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David Datuna: Viewpoint of Billions

American culture magnified in the artist's groundbreaking work which interacts with Google Glass

by Josh Rubin in Culture on 02 December 2013

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Melding enough types of buzzworthy gadgets to make any technologist drool, NY-based artist David Datuna's new multimedia piece "Viewpoint of Billions" is likely one of the first pieces of art to be specifically created with Google Glass. Building on the theme of Datuna's lauded "Viewpoint of Millions" series, the new work again relies on his signature style of using abandoned eyeglass lenses while incorporating a tech element to elevate the experience. To do this, Datuna teamed up with the cutting-edge developers and Glassware pioneers at BrickSimple, who were able to embed four interactive cameras into his large-scale American flag, which will automatically connect with viewers wearing Glass and serve as both a receiver and distributor of images, videos and pertinent information. As we ready ourselves for the onslaught of art that is Art Basel Miami this week, we look back on a recent opportunity to visit Datuna's Brooklyn studio, where we saw firsthand the soon-to-debut interactive piece.

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"'Viewpoint of Billions' is not just about you looking at the piece, it's about the piece being able to look back at you. It's about having an interactive experience with the painting," explained president and founder of BrickSimple Det Ansinn. "This is pretty much up-to-the-minute technology that's being incorporated to make this piece work. This not something that has been done before. This kind of collaboration is truly unique."

Central to this experience is the tiny Raspberry Pi, a small personal computer initially designed to help educate people about technology, but has since become the ultimate tool for hackers and DIY enthusiasts. Knowing the devices would be embedded in the final piece, Ansinn and his team created custom 3D-printed housings that match the flag's coloring and the lens motif. A small connected camera captures images and video of viewers while the Raspberry Pi simultaneously sends them to a Tumblr. If the viewer is wearing Glass, an automatic connection will be made, and images, video and information about the project will be projected to the wearer's third eye, thus completing the circle of art and viewer interaction. "We want to take that [interaction] and make it something that augments the experience of the piece, versus distracting you from it," said Ansinn.

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"I want to show the American mentality" - David Datuna

In order to fully appreciate "Viewpoint of Billions," one must first look back at Datuna's 2012 piece called "Due Date"—which we saw last year during Miami Art Week. The work takes aim at the US, highlighting monumental moments and significant cultural happenings surrounding a certain point in time. Datuna affixes the collage of representative newspaper clippings, photos and media materials to the wooden structure, which are then covered with his lenses. "The lenses [represent] people's vision—people's soul," explains Datuna, "and with each piece all these lenses have different prescriptions, like we do. So behind each lens you see a story." For his latest work, America is again the focus, but with a wider scope. "From the start to today, we want to show all history," Datuna tells us. "It's not about some particular small period of the country, we want to show the best things, the more important things. What makes America 'America.' Who makes America 'America.' What makes America different, what makes America a super country. I want to show the American mentality."

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"Trying to find the right mix of technologies that enable this kind of piece to work was a real challenge," reminds Ansinn."Glass is not a released device, it's still being piloted and beta-tested—things about Glass change every month." Due to this, his "social experiment," as Datuna calls it, was not an easy process to pull together. He worked for many months with Ansinn and BrickSimple on multiple Glassware iterations as they fought through derailing Glass updates and changes. As for how the device interacts with the actual art, Glass isn't able to rely on usual surface tracking techniques because of the variability in lens topography. However difficult the challenge surely was, the end result is nothing short of fascinating.

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David Datuna's "Viewpoint of Billions" will debut at the New World Symphony during the SIME MIA Collective on 3 December. From there it will travel along with a range of other new works to the Miami Design District for public viewing (limited numbers of loaner Google Glass will be available) from 4-8 December. For a closer look at his "Viewpoint of Billions" assembly process, as well as numerous other works to debut later this week during Art Basel Miami, see the slideshow.

Photos by Graham Hiemstra

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