Experimental Television Center; the Bronx Museum of the Arts; the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts; and ISSUE Project Room have provided support for her practice.