Visitors to the Mersey Ferry this weekend are in line for a more epic experience than usual as the Abandon Normal Devices festival brings an AR art piece to the tour boat. The work is accessible via eight custom-built, tablet-based viewfinders on the decks of the ferry and completed by an audio track that can be listened to via headphones. In addition, there will also be a live pop-up performance during each cruise, featuring costumed inhabitants of the river.
The imagery in the piece is trippy and psychedelic, as might be expected by those who know Fontaine’s work. Previously a creative director at Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam’s Department of New Realities, and now based in New Zealand, Fontaine is adept at creating magical and irreverent scenes in AR and VR.
The Blue Violet River explores “an evolved reality brought about by climate change, rising sea levels and tropical climates” yet aims to engage directly with the historic Manchester Ship Canal landscape. “They gave me the Mersey Ferry which typically runs as a touristic boat tour and encouraged me to disrupt the conventional format of the tour, then I just ran with it!” says Fontaine. “From the get go, I knew that I wanted to hijack the conventional guided tour into something magical that wove together science fiction, environmental themes and local architecture into a future fairytale – A Merseyside Ferry Tale.
“Stepping aboard the Blue Violet River, viewers are encouraged to leave their perceptions of reality ashore,” she continues, “and inhabit a fantasy world exploring an evolution brought about by climate change and the rising sea levels and tropical temperatures it creates.”
Fontaine initially visited the site and the ferry back in 2019, with the experience originally intended to go live in 2020. She has since worked on the project remotely with the wider team. “The postponement has had a really positive effect on the finesse of the production overall,” she says. “I now feel as though my full vision has been realised, and part of this was due to some initial hiccups for the 2020 rehearsal which allowed us to rethink.
“It was a challenging task, creating this kind of experience which technically has never been achieved before. I’m so thankful for an amazing team including writer Kris Hermansson, creative technologist Grigor Todorov and especially 3D artist Ignas Blažys, who were fearless collaborators in the face of uncertainty! Everyone has been working remotely together in their own bubbles and timezones since early 2021, and we have found a way of harnessing this to keep the project flowing.”
While the project contains serious themes, its imagery offers visitors a fantastical sci-fi style trip. “I was initially inspired by pulp utopian fiction, old 1970s book covers and the speculative Solarpunk architecture movement, which propelled me to unlock new imaginative possibilities for our societies and cityscapes,” says Fontaine. “After researching themes like bio-mimicry, I understood that it might be possible for humans to reinvent themselves through spiritual and scientific breakthroughs with the plant and animal kingdom, but I wanted to present these mental explorations in a playful, hyper-real way.
“Typically I like playing with familiar aesthetics from pop culture like videogames and 3D animation but subverting them with my own narratives. I also felt there was a genuine urgency to explore these themes and new ways of co-existing with our world visually in a way that could help shift consciousness with a kind of visual trip for the mind. Developing the experience against such a historically destructive industrial backdrop like the Liverpool Docklands was motivating for me to reimagine an alternate future society to visually be the opposite – fun, pop, bright and hopeful.”