Nový prostor (New Space) is a mobile app created by Victoria Duryagina, Dominik Hlinka and Tomáš Moravanský. It uses augmented reality (AR) which allows the user to insert virtual figure of a homeless person into physical space. The app is supposed to provide the user with the experience of “virtue signaling” while maintaining a safe distance and doing so through the camera of their smartphone. At the same time, it fulfills the internal need to call attention to and share social issues (even when they are not present).
The app is available in the App Store and Google Play for a download by a QR code. Nový prostor is not for everyone and it only works on smartphones that support AR. The user chooses a space where they insert the selected figure using their camera. The selection includes various types of models and figure positions. It is possible to insert as many figures as the user chooses, and they will remain in place until they close the app. It is therefore possible to flood the physical space with virtual content.
The app also retrospectively converts user’s personal activity to a fictitious monetary value, which is based on the energy usage of a distant server that is used to store the data. In other words, the app calculates how much energy the virtual beggar uses up. Recorded screenshots of these modified places are then uploaded anonymously to a cloud storage and can be then viewed in the archive on the gallery web. It is up to the user how they choose to use the app. It is a virtual intervention into a public and a private space.
Encounters with real homeless people bring forth emotional reactions (mostly hidden/suppressed) in people who are outside of this social category of invisibles. The figure of a beggar evokes feelings of pity, need to help, guilt, desperation, disregard, indignation, or system inequality. These encounters are mostly accompanied by a degree of fear of a real contact and if possible, we try to avoid them.
Within the public discourse, and especially on social media, homelessness and other socio-ecological-political issues are in the center of attention in many algorithmically created circles. Heart-breaking posts, liking and following of sensible influencers, a profile picture symbolizing solidarity, signing online petitions often lack real life impact (boost in dopamine aside). This phenomenon and these examples are called virtue signaling or slacktivism. We witness this signaling, we ourselves signal or participate in it on daily, excessive, basis. Engaging in this sort of interpassivity brings the feeling of gratification in terms of social responsibility which allows us to continue consuming “without penalty”.
The project deliberately employs dark humor, generalization, insensitive content – it accepts them and builds upon them. What is mentioned above does not target marginalized groups, the project is in its moralizing nature turned on its head. It explores limits and possibilities of artistic creation in relation to art activism and responsibility towards the work, the relocation of art institutions to the virtual sphere, gamification of society and collective cynicism as a guilty pleasure.
Concept and realization: Victoria Duryagina, Dominik Hlinka, Tomáš Moravanský (INSTITUT INSTITUT)