by Ben Wood
Published on September 12, 2019
In addition to interpretive screens I see affirming opportunities to animate and give context to the murals and I propose a feasible, dynamic and less costly solution to obscuring the murals; intepretive media art such as video and augmented, presented - onto or in relation to the murals that will bring diverse perspectives without adversely affecting their historic fabric.
A new video artwork could be created just like, JR's animated video mural, The Chronicle's of San Francisco, currently on view at SFMOMA or the newly unveiled epic video mural at the De Young Museum "In Pursuit of Venus" , orchestrating 80 vignettes re-interpreting historical figures and bringing them to life through audio and movement by New Zealand-Maori artist, Lisa Reihana. Or indeed the work of Kryzsztof Wodiczko, animating historic monuments with the stories of communities who are disempowered by them.
An animated video mural could bring contemporary viewpoints and explore the important questions of Arnatauff's mural. Either a projected or augmented video could be a contemporary digital version existing in the same physical space, in conversation with the historical mural to create a vital dialogue in the present.
Figures within the murals could literally be animated with the faces and voices of present-day individuals and communities who are misrepresented, marginalised as well as overlooked by them. Or it could be animated with historic and contemporary role models, and vignettes in place of the depicted figures. Participants could hold uplifting or opposing messages, symbolic items, and voice their own stories in gesture and words. A student might simulate painting over or crossing out an offensive figure, or present uplifting messages that they wish to share with future students.
While we must continue to recognize the many great principles of enlightenment that our founders, like George Washington enshrined in the U.S. constitution of course we shouldn't ignore the darker side of U.S. history depicted within these murals - that our founders also subjugated and drove out Native Americans, settled and colonized their land on the backs of slave labor.
But today wouldn't it be more representative of San Francisco to swap the panels or white-wash paint for a projector, or other display that better defends our sacred progressive values of education, inclusivity and creativity?
Shouldn't we the mural advocates, philanthropists, innovators, artists, historians, educators, museum administrators, alumni and students stand up together to demonstrate a better way forward? Rather than silence another historic mural, we can use this opportunity, through art and media to create an open, dynamic and inter-generational, conversation between past and future and repurpose the mural itself to create a meaningful new interpretation.
Here is one of the working proof of concept augmented videos I've made to show the potential of using media to annotate and animate the Life of Washington murals without adversely affecting them. One can point a phone at the mural and it will animated with text or video to encourage the viewer to read and question what they see or do not see in the mural.
Here is another augmented and animated proof of concept, showing the potential of using augmented and animated media to repurpose and create empowering responses to the murals without adversely affecting the historic mural. Using the UN Declaration of Indegenous Rights the Mural the faces and voices of the mural are animated to present a new meaning. This example is a working first proof of concept attempt as a starting point to demonstrate dynamic and creative ways to engage with the murals.
STAND UP in this effort to defend, interpret and repurpose the murals!
Ben Wood is a San Francisco based artist devoted to exploring site-based history, and sharing history in public space through new media, video and projected art.
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