The idea of Detroit as a place where technology and art come together is well worn, with the auto industry as the obvious driving force. It happens every day here, engineers and designers collaborating on high-performance machines that can look and feel amazing. Even President Joe Biden has made time in his schedule to visit this year’s North American International Auto Show, his excitement to step into a new Corvette belying his years. Art, technology – it can make you feel young again.
In the art world itself, technology has become more and more part of the conversation lately. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, have created a new marketplace for artists to sell their works, where blockchain technology makes it possible to buy, sell, and most importantly, verify digital assets. Detroit is pushing the envelope here too, with arts organization Hygienic Dress League offering stock in their company as NFTs. As stated in Model D, “Shareholders would be entitled to 4% of the royalties from any additional sales of the NFT”. Their application filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission is considered the first of its kind.
A startup in Detroit’s Westside, where Warrendale meets Dearborn, is using technology to push art in new directions, incorporating augmented reality (AR) into street art and public murals. The start-up, Electrify Collective, launched a DIY art festival to showcase the work they’ve done and the artwork they’ve helped bring to life. The Electrifly Detroit Augmented Reality Mural Festival presented by BrandXR runs now through Monday, October 31.
A Detroit Centerpiece
There are currently nine murals that make up Electrifly Detroit, found everywhere from 8 Mile to downtown, and many points in between. Other augmented reality murals can be found in Ann Arbor, Battle Creek and suburban Sterling Heights, for those looking for a road trip. There is no fixed time for the festival and the organizers invite the general public to have a drink at their favorite local café and explore the city at their leisure.
“Rising Strong” by artist Hubert Massey, found at the Karasi Education Center in Boston Edison.
Here’s how it works: Guests download the free Electrifly Augmented Reality Art app to their smartphone and visit each mural. At each site, simply hold your phone in front of the mural and watch the still, painted walls come to life. Each mural offers a different experience, with some even becoming interactive. The Sterling Heights mural, for example, “Trail Blazer” by artist Wendy Popko alongside Ventimiglia Italian Foods, allows users to play a football game with the characters painted on the wall.
“Detroit is becoming one of the most densely populated areas for AR murals and we’re really trying to make it a centerpiece for augmented reality murals and for the work that we do at Electrifly, but also a centerpiece for the city of Detroit,” says Moody Mattan, CEO of the Ann Arbor-based company MakeXR. Electrifly Collective uses BrandXR’s no-code AR platform in its work and serves as a centerpiece for the technology. The two companies are related; Moody’s brothers, Malik and Zach Mattan, are co-founders and co-CEOs of Electrifly.
“So you’re probably familiar with Van Gogh-type immersive experiences where they charge you to enter. It’s just not something most people in Detroit are going to afford and be able to go for. It’s the same level of experience, probably better to be quite frank, and we’re giving it away to people in Detroit for free. All you need is a smartphone and you can have these really cool experiences.
Electrifly Collective has its roots in BrandXR, the company Moody started after working in the AR industry in Silicon Valley. Malik and Zach launched Electrifly Collective under a different name as a merchandising company. Soon the two would become intertwined, with Electrifly showing AR technology developed by BrandXR.
Malik Mattan, Moody Mattan and Zach Mattan (left to right). Photo taken during Detroit Boot Week 2018. (Courtesy of BrandXR)
“Moody moved to his house and we kind of brainstormed together, thinking about how to integrate this technology into what we do with the merchandising company. From there, it snowballed into what it is now,” says Zach.
One of their goals is to make Detroit a destination where augmented reality meets art; Miami’s world-famous Art Basel is a constant point of reference. BrandXR has some very big clients, with NASA being its very first, and, after a $1.5 million fundraising round led by Morgan Stanley, the company continues to grow. The work done in Detroit serves as a business card, in a way.
“We offered some pretty cool companies to have these experiences. We’d like to be like, Oh, wanna see what we are? Come catch a flight to Detroit and spend a few days discovering Electrifly Detroit. And then they’ll see what we really are,” Moody says. “It’ll be really cool, to get to that point where it’s like, you want to see what the AR murals look like? Don’t book an appointment with us, just book a flight to Detroit. Come check them out.”
‘The Next Big Thing’
Electrifly Detroit’s roster of artists is impressive, including local and world-famous artists like Armageddon Beachparty, Chris Dyer, El Cappy, Ghostbeard, Olivia Guterson, Hubert Massey, Patch Whiskey and Phybr. Being at the forefront of this new technology is an exciting proposition for artists, who work closely with the Electrifly team in developing the AR components of their pieces.
“I’m super excited to step into this world of digital art, it’s the next level of art,” says artist El Cappy, whose “WARM” mural sits on the side of The Development. Scott at Brush Park. “It will definitely be the next big thing.”
The Mattan brothers began marrying technology and art with their first AR mural in 2018. They have some exciting announcements coming, they say, though they’re not ready to divulge any details just yet. But expect their catalog of AR murals to expand over the next year, further establishing Detroit as a destination for the medium. It could become the next big thing, as El Cappy puts it. It’s definitely Detroit.
“I think it comes from our Detroit DNA. We grew up with these murals all around us and street art all around us. And then I moved to Silicon Valley and got into tech. After that, it was like, how can we bring this technology back to this really cool, most basic art form; street art, you take a spray can and go create,” says Moody. “I think it’s a really cool mix and kind of a metaphor for Detroit, mixing the old with the new. You’ve got the oldest art form on Earth and we’re mixing it now. It’s become the new art form.
A map of Electrifly Collective’s AR murals is available online.
This Street View series on the commercial corridors of Detroit is made possible thanks to the support of the Ford Foundation.