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Film Independent Tue 10.1.2019

Another Window to Immersive Entertainment: Augmented Reality at The Portal

Produced by Film Independent and presented in partnership with Loyola Marymount University, The Portal featured the best new works in immersive entertainment. We asked Film Independent blogger Jayna Gavieres to sample the event’s AR pieces and report back.


If you were around the Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television’s campus in Playa Vista last weekend, you may have noticed people walking around outside the main building, looking through their devices pointed upward. What they were viewing was part of The Portal, Film Independent’s second-year immersive storytelling showcase.

Though many of the VR experiences were solidly booked within minutes of the crowd’s release from the queue for each two-hour RSVP block, luckily the headset-bound experiences weren’t the only digital environments attendees were able to visit this year. Located among the outdoor borders of the event space were three geo-located AR experiences created by Nancy Baker Cahill, a multi-disciplinary artist who works at the intersection of fine art, new media and activism. It’s worth mentioning that these experiences didn’t require any reservations whatsoever, and could be accessed and viewed at one’s leisurely pace through any device that supports her AR app called the 4th Wall.

After being informed that I had to first exit the building, once outside I was to open the app, click on “Coordinates” and then be guided to the pieces via the app.

So onto my first AR adventure at The Portal: Cahill’s eco-themed Margin of Error (2019), which I had read originally floated above the Salton Sea. After following the instructions I was given, I found what I thought was the piece right above my head, just outside the doors of the building.

I wasn’t sure what to expect considering this was my first AR experience, and honestly I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right. My understanding is that piece was originally inspired by the “toxic, terminal damage” of its original Salton Sea locale. For a sample of how Margin of Error appeared at its initial presentation during Desert X, see this clip uploaded to YouTube:

After a few minutes, I moved onto 2019’s Revolutions, an “AR/drawing experience” originally located in California’s Palm Desert, meant to “underscore the inescapable human effects on the land” wrought by the proliferation in the region of wind farms through a series of animated desert-bloom images. Reopening the app, I was directed to the soccer field across the street, with arrows leading me to a bright and boldly pink-colored digital canvas in the trees.

According to Cahill’s Desert X Biennial artist’s statement: “Revolutions alludes to the capturing of energy to remedy a man-made crisis. But in doing so, the net effect is disruptive to the flora and fauna of the region. The artist thinks of the drawings as a call-and response of sorts.” To see how the piece originally appeared in its initial location in the Coachella Valley, see this YouTube clip:

The third and final Cahill AR piece at The Portal 2019 was Method No. 13 (2018). Hearing that there was something viewable by the fountain in the park across from LMU, I walked over and opened the app. The coordinates directed me to a transparent art piece with its accompanying sounds.

With its title referencing George Orwell’s 1984, per The Portal’s event program, Method No. 13 uses “devices that require GPS tracking to activate artwork viewers experience by looking ‘through their screens at the above air to access artwork while listening to accompanying sounds created in collaboration with Lisle Leete. If I had to choose, I’d say Method No. 13 was my favorite—it was the one that seemed the most resonate to me, and the one I was confident I was able to gain the most authentic AR experience from.

‘Method No. 13’ (2018, dir. Nancy Baker Cahill)

Another great feature of the 4th Wall app was the Nancy Baker Cahill Studio. With a slow 360-degree spin, the viewer discovers a door that suddenly appears, becoming an entryway to her Los Angeles studio. Through the magic of my device and this mind-bending app, I was able to walk through and view the contents in Cahill’s studio, right where I was standing in Playa Vista. I felt like a giddy little girl walking through a glass mirror and into an imaginary, yet very realistic space.

As someone with an open mind with any and all experiences of life, I will say that I still had a very unique adventure at The Portal this year. Showcases like this are key to helping a newcomer like myself learn about what XR is and how it’s contributing to visual storytelling and digital media. The opportunity that immersive experiences have on people—to change how not only art is interpreted and absorbed but also how life is perceived—is what I find most exciting about the future endeavors of XR.


To learn more about Nancy Baker Cahill and her work, check out her 2018 TEDx Talk and be sure to visit her website.

A free event produced by Film Independent, and in partnership with Loyola Marymount University, The Portal, curated by Artistic Director Jacqueline Lyanga took place September 20-22 at LMU’s Playa Vista Campus. To learn how to become a Film Independent Member, click here.

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(Header: Revolutions in action. Photo by Lance Gerber, nancybakercahill.com)

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