“Portal to an Alternative Reality” by John Craig Freeman

  • ©2016, John Craig Freeman, Portal to an Alternative Reality
  • ©2016, John Craig Freeman, Portal to an Alternative Reality


    Portal to an Alternative Reality

Artist(s) and People Involved:


Creation Year:



    Wood paint, other construction materials, and photogrammetry virtual assets

Artist Statement:

    Portal to an Alternative Reality has been produced in partnership with the ZERO1 American Arts Incubator, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the U.S. Consulate General, Wuhan, and K11 Art Foundation China, Portal to an Alternative Reality acts as an access point where the public can immerse themselves in virtual and augmented reality experiences that document the rapidly changing city of Wuhan. In 2014, ZERO1 and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs launched a new media and digital arts program, the American Arts Incubator. It showcases artists as engaged and innovative partners in addressing social issues, in addition to creating a cross-cultural exchange of ideas.

    In 2015, public artist John Craig Freeman was selected by the U.S. Consulate in Wuhan to spend 28 days in Wuhan where he was asked to engage and empower the youth of the city. Early in 2016, a portal gate was built in the courtyard in front of the K11 art village in Wuhan. The construction was directed by local master craftsmen and mediated with four iPad viewing devices connected to a powerful projector with screen for evening events.
    In April 2016 Freeman led an intensive five day virtual and augmented reality workshop, where he assembled and trained four production teams made up of faculty and students from local Universities. The goal was to have the teams engage the community to determine which parts of the city to document in virtual and augmented reality. The resulting work was then placed at the precise GPS location of the portal gate in the courtyard of the K11 art village.

    The public was able to experience the work on smartphone mobile devices using a free downloadable augmented reality browser app and during special evening events using the iPad viewing devices. The virtual and augmented reality scenes were created with photogrammetry techniques. Photogrammetry is the science, technology, and art of obtaining reliable information from non-contact imaging and other sensor systems, in this case, to create 3D models from series of photographs taken at various angles. If an object, person or scene is photographed at multiple angles, software can analyze the parallax difference between key features in the image and extract a three dimensional reconstruction of the image in the form of a point cloud, points in space with XYZ coordinates and RGB color values. Polygons can then be created by connecting the dots, so to speak.

    Augmented reality is virtual reality in a physical location. It is a new medium that has the capacity to support aesthetic research and artistic creation, particularly in public space. Viewed through the camera of common smart phones and other mobile devices, augmented reality allows vast audiences to experience new and emergent realities. Virtual objects can be located at precise longitude and latitude coordinates anywhere in the world. The mobile device becomes a kind of cybernetic prosthesis that can extend human perception and the sensorium, making the virtual world that is forming around us, visible.

    Meaning is constructed in augmented reality much like montage in filmmaking where shots are juxtaposed. Rather than adjacent film clips cut together over time however, augmented reality juxtaposes the real and virtual, over space. Furthermore, looking through the virtual world to the physical world beyond disrupts our sense of what is real and what is virtual, causing a profound shift in our established ontologies. In May 2016 the project was moved to Hong Kong for exhibition during the symposium, and to seed a possible expansion of the project.