Holy Crap an AR App I Actually Like

By Sidney Fussell on at

Kids today want more from social technology than seeing something new—they want a new way of seeing themselves. Snap and Instagram’s augmented reality lenses transform users into puppies, fairies, monsters, Wonder Woman, storied Jamaican singer-songwriters, and the like. It’s as if there’s a vibrant but invisible world all around you that you need a smartphone to see. Unfortunately, I’m not too keen on selfies and many of the early uses of Apple’s ARKit, meant to democratise the tech, are plainly boring. Using AR solely to overlay new furniture or artwork for your flat imagines AR users as dull-minded consumers.

Enter: Dumb Fun. While Snap and Facebook encourage you and a friend to transmogrify yourselves into something barely recognisable, this AR app obscures you completely, turning your surroundings into collage art.

I’d call it “ARt,” but that suggests a level of pretension in Dumb Fun that’s mercifully absent, considering its creator, Tim Moore, is a photographer, coder, and collage artist. There are no snooty noses here.

Dumb Fun blankets your surroundings in surreal digital ephemera: red lips and waterfalls, colourful bouquets of orchids, Microsoft Word windows with haikus written in them, a grisly assortment of disembodied arms and legs. The overlays are separated into four chapters, each with a different set of art themes. Four themes are free, and it takes just a few quid to unlock the other 12. But, “theme” might be generous, as its appeal, for me, was how enjoyably meaningless it all was. For me, they were was pure aesthetics. My favourites are the nonsensical scrawls of text that loop through the air like you’re living in an unfinished Power Point. “Don’t Let It Consume You,” one reads. “I Thought About You The Other Day,” another trails.

Moore made Dumb Fun in Apple’s ARKit, but was smart to turn away from it. Obviously AR is in its early days, but ARKit’s demo and early releases emphasised realism—that the AR projections would fit neatly, believably, into your surroundings. Even Snapchat’s native art installation, a collaboration with American artist Jeff Koons, is preoccupied with AR art that “fits” into surroundings.

Don’t get me wrong - that Apple’s ARKit can calculate and respond accordingly to a changing environmental measurements is a technical feat. But it also limits all that AR’s potential to the anchor of believability. If ARKit was designed for sculptural precision, Dumb Fun is spilled paint, a soupy graffiti made of Myspace themes.

Dumb Fun is great because it ignores ARKit’s rigidity. On walks home from the train, or to the corner shop to grab food, I loved putting on my headphones and moving through the Dumb Fun space as I walked. Kaytranada’s Lite Spots, a house track built around a killer vocal sample, melds into the madness perfectly.

But perhaps, shrugging off rigidity is cover. Dumb Fun’s sprawling techno-jibberish glitches frequently, sometimes producing too many or too few of the designs and doesn’t work well with the flash on my camera, and thus is basically useless in the dark. But it’s ARt. Or something.

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