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Nina Chanel Abney, "Imaginary Friend"

Nina Chanel Abney’s Imaginary Friend You Didn’t Know You Needed

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Nina Chanel Abney has debuted her first augmented reality (AR) creation, “Imaginary Friend.” Recently launched at Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of the March on Washington, 57 years after Martin Luther King made his I Have a Dream speech, the work extends a virtual hand of comfort during these unprecedented—and often unsettling—times.

Encouraged by art’s role in helping see the true possibilities of everyday life, Abney turned to the AR experience as an alternative method of art presentation in response to limited social interactions brought on by COVID-19. The work, accessible for free through the Acute Art app,  presents itself as a a modern-day sage with rosy cheeks who captivates users with his soothing voice.

Nina Chanel Abney and

Nina Chanel Abney and “Imaginary Friend,” 2020; courtesy of Khari Ricks.

Made with the help of Chris Chalk, Jeanette E. Toomer (JET), and El Tsid, the “Imaginary Friend” hovers above the ground, yogi-style, while delivering an anecdote of attempting to bestow a blessing on a friend. Lacking faith that good things would come his way, the friend refuses the blessing, and viewers are left with the phrase, “Sometimes we believe nothing good can ever happen to us, so it don’t.”

“Inspired by the mythological characters and disincarnate guides whom people turn to in times of trouble, and in collaboration with artists who understand the value of humor in processing grief, trauma, and distress, I created ‘Imaginary Friend’ to offer participants an always-ready companion to mitigate the uncertainty and precarity of today,” said Abney. “This work brings to life childhood strategies of fantasy and play as a proxy for the loss of social comforts and physical contact we experience as adults.”

Nina Chanel Abney, “Imaginary Friend” in Washington D.C., 2020, augmented reality; Photo by Leigh Vogel, courtesy of Nina Chanel Abney and Acute Art.

“Imaginary Friend” has been virtually installed at a monumental scale all over the globe, including locations in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Grand Canyon, Washington, Paris, London, Berlin, and Tokyo. Viewers can also experience a smaller version of “Imaginary Friend” through the app, which is easily accessible anywhere at anytime you might need a friendly presence or some words of wisdom.

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Kelly Wearstler

THE WINTER EXPERIENCE ISSUE
2023

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In KAWS’s first major show in London, “NEW FICTION,” the Serpentine exhibits a myriad of new and recent works combining physical, virtual, and augmented realities into one paralleled experience.

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