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Last week I climbed into a typewriter. No, I wasn’t dreaming, and no shrinking was necessary. Augmented reality (AR) simply makes statements like that possible. 

The typewriter in question is a three-dimensional (3D) painting by the renowned South African artist William Kentridge. Created for a small collection of AR artworks called ‘The Invisible Exhibition’, this painting bears the unmistakable style of Kentridge’s two-dimensional drawings. The difference is that this typewriter is rendered in three dimensions, and with the help of an iPad and an AR app, you can climb into it and look at it from the inside out.

William Kentridge typewriter
'Typewriter' by William Kentridge

 Kentridge’s painting was born out of a collaboration between the artist and TMRW Gallery, a small Johannesburg-based art space that is pushing the boundaries of art and technology. Founded in March 2018, TMRW – which stands for The Mixed Reality Workshop – specialises in working with artists to explore the unique possibilities of the digital world. TMRW works with artists who are used to conventional media, like painting, drawing and sculpture, and gives them access to virtual reality (VR) and AR technology. ‘It really is a seed-planting thing,’ says TMRW’s director Ann Roberts. After experimenting with the technology, artists often end up pushing their own practices in new and exciting directions. 

In particular, Tilt Brush has been an indispensable and game-changing tool for many artists who have walked through TMRW’s door. Tilt Brush is a tool made by Google for virtual reality 3D painting. It turns the space around you into your canvas, making it possible to create forms in 360 degrees. It’s simple enough: you strap on a VR headset, select your ‘brush’ and colours, and go. But the thinking behind 3D VR painting is very different from the thinking behind 2D painting. ‘Drawing in Tilt Brush is a gateway for artists,’ says Roberts. ‘Most artists will start out drawing in two dimensions, walk around what they’ve drawn, and then start working more sculpturally.’ 

For artists, being able to experiment with the technology is about first getting familiar with it, and this can take time. Lady Skollie, one of the artists who participated in the Invisible Exhibition, had Tilt Brush set up in her Bertrams studio for a month in order to make the work ‘Watch the Expulsion’. The resulting piece is an immersive and complex construction that translate’s Lady Skollie’s penchant for two-dimensional patterns into an enveloping, orb-like sculptural form. 

Lady Skollie Watch the Expulsion
'Watch the Expulsion' by Lady Skollie

‘The Invisible Exhibition’ is always available for the public to view on an iPad at TMRW’s premises at the Keyes Art Mile. And in addition to the Invisible Exhibition, TMRW hosts a programme of temporary exhibitions that combine traditional visual art with augmented, virtual and mixed realities. Projects lined up for this year include a collaboration with Love Jozi on a series of mixed reality T-shirts and another with local fashion designer Lezanne Viviers. The gallery will also be pioneering a collaboration with Facebook Arts, Facebook’s hitherto analogue visual arts programme. For Roberts, bringing art and tech together is all about creating these kinds of possibilities. ‘The great thing about tech is what’s possible. And the great thing about art is that you don’t need to have fixed outcomes,’ she says. 

All images supplied by TMRW gallery

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