Virtual art: it’s for real

Cubist: A sculpture that isn't really there - part of Site Gallery's Augmented Reality exhibition
Cubist: A sculpture that isn't really there - part of Site Gallery's Augmented Reality exhibition
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A SERIES of huge multi-coloured floating concrete, marble and glass sculptures are to be installed around Sheffield city centre. Sort of.

You’ll be able to take a photo of yourself in front of the gravity-defying art works at a variety of prominent locations.

Artist Sarah Staton

Artist Sarah Staton

The bizarre bit? The sculptures won’t actually exist. They’ll only be visible if you look through the camera on an iPhone – as shown the preparatory mock up.

Confused? Don’t be.

This, reader, is augmented reality.

Using cutting edge technology, Sheffield-based artist Sarah Staton has created the sculptures on a special iPhone application. When users point their phone cameras at certain buildings in certain parts of the city, they’ll see exactly what is there plus the sculpture, which isn’t.

They can look at it, pose with it, view it from different angles, even walk through it.

The ambitious project - the first of its kind in any UK city - has been commissioned by Site Gallery, in Brown Street.

“This is a completely experimental project,” says Sarah, of Upper Hanover Street, Broomhall. “In the future the relationship between technology and art is going to completely change and this is a way of putting Sheffield at the forefront of that.

“Eventually, it could be you don’t need to build a sculpture as such. You could pay to have something outside your window for a month that isn’t actually there - but you still see when you look out your window. This is a kind of fore-runner of that.”

The sculptures will be a selection of basic shapes made to look as though they have been built from basic artistic materials – cubes in concrete, marble spheres, shards of glass. The reason for that simplicity is two-fold. The technology being used is still very much in its infancy and creating anything more complex is both incredibly expensive and difficult – and also Sarah is an artist who believes in minimalism.

“This is about the vision and possibility of art,” she says. “So it seemed right to base it around basic artistic materials.”

The mother-of-two, who moved to Sheffield eight years ago to take up an art fellowship, will now spend the next two weeks building the sculptures on a computer before manipulating them to appear when an iPhone reads certain codes which will be placed on certain buildings.

Locations are yet to be fully decided but will probably include Brown Street, Trafalgar Street, Paternoster Row and St Mary’s Gate.

A real-life sculpture, meanwhile, will be installed in Site Gallery – but even that will come with a twist.

“That will actually be there,” says Sarah. “But when you point your phone at it, you’ll be able to see things growing off it and changing around it.”

Welcome, folks, to the future.

Exhibition runs May 17 - 27. iPhone application details at Site Gallery.