Many women are invisible in Munich: women who have achieved a lot in their lives but are still not appreciated in the city squares. That’s what students at the University of Film and Television and Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich think. Only five percent of all idols in public places are women. So the student initiative “denkFemale” wants to bring digital women monuments to the city. To do this, the group is developing an app that can be used to scan a QR code on the floor. Then the interactive image appears in front of you in augmented reality. The idea originated in the winter semester at the collaboration symposium “The Evolution of Media Systems: Immersive Arts” at both universities. However, the group continued to work and has now developed a prototype with women’s rights activist Anita Augsperg (1857–1943). Lukas Merz, 27, and Amadia Pelli, 25, talk about an idea that is now much more than the original university symposium – and the obstacles that face art in public space in Munich.
SZ: The Munich cityscape is shaped by men. Then why do you only design digital female monuments that aren’t actually there?
Luke March: The statues are quite deliberately not there for real. That’s exactly the problem. We give a statue to faces that were not memorialized in their time – and therefore remain invisible. At the beginning of the project, we looked at only those invisible things that can be made visible using digital technology. And then we came to the conclusion that almost all female personalities in history are invisible in Munich.
Amadea Pelli: You can see that the cityscape is the ideal state with our digital women’s monuments. Our project is definitely a statement.
But a QR code on the floor is not the best way to increase the visibility of women in Munich.
Luke March: Even a work of art should start a discussion. For us, it’s less about changing the cityscape right away – more about starting a discussion on how the cityscape can be changed. The Munich cityscape has been shaped by a society that no longer matches today’s society.
You are now in the final stages of the Bavarian Digital Prize, which will be presented for the first time this Thursday by Digital Minister Judith Gerlach. But how much approval does the project get among the people responsible at the town hall, whose approval you need to fully implement it?
Luke March: In itself, our project has been very well received. For example, Katrin Habenschden has already offered us to sponsor this project. And everyone in the cultural department to whom we presented the project said very well at first. But we quickly saw that the desire to actually change the landscape of the city is not great in city politics. And if it’s only through a print on the floor. People are a lot more cautious when it comes to QR codes in public places: getting through the city council is difficult at all. Actually there is no money for this. And the discussion about art in public space is stuck anyway. We didn’t understand it completely.
Amadea Pelli: Everyone is excited at the Town Hall, but so far no one has taken the initiative to take full responsibility. It would be great if the QR codes were permanent and set in the ground as a stone.
The viewer should also be able to interact with your idols. what does this mean?
Amadea Pelli: The idol has been developed in Augmented Reality. This means you see the figure as if it were in space – and you can walk around it, approach it, and look at it from different perspectives. We also have built in audio elements. You can listen to his life quotes with our prototype Anita Augsperg.
Luke March: You can walk around the prototype – and depending on where you are, a different quote pops up for you to read and listen to. It can also happen: that the statues move, follow the gaze of the onlookers or that the statues or parts of them disappear.
So you are concerned about the relationship between the viewer and the idol.
Amadea Pelli: In fact, that’s the great thing about augmented reality technology, as it allows you to develop a sense of belonging. Everything feels so real, and so you may very well put yourself in that person’s place.
How do you look at each sculpture creatively?
Amadea Pelli: We painted Anita Augsperg without a base. This was important to us because nowadays it is more modern to paint sculptures without a base – because otherwise the person is artificially emphasized. We want to put women on the same level as the audience.
Luke March: And he has a code of law in his hand that he studied law in Switzerland. Murthy looks very confident, she has raised her hands.
Amadea Pelli: We also passed it by the Prince Regent Luitpold, whose monument is also in front of the Bavarian National Museum. Because when Anita Augsperg wanted to study law at that time, she was the one whose law did not allow any woman to enter the university. He did not allow women to study by decree until 1903. And Anita Augsperg’s studio was near her residence. This is how we want to portray the conflict between two personalities.
In her promotional video you can see how bad the Anita Augsperg statue is. Unlike historical sculptures, it is not a live depiction.
Luke March: In collaboration with the Academy of Arts, we decided to leave Anita Augsparg in her digital form relatively raw. The question is, to what extent these days people should be raised to idols. So we played with this abstraction, leaving Anita Augsparg raw and digital – and thus showing again that this is something temporary and digital, something that is not set in stone. Because as soon as you take down the cell phone through which you saw the idol, you can no longer see it.
And when can the people of Munich download the app?
Amadea Pelli: We are currently awaiting confirmation that we can participate in “City in the City”. In this structure we can temporarily install some idols. So if all goes well, we will put up some digital statues in Munich in early August. And maybe by then we’ll work out a technical implementation for the event that you can take pictures with digital women’s monuments. A selfie, so to speak, with an idol that’s not really there.
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