Bringing art and history to life

Augmented reality: Elevating our stories, augmenting our lives

In Short

Augmented reality is a new kind of digitally native art experience that enables us to elevate stories.

My husband, Mike, likes to tell people that the first time I watched the “Facing the Flag” vignette in the JArts Gallery augmented reality app there was a tear in my eye. This is notable because I am not one to cry, so even I was surprised by how much this piece, that brought 1930s Germany into my living room, moved me.

Why was Mike so taken by this? Because he is the tech mind behind JArts Gallery, a new augmented reality art gallery app by Boston based immersive media start up, Secret Portal, commissioned by the Jewish Arts Collaborative (JArts™). 

Early in the pandemic, Mike and I were lamenting the fact that Hanukkah 2020 would not be the same without the annual JArts gathering at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. For six years, this event had brought thousands of us together for Hanukkah, featuring art talks and performances throughout the galleries, a community candle lighting of a custom-commissioned art Hanukkiah, and an experimental virtual reality art installation.

So, in thinking about how we could bring a bit of that evening’s magical feeling into our own home, we knew this was the moment to merge all our learnings from years of experimenting with virtual reality with our vision for using augmented reality, the ability to digitally overlay images onto our physical space. By adding these virtual elements, we can trick our brains into feeling more physically connected to an otherwise flat image. 

Augmented reality is a new kind of digitally native art experience that enables us to elevate stories.

The JArts Gallery app launched with “Hanukkah Illuminated,” a show featuring three original pieces that we hope will inspire audiences around the world this Hanukkah. 

Download the app now, and here’s what you’ll see:

Facing The Flag 

Created by Secret Portal + Black Squirrel Studios 

A powerful true story of a German Jewish family in 1932 who proudly displayed a Hanukkiah in defiance of danger just outside their window. This story connects your home to the Posner family’s German home through a magical window, celebrating the story of their brave choice to feature a Hanukkiah in the face of the Nazi flag, and its relevance today. 

The original Hanukkiah is housed at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Israel.

All Together 

Created by Secret Portal + Black Squirrel Studios, 3D scanning by Direct Dimensions 

This piece honors the diversity of the Jewish people, and how they are connected through traditional song and dance. White House Hanukkiah artist and sculptor Zachary Oxman’s beautiful bronze menorah, formed out of dancer’s bodies, is recreated in 3D on your living room floor. The figures morph into an animated group of Jews from across the world, performing a joyful dance between an unlikely crew bonded by celebration. Set to music by Klezmer great Frank London. 

Here and There

Created by artist Sam Perzanowski 

A kinetic and musically reactive sculpture that builds a connection between your home and Israel. In the US, dreidels say “nes gadol hayah sham… a great miracle happened THERE.” In Israel, however, they say “nes gadol hayah poh… a great miracle happened HERE.” With this piece, you can “float” between here and there.  

In all three of these vignettes, the layering of the artwork on top of your own physical space gives a unique sense of reality, adding a unique level to empathy to the storytelling.

We hope that by bringing art and history to life in this new and visceral way, we can augment and enhance our experiences, and in turn, elevate our stories and augment our lives.

The app is available for free download: iOS, Google Play

Laura Conrad Mandel executive director of Boston’s Jewish Arts Collaborative, is an artist and social entrepreneur. Laura serves on the board of the Council of American Jewish Museums, the MASSCreative Advisory Council, and the JCRC Boston Council. Laura lives in Brookline, MA with her husband, two young kids, and a loud Bengal cat.