Tess Elliot on her new ecology-minded art app, available now
By Tess Elliot, Studio-in-Place artist
Portals to other worlds can be found all over Oklahoma City — and you can locate them all with nOaks (Infinite Oaks), the new augmented reality (AR) art experience developed for my June Studio-In-Place digital residency project. Use the QR code to download the free app from the App Store for iPhone and Google Play for Android devices, then get busy finding the 30 locations throughout the OKC metro area where AR portals are hiding in plain sight.
Each portal will drop you into a virtual Cross Timber woodland of 3-D-modeled post oaks, blackjack oaks, shumard oaks and black hickory and includes 2-D animated grass and flower sprites that you can walk through for 100 meters in all directions. The digital assets were created by referencing Google images, written descriptions, botanical drawings and some on-site research, photos and videos. They are loose interpretations of these species. The AR experience is drastically different from a real walk in the woods and is not intended as a substitute. Please be aware of your surroundings while using the app and supervise your children if they try it.
The first of these locations is outside of Oklahoma Contemporary’s beautiful new building. Start your journey here, masks at the ready, to contemplate the past and future of our natural and built environments.
Infinite Oaks is meant to suggest a reintroduction of real-world native ecology to central Oklahoma. The other locations I’ve chosen are significant to the project’s meaning, intending to virtually bomb particular sites with metaphoric trees as a gesture of rehabilitation.
The second AR portal is located on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, a historic land-run institution, recently grappling with issues of diversity and racial insensitivity. I also believe OU needs to make recruiting and hiring Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) candidates, especially tribal-affiliated students and scholars, a main priority. The trees at this location should be a reminder of the history of OU’s founding.
nOaks (Infinite Oaks) provides a moment of peace, wonder and hope for renewal.
The other secret AR locations are found in parking lots and on the public grounds of places you’ll have to go out and discover. When the social condition surrounding the project catapulted us from pandemic isolation into the Black Lives Matter uprising, the project needed to be an active ally to that cause, because it is one I’ve been deeply committed to. Some portals exist where using one’s camera phone is a reminder and tribute to individual power and agency in solidarity against police brutality. For the people who occupy these spaces, or anyone who stumbles upon them, the app provides a moment of peace, wonder and hope for renewal.
Realizing this project has been challenging and rewarding. Developing and publishing AR apps is a really new process for me, and my work this month required a constant dedication to working through all manner of technical difficulties. Studio-in-Place is a totally unique residency experience. The framework is built around community, as opposed to solitary studio-time, while being isolated is the pandemic norm. It gives the public access to the process of creating, even when its messy, with in-progress thoughts and work. It also provides an introduction to a few Studio School instructors and their teaching styles.
I am so grateful to have been provided this opportunity to share my process, and now finished project with you all. I hope you enjoy nOaks, and I’d love to hear what you think about the work. Please share pictures and videos you take with the app with us on social media!
Tess Elliot is an assistant professor of art, technology and culture at OU. She studied at the University of the Arts in Berlin in 2006 and received her BFA from the Cooper Union School of Art in 2008. She completed her MFA in Art and Technology at the Ohio State University in 2017. Her multidisciplinary practice involves sculpture, installation, animation, VR and small-gauge film. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, recently at the 8 Fest in Toronto, Ontario, Aggregate Space Gallery in Oakland, Calif., and the Ann Arbor Film Festival in Ann Arbor, Mich.
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