Reality Labs

Augmenting abstraction: Facebook Expands AR Experiences with Tate

August 1, 2019

From simple masks and photo filters to responsive and contextualized experiences, millions of people use augmented reality (AR) tools across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and Portal. AR effects let us supplement the real world with the digital in creative, engaging ways. And today, Facebook is sharing our work with Tate — a Spark AR-powered exhibit created as part of Facebook’s broader AR/VR efforts — that transforms works of art to help people connect with different paintings and the stories behind them.

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We worked closely with Tate, along with Facebook’s Creative Shop and The Mill, to reframe eight pieces at Tate Britain using the Spark AR platform, letting museum-goers view select pieces with more depth, context, and background than ever before. Using the Instagram camera, visitors simply scan the Tate’s Instagram name tag to activate the experience. From there, they’ll be greeted by a welcome message and a map to help them navigate their way to each of the eight AR-enhanced paintings.

The following pieces were selected based on the unusual or untold stories behind them, whether about the artist, subject matter, or historical context that may otherwise go unseen:

  • Fishing upon the Blythe-Sand, Tide Setting In
    Joseph Mallord William Turner
    It’s rumored that Turner owned seven cats and may even have used this painting as an impromptu cat flap. Previously torn into five pieces, the canvas has since been repaired. When viewed through the Instagram camera using the Tate’s Spark AR-powered experience, the canvas appears to tear apart once again as a lone tabby jumps through.
  • Amateurs of Tye-Wig Music (‘Musicians of the Old School’)
    Edward Francis Burney
    In keeping with this painting’s theme of musical rivalry, the AR effect produces a visual cacophony as a lamp swings wildly, an errant parrot steals a wig, children play pretend instruments, a dog barks, and more.
  • A Youth Relating Tales to Ladies
    Simeon Solomon
    Forming an important prelude to queer visual culture of the late 19th century (Solomon was arrested for homosexuality three years after completing the piece), this painting lends itself well to ambiguity. Look through the Instagram camera for some visitors who seem as out of place in our own time as Solomon may have felt in his own.
  • The Cholmondeley Ladies
    Unknown Artist, Britain
    Bringing the painting’s inscription to life, this Spark AR effect here emphasizes symmetry through a series of kaleidoscopic vignettes that show twin girls from birth, to their marriage on the same day, to the delivery of their own children in tandem.
  • Self-Portrait
    Gwen John
    A bisexual woman working in an industry largely dominated by men, John was also largely overshadowed by her brother Augustus and her wildly famous lover, Rodin. In a moment of empowerment, the Spark AR effect lets you watch as she completes her self-portrait.
  • Farm at Watendlath
    Dora Carrington
    This piece juxtaposes the large scale of voluptuous mountains with two tiny female forms in the foreground. Rejecting social norms and conventions around womanhood, the Instagram camera’s AR effect triggers an animation in which the relative scales are switched for a powerful role reversal.
  • Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose
    John Singer Sargent
    Sargent was a firm believer in the golden hour — those precious few moments when the light is perfect to capture a scene. This Spark AR effect lets you track the passage of time and its effect on the scene as lanterns flicker, flowers wilt and die, and the light fades to black — to begin again.
  • Head of a Man (?Ira Frederick Aldridge)
    John Simpson
    After leaving the US for London in 1865, Ira Frederick Aldridge became the first Black actor to play Shakespeare on a British stage. Is this the portrait of a leading man or an everyman — or is it symbolic of human bondage and the struggle to be free? Moving from left to right with the Instagram camera, the lighting and Aldridge’s gaze change from dramatic to downcast.

“Unlike traditional cameras, today’s smartphones have both immense computing power and an always-on connection to the internet — a combination that turns out to be profound,” explains Matthew Roberts, who heads up Spark AR. “More than just capture, this is a camera that can see. By tapping into a wealth of relevant data alongside AI and computer vision algorithms, we can help people learn and connect to the world around them in meaningful ways.”

Museums are among our most important cultural institutions, preserving art and history while also forming the backbone of many vibrant urban communities. Our partnership with Tate is a first step; we’re excited to continue exploring how AR can reframe museums and galleries to increase awareness and appreciation with new generations.  

AR effects built on and distributed with the Spark AR Platform can help curators of real-world spaces deliver meaningful social, education, entertainment, and gaming AR experiences to their visitors. In the coming months, we’ll continue working with a variety of venues and locations to test different world-anchored AR experiences and demonstrate their real-world value. The potential of contextually-relevant AR is huge, and we’re excited to help more creators connect with new audiences in valuable ways.

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