Artist Marcus Brown’s “Slavery Trails” sculptures don’t exist in the real world. But if you stand under the oak trees on Esplanade Avenue at the edge of the French Quarter and activate your iPhone with a special QR code, a dozen creepy digital ghosts will appear on your screen, hovering a few feet above the dusty neutral ground.
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Brown’s ghosts mark the site of an ancient market where men, women and children were bought and sold. Like the ghosts, the former slave market is now invisible. But Brown wants people to know that, sociologically, it’s still there anyway.
What makes Brown’s digital ghosts especially strange is that they are a startling pink color, like radioactive azalea blooms. Brown primarily uses bright fluorescent paint in his artwork. DayGlo pink is the closest thing to blood red, he said.
Using Adobe Aero, artist Marcus Brown’s interactive pink figures as an enslaved person stand around the historic plaque for the domestic slave trade on the Esplanade neutral ground as part of Brown’s larger project called Augmented Reality ( AR) Slavery Trails in New Orleans, Monday, June 20, 2022. Artist and educator Marcus Brown created the AR interactive sculpture series to spread awareness of where enslaved people were physically and help people feel comfortable enough with the topic to understand more about it. Brown sells interactive digital versions of himself to help fund more permanent, site-specific AR Slavery Trail projects nationwide. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)
“There is a double meaning,” he said, of the bold color. Pink could be “something very festive.” But, she said, “it could also be something that means all the people who bled to make this place. The entire city was essentially built by enslaved people.”
The technology Brown used is called augmented reality. On the hot afternoon of June 20, passersby studied the instructional marker Brown had placed on the ground below an official historical marker describing the slave trade, and coaxed their phones to summon the ghosts. They discovered that you can see them from all directions and, disconcertingly, you can walk through them. More disconcerting still is the fact that, from certain angles, the pink figures appear to be hanging from trees, with the inadvertent but inevitable suggestion of a lynching.
Brown’s digital installation marks a horrific period in American history that has repercussions that can be felt to this day. But technically, it’s a lot like Pokémon Go, the “pocket monster” card-based augmented reality game that was wildly popular in 2016.
Brown said his “Slavery Trails” installment isn’t a lighthearted game, of course, but he welcomes the comparison to Pokémon Go. As he pointed out, when we play Pokémon Go, we discover that invisible cartoon monsters are scattered all over the landscape. The same could be said of the legacy of slavery.
People use the Adobe Aero app to interact with artist Marcus Brown’s Augmented Reality (AR) Slavery Trails project around the domestic slave trade historical plaque at the intersection of Chartres Street and Esplanade Ave. in New Orleans, on Monday, June 20, 2022. Artist and educator Marcus Brown created the AR interactive sculpture series to spread awareness of where enslaved people were physically and help people feel comfortable enough with the subject to understand more about it . Brown sells interactive digital versions of himself to help fund more permanent, site-specific AR Slavery Trail projects nationwide. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)
“The hands of slaves touched everything, everywhere,” he said, “especially in New Orleans.”
If those ghosts on Esplanade Avenue look a bit familiar, it’s because they’re self-portraits by Brown. He hopes to sell three-dimensional versions of the ghosts on his website to fund more ghostly “Slavery Trails” locations around the city and maybe even across the country.
He said he will sell the self-portrait sculptures for the same price that would have been paid to buy it in the 1840s. Considering how crafty he is, he said, he would have gone for between $14,000 and $180,000 in today’s dollars.
Brown, an instructor at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, is, indeed, skilled. On the night of June 16 he presented a performance entitled “Machine Noire” at the Opéra de Marigny.
Over the course of the show, which was dedicated to the holiday marking the end of slavery in the United States, he created a glowing, abstract black light painting using digital brushes that translate his strokes into sound. One of his brushes was anchored to an iron collar she wore around his neck. Well done, Mr. Brown.
“Slavery Trails” is located on the corner of Esplanade Avenue and Chartres Street. It will stay in place for three months.
On the night of June 19, the artist Marcus Brown presented a performance entitled “Machine Noire” at the Opéra de Marigny. Over the course of the show, which was dedicated to the holiday marking the end of slavery in the United States, he created a glowing abstract black light painting with digital brushes that translate his strokes into sound.
(Photo by Doug MacCash NOLA.com The Times-Picayune The New Orleans Advocate)
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