Swapping Magic

Since the release of their strange haunting video, when I think about augmented reality, I am able to think of little other than Denstu London’s Suwappu.


The demented, disconnected snippets of narrative, layered over a slow and brooding soundtrack has grabbed me for reasons I can’t entirely understand. They feel wrong in just the right ways, weird little extrusions of the networked unconscious spewing out (self)promotional noise between strands of a story.

The video asks “what if toys behaved like TV” but this is a feint. These things behave nothing like TV. TV asks you to sit down for 22 minutes + commercials. TV is a 22 minute commercial for the toys. These toys are commercials for themselves. They come with the transmedia built right in. The spin-offs are coming before the product-proper.

Plus, there’s a Jason Bourne reference.

Dentsu are the ones that, along with BERG London, gave us Making Future Magic. Theirs is a funny kind of magic. All bumbling and glitchy and all the more impressive when you see it working.

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade
Creative Commons License photo credit: JoshMcConnell

I keep thinking about a talk that two of BERG gave. Specifically, the part in it where they hope that we are coming to the end of the Minority Report hangover. 

The next time you watch Mary Poppins, imagine Mary Poppins is not a magical witch, imagine she’s a time traveller… Imagine she’s come back with sufficiently advanced technology to make a spoonful of sugar go down. Watch Mary Poppins like that and your world will change.

Matt Jones & Jack Schulze Immaterials

Immediately after, the presentation breaks down and they accidentally start to play a clip from Cube. Perfect.


AR Fluxus box
Creative Commons License photo credit: xdxd_vs_xdxd

The Suwappu are strange beasts. Their simple cartoony faces must be that way so that your smartphone can perceive them. What a clever little hack that is. In place of the standard abstract shapes or high-contrast corporate logos, they found the overlap of human and computer vision and bang, hello, little fella!

Suwappu come out of the box extremely pirateable. They must. The ease of recognition brings with it ease of reproduction. They’re giving away the plans. You can make your own papercraft Suwappu, just print out the pieces and stick them to a block.

How hackable will the AR interface be, I wonder. Will we be able to add new characters ourselves? There are plenty of face patterns left to draw. Will we be able to compose new narratives, and perhaps toss them back into the soup that spits up lines like, “Did I make another fire?”

It probably doesn’t matter. We were playing Star Wars with our Lego, long before there was Star Wars Lego.

What if TV was more like toys?