Between Entirely Different Dimensions

by Natalia Lebedinskaia

On February 5, 2021, this article, entitled "NFT artworks in AR at ETHDenver 2021," was originally published by the AAMMA magazine in augmented reality in the Spheroid Universe XR Hub specialized mobile application. The experimental publication allowed one to open and view objects in AR while reading the text.

Durk van der Meer, Shaman, 2020, 3D NFT object collage. Courtesy of the artist and AAMMA team.

The annual ETHDenver Festival has launched its 2021 edition in the midst of the second wave of the COVID19 pandemic and like many events, it has pivoted to take place entirely online. As an experimental space for application of new blockchain technologies, it has always had the advantage of shifting fluidly between the physical and the digital. As Jessica Angel (JA) adapts her MakerSpace to the virtual platform, we discuss the role of Augmented Reality (AR) in the event, and how art can help us imagine a truly hybrid space.

NL: Your work – as an artist, curator, and cultural producer – always exists at the intersection of physical and digital spaces. What do you think the role of AR will be as we continue to explore this boundary?

JA: Augmented Reality (AR) seems to be at the edge of both worlds; it can be experienced as a material form, while being entirely digital. We’re just at the very beginning of this. It is mesmerizing, it is evocative, and it really brings you to that edge where you can feel yourself moving towards the impossible.The fact that AR can interact with any physical environment makes it function like a portal – an introduction, or a teaser – between entirely different dimensions.

NL: I’m interested to know more about the intersections of AR and the blockchain. How does it shift our understanding of digital objects and digital scarcity? Where does ownership look like?

JA: Digital art collections have to exist inside the boundaries of code, so it becomes difficult to showcase them without the screen as a constant barrier. The intersection of AR and tokenized art (NFTs) is a really interesting avenue towards driving new interest for the collectors, as well as the process of acquiring and owning digital assets.

AR technology provides an alternative to experiencing these objects, breaking with the flatness of the screen and allowing for a more organic interaction. AR objects that are scarce and unique can find new homes and new owners who are interested in the experience of space through digital means, so a new world of ownership opportunities surfaces.

I also imagine a hypothetical future where the experience of our immediate world exists entirely on a virtual platform: living in an empty room and experiencing your home through a VR set or AR glasses, and interacting with digital objects around you. In this instance, there is no more obvious boundary between the physical and digital objects as they blur into one another.

NL: This past year has been marked by extremely fast-paced adoption of online platforms, partly as a result of the pandemic but also because technology is advanced enough to keep up with demand. How has your work with ETHDenver adapted to these changes?

JA: I have been working for ETHDenver since 2018 by curating a section called The #artproject MakerSpace, an initiative by #artproject.io and its community to bring artists together with programmers to explore different ways of collaboration. ETHDenver’s organizers–since the event’s inception in 2018 – have recognized the importance of art for the adoption of new technologies, and the experimental platform that it offers for innovation.

This year the event is going virtual through a VR platform called Gamerjibe, and the MakerSpace is featured inside a virtual room where we are able to translate human interactions, while experimenting with projects that further blur the boundaries between physical and digital experiences.

The Augmented Reality blockchain project Spheroid Universe has been invited to present alternatives for artists to display tokenized art using their AR technologies, in collaboration with the #artproject community. This AR experiment presents a second layer of exploration of the virtual space of the Festival, taking it from the digital conference back into physical spaces of peoples’ offices and homes across the world.

As in prior years, I can’t wait to see where the artists and their collaborators take this new format, and the possibilities it creates.

PS. In a recent article, Judith Benhamou cites Daniel Birnbaum: “I see my activities in virtual reality as a curatorial endeavour. But I have to admit that I have no business model. I still don’t know how we’re going to make money, how these works will be commercialized. These technologies are still in their infancy.” This statement resonates with how captivated I am feeling about the potential developments for AR, and the questioning of how it can be monetized to support artists and creators in this early stage of the field’s growth. For AR, however, these technologies are more closely tethered to the material world, and as Jessica states “AR can be experienced as a material form, while being entirely digital.” It is thus possible that the leap from experimentation to monetization for artists is in fact less uncertain, and more traditional models of ownership may not be so far off.


Matthew Treece, Pricklygoo, 2021, 3D NFT object in AR. A video created in augmented reality using a smartphone, Denver, USA. Courtesy of the artist.

For the Jessica Angel curatorial text about “Breaking the Screen,” click here:

See all the NFT artobjects from the “Breaking the Screen” project in AR and get detailed information about them here:

Find out what the “Breaking the Screen” project means for our magazine here: