Not everybody is excited about the growing saturation of augmented reality technology. There is a note of dissent from certain circles that AR is being used as a corporate marketing tool in a cynical way that will further erode our engagement with the real world.

A recent example of this dissent comes in the form of a protest act against Snapchat’s collaboration with the artist Jeff Koons. The project, named ART, placed augmented reality versions of Koons’ most famous sculptures at settings such as Hyde Park in London and Central Park in New York. The AR sculptures were geo-tagged and visible via the Lens feature of the Snapchat app. Overnight, a day after the launch, artist Sebastian Errazuriz and his team at CrossLab studios, stepped in to make their statement.

The dissenters installed their own, graffiti-covered versions of Koons’ work on the same coordinates as the Snapchat versions. So what were they protesting? What’s their point?

Errazuriz told Dezeen:

“It’s important to have this dialogue before our public AR virtual space is entirely dominated by brands,

“More than protesting any potential artistic value that Balloon Dog might or might not have, I believe that this first geo-tagged AR ‘sculpture’ represents a technological and social milestone.

“The first step of a future invasion of corporate 3D imagery designed to keep us entertained, dumbfounded and captive for a wave of new smart and subtle advertisements.

“I believe that it is therefore vital to open up a dialogue and start questioning now how much of our virtual public space we are willing to give to companies.”

It’s an interesting question. Augmented reality has massive potential. Of course, brands can and are benefitting from its growing popularity in terms of marketing and advertising opportunities. But artists, too, are beginning to envision the multitude of ways in which AR could offer a new medium for creative expression, as well as to get art in front of more people, democratising an art world that has, for too long, been hoarded by the intellectual elite.

Are we going to reach a point at which we are charged to erect augmented reality simulations on virtual real estate? Or will different apps and software offer standalone simulations that can only be viewed through one platform or a combination of user-selected platforms? Errazuriz’s issue seems to be that the Snapchat/Koons is squatting on the GPS co-ordinates in its chosen locations.

Errazuriz argues that anyone who wants to geotag AR content should be charged rent. It may be argued that creating a virtual real estate market could be even more dubious than allowing brands to incongruously advertise using AR. Everything becomes a commodity; someone is always making money.

The argument over advertising in augmented reality is a prudent one, though. As Errazuriz goes on to say:

“They give us shiny new tech entertainments for us to enjoy and share. Nevertheless, with time, the boundaries between reality and virtual reality will fade. The virtual world, where the majority of our social interactions take place, will become our reality.

“Once we begin experiencing the world predominantly through augmented reality, our public space will already be dominated by corporate content designed to subconsciously manipulate and control us.”

There are many possibilities for the enrichment of our public space with augmented reality. The corporate world, as always, threatens this with its hunger for ad space, wherever that may be. Will the virtual space become a battleground between the artists and the advertisers? Time will, no doubt, tell.