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Frenchising Mona Lisa

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Artist Statement

My fascination with Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa stems from the historical process of her “naturalization,” whereby a representation of an Italian noblewoman became an icon of France. She was the decor of a despot, a refugee of war, an object of nationalist lust and locus of public protest. The painting has become a bellwether and a site of cultural projection, essentially disconnected from its own story.

In its own way, so is the hijab. Roughly translated as “modesty,” its ancient origins transcend Muslim norms. Whether intended as a sign of freedom for some or seen as a sign of repression for others, the cultures of the hijab are as complex as the contexts in which they are practiced. In contemporary France, the hijab has become a lightning rod about “Frenchness,” a visual threat to the ideals of the so-called secular state. In Frenchising Mona Lisa, she comes to life through Augmented Reality (AR), raising her placid hands to don a tricoleur hijab.

Pursuant to the demands of demographic changes, politicians from the right and the left have been engaging in a one-sided argument, castigating (their interpretation of) Islamic practice while religious underpinnings of Western secularism go unacknowledged and undisputed. By ignoring both the sartorial re-significations of the hijab and the convulsions of 20th century history, such rhetoric presupposes that the culture of hijab and that of France are static, unchanging and unchangeable. In this context, my work is intended as pointed commentary on this evasion and a call for new (post)national iconography.

I use AR in art making because it portends significant conceptual-experiential shifts, which relate to my interest in radical subjectivities. AR object tracking alters spatial understanding and relational fields while leaving the physical space untouched, presupposing a change in the choreography of the social. Further, it confounds current definitions of physical property ownership, rupturing the relationship between the ownership of a space and the agency of its alteration. This provides a platform for a new type of graffiti making as it defies our notions of sabotage, trespassing and vandalism. While museums are using this new technology for didactic purposes, they have yet to embrace it as installation art. I want to question this and problematize curatorial prerogative by bringing AR-as-art to the museum, exploiting museological fissures via the spatial possibilities AR tracking creates.

Frenchising Mona Lisa s the first iterations of an international art movement, Futarism. This movement seeks to explore the experiential, conceptual and legal shifts suggested by the advent of AR within the modalities of contemporary art, its practice and reception.

How To

On 27 January 2011, Amir Baradaran infiltrated the Louvre Museum to permanently install his 52-second performance streaming live over Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Using an Augmented Reality (AR) Smartphone application, Frenchising Mona Lisa seeks to provoke notions of national identity, iconography and curatorial practices within museums.

To experience Frenchising Mona Lisa on your smartphone:

1. Download and launch the application Junaio.
2. Search for the channel Frenchising Mona Lisa
3. Open the channel and point your smartphone camera at any image of the Mona Lisa (e.g. on Wikipedia)