Rethinking Public Space: B.C. Biermann’s Augmented Reality Urban Art

Digital artist B.C. Biermann rethinks our approach to public spaces and experiences through augmented reality.


Art is in the iPad of the beholder.


B.C. “Heavy” Biermann–a leading augmented reality (AR) artist and transmedia scholar–has stepped up efforts to reimagine public space through AR.

Teaming with digital media expert Ean Mering and advertising watchdog Jordan Seiler under the Re+Public banner, Biermann developed a series of mobile apps that produce a kaleidoscope of interactive color and animation when trained on specific structures.

The idea, says Biermann, is to draw attention to commercial encroachment into public space and allow for a more democratized participation in urban messaging systems.

“AR technology allows us to place digital, immersive 3-D installations in places that have been formerly off-limits to more traditional 2-D artists,” he adds. “We use it to create a new interactive type of art that blurs private property boundaries and alerts people to an impending digital overlay to the physical world” courtesy of advances like the Google Glass project and Microsoft’s recent patent for AR glasses. “We’re hoping this digital world contains interesting artistic content, in addition to the influx of more commercial content that is already well under way.”

Viewing a painted-over Keith Haring mural on New York’s Bowery Wall.

Since 2011, Re+Public has produced beta apps that enabled viewers to view interactive art on designated Times Square billboards and three buildings in New York and Los Angeles, a digitally resurrected Norway mural, a history of murals gracing New York’s Bowery Wall over the years, and animated facades on murals and buildings in Miami’s Wynwood Art District. The apps create an immersive environment that shows passersby walking through the digital designs in real time.

B.C. Biermann. Photo: Michael Berger

Most people have only been able to view these projects online at Re+Public and at Biermann’s site, The Heavy Projects. But this summer, the public will be able to download Android and iOS versions of the apps and see the art on location.

Biermann will also appear at the SXSW Festival in Austin on the March 12 panel Omnipresent: When Virtual Meets Reality to discuss how AR is enhancing design, manufacturing, and medicine. He’ll also be speaking at the Augmented World Expo in Santa Clara, California, in June.

A self-taught programmer with a doctorate in humanities and intermedia analysis from the University of Amsterdam, Biermann–whose nickname comes from his tendency toward “heavy” academic discourse–founded The Heavy Projects (which Mering joined last year) to incorporate mobile AR technology into urban art. In 2011, he formed Re+Public with Seiler, the founder of PublicAdCampaign, which challenges Madison Avenue’s infringement on public space.

Biermann, who divides his time between Los Angeles and St. Louis, Missouri, is currently working on apps to assist urban planners in how to reimagine crumbling facades and urban spaces.

Click on the video slide show above to see the apps in action.

About the author

Susan Karlin, based in Los Angeles, is a regular contributor to Fast Company, where she covers space science, autonomous vehicles, and the future of transportation. Karlin has reported for The New York Times, NPR, Scientific American, and Wired, among other outlets, from such locations as the Arctic and Antarctica, Israel and the West Bank, and Southeast Asia