Visualise, Anglia Ruskin University, 2013

Making Art in Context cover


visualise 1

Visualise: Making Art In Context, edited and introduced by Bronac Ferran, foreword by Chris Owen, essays by contributing artists, published by Anglia Ruskin University/Futurecity 2013.

This book covers the activities of the Visualise programme, managed by Futurecity and curated by Bronac Ferran, which took place in Cambridge in 2011-12. The programme of art and technology collaborations was centred around the Ruskin Gallery and city locations close to Anglia Ruskin University, and culminated in the exhibition Poetry, Language, Code at the Ruskin Gallery, 2012. The book covers Reality Rules, a text intervention in augmented reality on Parker’s Piece, Cambridge, by Bettina Furnée with Dylan Banarse.


Bettina Furnée, Reality Rules, in Visualise: Making Art in Context, ed. Bronac Ferran (2013)

Reality Rules

New Rules For A Fair Society in augmented reality on Parker’s Piece, Cambridge.

Cambridge’s oldest electrical lamppost stands bang in the middle of the intersection of the diagonal paths crossing Parker’s Piece, a green square of common land in the centre of town, which was once 25 acres of pasture owned by Trinity College. In local parlance the lamppost is called Reality Checkpoint, and the name has appeared painted or scratched on the ironwork since the 1970’s, in spite of regular upkeep by the Council. A place for leisure and sport, it was on Parker’s Piece in the 1800s that the ‘Cambridge Rules’ were drawn up by students, directly leading to the modern Football Association rules, which forbade catching the ball and ‘hacking’. The iconic site of Parker’s Piece is visually, historically and metaphorically connected to ideas of enlightenment, dissent and the possibility of change. The clear demarcation of common land and real estate, at the crossover point between the university and the town itself, and the sudden opening-up of an expanse of sky and grass around the single lamppost, sets the perfect scene for a playful investigation of the boundaries of perception, the imaginary and the real in relation to a city’s social and physical territory.

Reality Rules, launched at Reality Checkpoint as a site-responsive art and technology collaboration between artist Bettina Furnée and game-ware designer Dylan Banarse, aims to explore these boundaries and concepts. During the first two weeks of July 2012 we were present at the lamppost during lunchtime hours, with an Ipad, inviting passers-by to be the initial prosumers (both producer and consumer) of our pilot project. Members of the public engaged with the work and the spirit of the location by proposing a ‘New Rule For A Fair Society’. New Rules were visualised as textual signs in the real-world landscape, using augmented reality for mobile devices. Parker’s Piece has since been virtually populated with people’s ideas for New Rules, to be viewed whilst walking around on the green by those with the free Wikitude World Browser installed on their mobile phone or tablet. New Rules can be entered, voted for or against, and signs will grow in size and move from the periphery to the centre of the green according to popularity. Of course, without a mobile device and the augmented reality app, the work remains mysteriously imperceptible, although a website allows anyone to follow and interact with the project from afar.

Running counter to this air of immateriality, we produced during the first two weeks, in collaboration with artist Caroline Wendling, a daily edition of 100 letterpress prints of one selected New Rule. These were printed during the afternoons at the print room of Anglia Ruskin University, and then gifted to participants at Reality Checkpoint the next day. The range of views the public might take to a possible new reality is evidenced by this set of ten different prints, reading ‘No Inherited Wealth’ and ‘Maximum Wage!’ as well as ‘Leave It As It Is’ and ‘Reconsider the freedom of speech- we need to be able to discuss violent opposition as sometimes it might be necessary’ as well as the poetic ‘Every garden needs Light’. The luscious print designs and the augmented reality signs popping up on the glossy screen, to some extent belie the multiple moments of realisation of these texts. Anyone wishing to ‘formulate a New Rule’ has to cross the one-way boundary between the realms of inner thought and public formality, and the individual and society. When we put our feelings into words the imaginary is made more real, as if language lends prophetic power to our thoughts. By applying the system of language to every argument we encountered on the green, an equal amount of power was given to every statement. This idea of validity was then further elaborated by the deployment of another logical system or meta-language such as computer programming (or arguably letterpress printing) to the texts. This then leaves the soundness of an argument such as ‘Every garden needs Light’ up for debate and its potential for the enlightenment of society as a whole is questioned. These various levels of transfiguration, from imagination to reality to ideology, structure the otherwise playful shape of this project.

Reality Rules enabled us to expand our interest in the way a community can inhabit the physical and digital townscape. Early participants of the project were keen to have their thoughts referenced, and take part in the shaping of utopia, possibly in the wake of the recent Occupation initiatives in our cities. The central concerns and concept of the work could be further developed as an art project, and its machinations could possibly be a blueprint for future public opinion polls. The technical pilot demonstrates potential but any further development would require the design of a bespoke application in order to improve accessibility, usability and functionality, as the current AR browser-based implementation limits what can be displayed or accessed, and how. The new concept of augmented reality, however, is still unfamiliar to most people, and so far only the most technically savvy have been able to view and interact with the project independently on their mobile device. However, it’s intriguing to know there remains on Parker’s Piece, at the outer reaches of our current perception, a quietly expanding and changing number of New Rules For A Fair Society anchored in thin air.

For more details about the project and how to join in, propose and vote for New Rules For A Fair Society go to: