Your cell phone. The entertaining, distracting, world-at-our-fingertips device that we are never without. An almost inimitable nemesis to observing and understanding gallery art.
An exception is the augmented reality art exhibition, “Traces,” from Camila Magrane, on view at the University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities Gallery through Feb. 10.
While viewing “Traces,” the cell phone — or a tablet provided on-site — serves as a vessel to explore the full story of the art on the gallery walls. Using the AR application Virtual Mutations, Magrane’s collage works burst to life through the device’s screen. Static images become literal stages for animated narratives.
“What’s really fascinating to me about this type of work and using these mixed mediums is that it creates a dialogue between the physical and the virtual,” she said. “The phone or the tablet is just a mediator between those two worlds.”
Ranging from digital collages to Polaroid instant film, the work is interdisciplinary and always jumping between digital and physical realms — both in its creation and its reception.
The physical work always needs to be able to stand on its own — it is the priority and the starting point of the artistic process, Magrane said. She sees the physical piece as the body of the work, with the virtual content serving as the thoughts of that body.
“They are like these digital creatures that live in the physical realm but can also have ideas and thoughts that come from them, and those are only presented virtually,” she said of her exhibition.
“Magrane’s images feel connected to the surrealist compositions of artists like Salvador Dali, or Rene Magritte, rooted in the unconscious, dream-like, sensuous and unsettling,” said Amanda Krugliak, Institute for the Humanities curator. “At the same time, the works reference the graphic hyperrealism of contemporary video game design, which continues to be an integral part of Magrane’s artistic practice.”
The tactile process of collaging and moving photos around springs the ideas for Magrane’s stories, giving life to the work in a way that she enjoys.
“The work tells me where it will go, so I just let the images lead and follow them down the rabbit hole,” she said.
With “Traces,” the cell phone is preoccupied with the deeper story of each piece of art. It no longer serves as a distraction, but as a tool to see the full picture. It enforces a pause upon the viewer, unable to snap a photo or send a text while using the app to view the work. There is an uninterrupted opportunity to concentrate and fully take in what one is seeing.
“One of the things I love about this type of work is watching how people interact with it,” Magrane said. “It’s always different, it never gets old. There’s that sense of surprise that happens because this is not very traditional work and it is not seen very often.”
The Institute for Humanities Gallery, 202 S. Thayer St., is free and open to the public. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.