The Battlegrounds in New Orleans

an augmented reality (AR) exhibition

NOLA Chandra McCormick, Grandma Phennie and Keith 1993

The L.A.-based artist Nancy Baker Cahill, who is known for pioneering work at the intersection of art, emergent media and activism, has launched Battlegrounds, a city-wide, site-specific, augmented reality (AR) exhibition in New Orleans.

In an unprecedented scenario, the sites involved are all locations that need attention, such as polluted waterways, confederate statues, gentrified lands, levees, prisons, neglected neighborhoods, slave trade sites and formerly indigenous territories, to name just a few.
All these sites are excellent examples of the unfolding power that Cahill´s augmented reality (AR) exhibition have for those who are willing to see and engage.

As with all of Cahill´s AR works, they can be accessed and experienced through the free 4thWall app, which the artist launched in early 2018 as a public art platform for users to explore resistance by hosting curated, geo-located public art exhibitions such as Battlegrounds.

The COORDINATES project that recently began in Europe with initial sites in Berlin and Marseilles, is a further example.

If there was no New Orleans, America would just be a bunch of free people dying of boredom.

*Judy Deck in an e-mail sent to Chris Rose
Nic Aziz, Family Dinner: Finger Clickin’ GOOD, 2019
Nic Aziz, Family Dinner: Finger Clickin’ GOOD, 2019

Activating Battlegrounds in New Orleans

What makes this latest endeavor of the house ​Baker-Cahill so special and what is the aim of the exhibition?

I’m not sure an AR exhibition of this scale has ever been attempted before– certainly not anything so targeted in terms of an overarching conceptual theme.

The Battlegrounds in New Orleans 1
Lily Brooks, Kudzu and Tree near Site of Kugler Cemetery, May 22, 2019

My collaborator Jesse Damiani and I did extensive local research before launching this exhibition.

Given our current cultural moment, it felt urgent to consider cities that represent a lot of what is challenging in the United States right now, and the deep south is a region that does not receive the attention we think it warrants.

The Battlegrounds in New Orleans 2
Keith Calhoun, Travis Trumpet Black Hill Funeral, 2015

Over several months, I reached out to over 24 extraordinary emerging and established New Orleans-based artists and invited them to identify a “contested site” and pair it with an artwork that would activate that site.

Leah Floyd + Cristina Molina, River River, 2018, Still from video
Leah Floyd + Cristina Molina, River River, 2018, Still from video


‘​Battlegrounds’ is a new type of subversive public art exhibition which asks no permission, but attempts to prompt thoughtful discourse around the most urgent issues the artwork and sites represent for the larger community they serve. The app is free and open to the public.

Hannah Chalew, Toxic Ecology, 2019
Hannah Chalew, Toxic Ecology, 2019

This is an unapologetically political project, and does no environmental harm in a region of the country which is most vulnerable to climate change.

Kristina Kay Robinson, Temple of Color and Sound, 2019
Kristina Kay Robinson, Temple of Color and Sound, 2019

​New Orleans is a city with a lot of history: On the one hand it has suffered a lot of pain, tragedy and injustice, on the other it is known for its traditions and its distinct and unique way of celebrating life, so it is quite a complex site. Is that why you chose the city for the exhibition?

It is an incredibly compelling, moving and complex city — arguably a battleground itself.

Jan Gilbert, Call to DisArm: Yearbook, 2011-19, Snow Job sound by Metronome the City
Jan Gilbert, Call to DisArm: Yearbook, 2011-19, Snow Job sound by Metronome the City

The history of the slave trade, the colonization of native communities, the presence of the petrochemical industry today, the environmental peril with which it lives daily, along with a robust and racist prison industrial complex and gentrification — these are a few of the complexities it has endured — not to mention Katrina and other devastating hurricanes of course.

Jennifer Odem, Rising Table, 2018
Jennifer Odem, Rising Table, 2018

New Orleans is also, in my opinion, the cultural heart of America and has given us more gifts than we can possibly quantify in the arts.

The 4thwall app

I urge anyone curious to know more, to hear it from the artists themselves by visiting​ ​the 4thwallapp.org website and reading their statements about their works in situ.

Carl Joe Williams, Waiting, 2019
Carl Joe Williams, Waiting, 2019

​With 2​4​ local artists and over 30 artworks how did you determine the locations and tone of it all without getting it “all over the place”?

Coordinates is a curated platform and​ ​I was extremely fortunate to be connected with some extraordinary local curators early on.

Kristin Meyers, CYCLONE, 2019
Kristin Meyers, CYCLONE, 2019

They helped steer the initial outreach — and then we were fortunate enough to have the rigorous artists we’d already selected recommend other artists who were amazing as well.

The kids are alright

Keith Calhoun, Sunlit Nightmare, 2006
Keith Calhoun, Sunlit Nightmare, 2006

​The project also includes workshops with kids. What is the strongest image, experience or memory you can share with us concerning the kids’ impact and reaction to 4th Wall technology and its possibilities?

Working with the kids from the L9 Center for the Arts in the Lower Ninth Ward with artists Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick was an unforgettable experience.

Chandra McCormick, Holy Family Spiritual Church
Chandra McCormick, Holy Family Spiritual Church

Each of the participants created their own artwork and paired it with a site that felt meaningful to them and we agreed afterward that we would have a parallel exhibition AR of their and future participants’ work, in addition to more workshops.

Robert Tannen, LifeBoat, 2019
Robert Tannen, LifeBoat, 2019

Check out the full Gallery of artworks and read the full descriptions here!

ABOUT 4th Wall AR APP:

4th Wall is a free, augmented reality (AR) public art platform exploring resistance and inclusive creative expression. The app invites users to locates, scale and record four original dimensional drawings in AR by Nancy Baker Cahill, anywhere in the world. It also hosts curated, geo-located public art exhibitions via the COORDINATES public art platform.

Header Image: Ron Bechet, A Love Supreme, 2018

Author: Esther Harrison