Jesus gets on the diving board and does a cannonball. He falls down a flight of stairs, arms waving. Adam mows the lawn while Eve and a serpent sit in lawn chairs, laughing. Diana and her nymphs dance and splash each other with water. James Kerr's Scorpion Dagger GIFs repurpose works from the old masters into funny, irreverent, and occasionally disturbing animations, which he's been putting out at this point for two years. Around 700 pieces in, he's decided to take what he sees as the next logical step: an augmented reality book that gives his collages physical form without losing their central, animated essence.
"It's kind of a funny evolution of what I'm doing," says Kerr. "I started by scanning Renaissance paintings out of art books that I had laying around the house, and now that I've repurposed them for my digital art, I want to put them back." The book, also called Scorpion Dagger, is currently raising money on Kickstarter. In the words of Kerr and publisher Anteism, it looks like "any other coffee table art book," and if backed, it's likely to be out in November. But its real value lies in a technology that's still never quite broken through — when you download an app and point a camera at the pictures, many of them will come to life on the screen of your phone or tablet.
The idea has already been used in books, specifically Marisha Pessl's novel Night Film, but there it was ancillary at best. In Scorpion Dagger, it's central to experiencing the art, and Kerr sees it as a natural extension of his online animation. "In a sense, [augmented reality is] sort of in the same place as GIFs were a five or six years ago," he says. "I doubt anyone would've imagined that the GIF would be ever be considered a serious form of art." The difference, now, is that the GIF can easily be linked to or experienced by anyone with a computer, while people are still getting used to seeing the world mediated completely through an electronic device. And by becoming a kind of digital storage system, books begin to take on the vulnerabilities of old files and software.
Kerr, however, is optimistic that augmented reality will be too ubiquitous for his animations to disappear. "I imagine it being completely normal to be able to walk down the street and point your device at some street art, for example," he says, "and it triggers some sort of interaction." By that token, his Renaissance animations are a welcome alternative to the ad-filled dystopias we often associate with an augmented reality future. It'll be a lot more fun to see how many gods, saints, and monarchs can be turned into dirt-biking, pizza-eating, guitar-playing people just like us.