This month, taking a stroll on the Rose Kennedy Greenway could transport you to the streets of São Paulo.
While the weather here still won’t match that of Brazil’s, the street art will, thanks to an installation by Brazilian artist Giovanna Casimiro and Boston Cyberarts called “ARLines of the City.” But São Paulo’s murals will only be visible via an app on your smartphone or tablet.
Through augmented reality, the graffiti and street art that makes São Paulo so vibrant will be “swapped” with the Boston’s own murals, giving residents here a peek, through a digital portal, into another country.
“The idea was really to create a cultural, visual exchange between two cities through the street art of the moment,” said Casimiro, who put the exhibit together.
What exactly is 'augmented reality?'
“I think the simplest explanation is [through how] people have a pretty good sense of what virtual reality is — you build a virtual reality world and go into it,” said George Fifield, director of Boston Cyberarts. “Augmented reality is when you build a virtual object and place it into the real world. You can see it on a device like a phone or a tablet and it’s there because it’s located only in that spot, but it’s not there because you can’t bump into it.”
To view São Paulo’s murals in Boston, you have to use the free app HP Reveal. Hold your phone or tablet up to Boston’s murals — three in Chinatown offer the best views, Casimiro said — and you’ll see street art from São Paulo superimposed on those walls instead. Those in São Paulo can do the same to see Boston’s art.
The Boston-São Paulo connection is the first edition of this project, but Casimiro hopes to expand to other cities in order, as she said, “to try to create other portals of street art.”
Fifield, who has worked with augmented reality for a few other projects in Massachusetts, said that he likes the medium because of how it can “really tell stories about places that appear to be empty.”
Though there may already be art in the areas where these São Paulo pieces are visible, that sentiment is still true to Casimiro.
Street art is a unique kind of public art, not always applauded in the art world but still available to people outside of institutions like museums. Though similar in that sense, the art that adorns walls in Boston has a “different aesthetic” than those in São Paulo, Casimiro said.
“Graffiti in São Paulo is illegal, but people there are doing it all the time. There’s a huge movement of artists doing graffiti and they don't care, they are doing as resistance,” she said. She also pointed to how last year, much of that street art — including official murals — was painted over after an order from São Paulo’s mayor.
“I thought how this street art is some kind of popular heritage, visual heritage that can be lost anytime. This kind of record of society... just disappeared and nobody saw that,” she said.
Boston, on the other hand, “is a very organized, in my point of view, clean city,” she continued. “Everything is very much under control, because it is a city full of heritage and history. I think this public art brings a little bit of instability for the environment… and I think somehow the history of Boston can be mixed with the contemporary history of São Paulo, and that’s amazing.”
ARLines of the City is open until Feb. 2 along the Rose Kennedy Greenway and will be available again during ArtWeek from April 27 to May 6.