Interview ArtsHebdoMedias

– Where were you born and where did you grow up ?

I was born in Amsterdam and raised in a small town near Amsterdam called Hoofddorp.

– Where do you currently live ? Why did you choose to live there ?

I moved to Amsterdam when I started studying computer science at the VU university. I’m self employed at the moment and I have my studio here in Amsterdam. I like the city and work-wise the location is practical because I’m working throughout the Netherlands.

– What kind of child were you ? What kind of play did you like ?

I have been a maker all my life, I enjoyed drawing and constructing things. I was a big fan of Lego.

– Were you a « good » pupil/student ?

Yes, I did fine. I do not excell in one specific subject, but I have the endurance to continue and find ways to achieve something. I do not like giving up.

– When did you start being interested in computers (and computing) ?

My first computer was a Commodore 64 which I got at the age of 14. It was a fantastic machine with color graphics and sound. Much more spectacular than the monochrome PC’s that entered every home a little while later. I quickly learned programming and I got in touch with a lot of fellow enthusiasts. We exchanged what we called “demo’s” to showcase our creations which we created to challenge the technical limitations of the computer. The commodore 64 was a 1Mhz machine, so you had to program efficiently to make things happen.

– What was the occupation of your parents ? Did they influence your study « choices » ?

My parents were teachers. They agreed with my first study: computer science. But they always wondered why I wanted to do a second study: art academy. They asked me what exactly I was going to do and make when finishing the academy. So I kept explaining that I was hoping and expecting to make -new- things that weren’t there yet, so that it was difficult for me to explain what I was going to do exactly. In retrospective, that was true. A lot of things did change during my time at the academy. New technologies appeared and smartphones became the devices that did not just connect us to people, but they became browsers for the semi-digital world around us. Thanks to the GPS, compass and gyroscope functions they suddenly could do augmented reality and they opened up a whole new universe to use and explore.

– Why did you first choose to study computer science ? Where and when did you get your degree ?

With my fascination for being creative with computers it was a logical choice to explore that topic further. I got my degree in “bussiness computer science” at the VU university in Amsterdam in 1997. My first job as an IT specialist was at a big institute, working on invisible systems that did nightly processing of data. That was what I was educated for…

– When and why did you feel like joining an Art School then ?

The world of IT changed so much during my time at the university. When I finished, computers had started playing a bigger and bigger role in society, changing in so many ways how we deal with the world. The internet was a major change, the smartphone revolution brought another wave of innovation. But still, working for clients often means repeating proven successes. But to look further into the future and work on projects that perhaps nobody knows or wants yet, requires an independent position. I became a freelancer and started studying “instable media” at the Gerrit Rietveld Art Academy in Amsterdam. I am currently combining both skills. I’ve the technical skills to quickly create whatever I image, and with my projects I do hands-on research on new technologies and their impact on our society.

– When and why did you feel like exploring Virtual/Augmented Reality ?

As an art academy student I appreciated the endless opportunities with virtual material. Compared to real material, there are no limits or boundaries. Seeing the world as a mix of virtual and real material, there can be multiple versions of reality if a part can be programmed virtually. That’s great for all kinds of art disciplines. Augmented reality has aspects that are close to the arts. In a way, AR requires some imagination to accept that something virtual at a specific location is ‘real’, even though it can’t be touch. Touch is an old fashion way of deciding if something is real or not. We live in a time where online live is as real as our movements across a physical reality.

– Were you familiar with Second Life ? What was your avatar ? Can we consider it is the « ancestor » of AR or have the two universes not very much in common ?

Second Life was my first experience with a programmable 3D environment. I’ve seen augmented reality as Second Life escaping from the boundaries of the screen. But AR is not just a seperate world of virtual appearances. Nowadays it’s often location-based and that means there’s impact back and forth because of the integration of space and data.

– From VR to AR, is it only a question of technology or also of mentalities ?

The low level core technology is 3D rendering and visualisation. Initially, tracking was something exclusively used in AR, but the technology has been implemented for VR also, to make experiences more realistic. The head movement tracking of an Oculus Rift version 2 is a major improvement and the the HTC Vive allows you to move within a small space. It’s getting a highly realistic experience, especially because the content can be 3D landscapes, realistic 360 footage or a mix of both. VR has become a very broad field.

Besides the technical similarities, AR and VR are two seperate worlds. As a viewer, VR is perfect. When putting on the headset, there’s nothing else, except the VR environment. That’s great for the creator designing the experience. AR is much more difficult to create and to experience. It appears within our daily lives. And as a creator, you hardly know anything about the situation of your viewer. To make AR feel right, it need to viewed on the right moment, at the right place and with the right device. Smartphone AR can be fine for some applications and situations, sometimes a tablet it better. A Google Glass was great for contextual text-based AR and devices like the Hololens offer the ultimate mixed reality experience, for now. That genre of devices will quickly evolve into more subtle, more comfortable and more immersive wearables.

– You have once said (in an ITW to « I think kids should learn programming as early as possible! ». Why ?

We’re going to be integrated in a data-driven world. Our environment and our bodies too. Our actions are going to be scripted and suggested by Googe, Siri (Apple) or Cortana (Microsfot). Everything is going to be programmed. It’s important to understand that, understand the logic of such a world, in order to make the right choices. To be in control.

– Could you tell me more about the AR Art Manifesto and the MoMA performance ? What were your motivations ?

Seeing the potential of the AR technology, I wondered: in what way can AR be used to create art? Is it suitable to be used as a material for art? Or do artworks need to be physical? Will virtual material always be a substitution, a replica, a copy or can it be a new original material? And does that lead to new uses? What better location to judge that than in a proper museum. And besides the question if real AR art would exist, I thought about the consequences of AR as a medium, having impact on the whole chain of artist, galleries, curators, musea and audiences. Therefore I launched the call for an uninvited exhibition in the MoMA. Mark Skwarek became my fellow organiser and thirty other artists joined. My contribution to the show was a virtual 7th floor, a conceptual augmented reality art piece.

– In July, your were part of the Why not Festival in Amsterdam with « Be your own robot ». Could you explain this project ?

It was a reaction on the development that is going to occur the next decade. Big companies are gaining a lot of influence on us through our 24/7 connectedness to the cloud. Google already tells me when to leave because they study my online agenda. They will soon send me a lot more tips on things to do in my environment, and how to interact or what to say to people that I meet along the way. If you don’t want Google to do that, you could switch to Facebook. Or Apple. But there should be more choice, therefore I’m working on a platform. An API for humans. More suppliers of so you can choose more specifically how you want this involvement to happen.


– Some people say that smartphone makes its users more and more unaware of their environment and of other people… Do you agree ? Why ?

It could, but it depends on the apps you use and what you encounter. Only a small set of apps, and most of them are now about the local context. Whatsapp and facebook. Passive readers I’m working on the appherenow platform to try to feature apps that bring people together on one place. Based on what you’re doing, who’s there with you, what you want to do and what can be done you get recommendation.

– Do you think technology might influence the part artists play in our world and society or not at all ?

At this moment, I’m working on this kind of technology. It’s not artistis yet, but it’s needed to bring these artistic apps to the surface. Not all artists do have the marketing power to launch the next Pokemon Go. And also, we want to launch a different type of app. With less mass appeal, it will not automatically have the same reach. And without an audience, there’s no reason to create apps. So this is needed to stimulate artists to create more artistic location-based cooperative apps.

– Do you have regrets ?

It’s the shortage of time. There’s so much going on. I like to react on it in a hands-on way. I create prototype, experiments, instead of just talking about things. But working with all this new technology is time consuming. And it takes endurance. Finding money to pay fellow workers is difficult. Until the Pokemon hype appeared, people always had doubts about the power of AR. They were expecting one killer app, and it didn’t happen during the first wave of AR enthusiasm. But my take on that: there is not going to be one killer app, there’s going to be thousands. There are so many ways and situations in which AR can be useful. But at the same time, there are so many occasions where it’s not working perfect. I wish I had more time to create illustrative examples to showcase it all, because I’m a believer of the power.

– Do you have hopes ?

My interest and enthusiasm for AR is caused by the fundamental way it empowers people to be in control. Not only companies buying billboards, but grassroot initiatives can create and show. Because making money seemed difficult, many AR platforms have tough payment structures. My hope is that there will be enough free alternatives, more people creating content and more people open to view it, not just focussing on only the ultra sophisticased projects created by big firms and holywood producers.