In this first review of the works of Manko, we'll discuss the complex sorts of plagiarism in Augmented Reality art that are typical for our contemporary art scene. This introduces a relevant clue to the later demise of Manko.

By ASTON REVOLA, Paris 21-08-20, for

Last year, in May, Manko released an artistic Augmented Reality (AR) application that showed what the missing arms, legs and even heads of some of the most famous sculptures in art history were supposed to look like. Based on artist sketchbooks he remodeled them in 3D and with the use of the new contact lenses of the museum, visitors could now see the whole picture. It was a huge success and soon enough Manko licensed others to remix these virtual body parts he designed. One of the best remixes was actually done by Manko himself, where he transposed the arms of Milo's Venus onto Dali's version, making the arms move and search all the drawers in her chest, frantically and endlessly.

It is interesting to see how this idea was soon used by the Neurotopian Group to treat people with phantom pains. Adding a virtual limb, controlled by eye-tracking technology created a way to help them overcome pain in phantom limbs. One could argue that ideas like this are "in the air" yet until this day NG has never attributed their application to that of Manko. In one of Manko's many ongoing trials, Manko is challenging NG's patent, demanding a share in revenues.

A more complex intrusion on artistic ownership was the case of Manko's AR work called KM3. This was the first artwork to be awarded both the achievement for largest known land art and biggest AR artwork to date. With 5 years in the making and measuring up to exactly one cubic kilometer in size, KM3 is a marvel to the eyes. Special designed cars are allowed in and even small airplanes sometimes fly through, yet it is best to experience it by foot. It is hard to describe the beauty of what you will see: white cherry blossom falling down continuously as if carried by a small breeze, with no known source (no tree) and simultaneously small white butterflies, about the same size as the blossom leaves, fluttering upwards. All of this has been well executed with processing techniques that are hard to distinguish from natural flight and falling patterns. The result is a genuine meditative experience. The leaves and butterflies fly right through the observer and by using a parameter that prevents them from coming too close to the eyes (by avoiding the locative AR contact lenses) it never feels annoying in any way.

KM3 was originally commissioned by the Louvre museum in Paris. Selected art critics worldwide and representatives of the French government received invitations to the event, with personalized (iris scan) contact lenses that would give them an exclusive premiere. Little did they know that their viewing would be very exclusive indeed. As I was one of the lucky few to be invited, it is hard to describe the enchanting effect of these white elements going up and down at the same time. It is quite a marvel to the eye and, in my opinion, is one of the more aesthetic works of Manko to date.

As we walked around the Louvre, suddenly a fierce discussion broke out among government representatives. One of them, a State Law representative, questioned the legality of the artwork. If, he explained, Manko's artwork takes up one square kilometer, including it's airspace, this would surely mean that the Louvre itself and an important area of Paris would now become part of the artwork. Another representative agreed and claimed that this was not acceptable. The buzz soon came to an end when the President himself had just arrived to come and see the work with his own "eyes". I have no account of what has been said between officials, but soon enough after half an hour or so, it was announced that the exhibition was over and was to be removed immediately. The official statement was that no artwork should ever contain parts of Paris in it and that no museum or artist could be permitted to own parts of the city this way, for obvious reasons of legality.

This created quite a stir in the art world and I can only guess the artist's feelings upon hearing this. Nevertheless, word got out quite soon after that, that Manko had gained the interest of investors from Dubai. Not only did they have enough money to buy it, they also had enough empty desert area to host such a spacious work of art, without the legal issues. And that would have been that. If misfortune had not struck again...

A major market player in AR technology in Shanghai had apparently gotten an interest in Manko's work and had decided that they not only wanted this work of art for themselves, they wanted to beat Dubai in size and had secretly copy-pasted together a version of KM3 with 10x10 of the KM3 cubes stacked together into an even bigger cube, now 10KM3 in size. No one knows how they got hold of the application, yet rumor has it that the technician that worked on the Paris Premiere had simply copied the application on his iPhone. Copyright infringement was dismissed by Shanghai authorities and they were not in the least worried about the 10 square kilometers of villages around Shanghai being swallowed up by the artwork. Upon hearing this, the Dubai investors felt cheated by Manko and now refused to acquire the work. The achievement award for biggest artwork still remains in Manko's possession yet his original KM3 to this day has never been realized as intended.

Hence Manko was only able to make some money off his artwork by selling it as souvenirs. He offered small versions online of the original KM3, now 10cm3 in size. The 10CM3 version to many people seemed a cheap rip-off of the old Snowflake globes and with this last unforeseen artistic ownership issue Manko decided to abandon the whole project all together.

Next month we'll look at Manko's next move.

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  • Dear Wouter, You will have to be a little bit patient until the end of the series. After the twelve posts are completed there will be an interview with Manko, who has been wary of showing his works or himself online, as you have already detected. Best regards, Aston Revola

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  • Great article and amazing artwork. I have two questions: 1) I have a hard time exactly picturing the artworks you're describing. Can you provide links to visual material like photo or video? 2) Related to that, where can I find out more about Manko? It seems he is rather hard to find in Google's universe.

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