VR Goggles producing alternate universes; Pikachus sending people off of cliffs… Our screens are taking us places we’ve never been before, and in certain cases places we’d never want to go. Rarely do our iOS apps encourage real-world engagement, regardless of the constant ‘interactions’ occurring through them. The Shrub app, however, seems to invert this trend and encourages a type of interaction that, at the very least, will let you see the cliff before you go flying off of it.
Shrub is a collaboration between Linked by Air and artist Jeffrey Scudder that allows for the creation of unique and inherently artsy digital “rubbings” of reality. As a simple, one-feature app, it accesses your camera and allows you to “rub” your surroundings onto your smartphone’s screen. Rubs can be altered in terms of softness and size, and each creation can feature an unlimited amount of rubs from whatever your camera is collecting. Fusing technology, art and communication, the app is designed to be “a mobile communication tool as much as a mobile drawing tool,” and the ability to share your drawing is only a two-fingered tap away.
This “communication,” however, goes beyond a simple text or email share between you and your friends. According to Scudder, Shrub is “essentially making pictures on the go” by directly rooting an individual into their surroundings. “I just thought that since [our phones] had a camera, I could use that to my advantage and outsource that color/texture-picking feature to the environment.” This “reverse of graffiti” inverts the usual relationships we have with our phones and our surroundings, deliberately making us consider our surroundings through “pull[ing] something out the environment by recording it” on our devices.
This new engagement has inspired one artist, Denzel Boyd, to use the app to create what are called psychogeographic maps. Psychogeography, like the Shrub app itself, encourages a meandering and light-hearted relationship to geography and one’s surroundings. Focusing more on how the "artist-explorer" hybrid may move through their space, psychogeography “takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape,” explains artist and writer Joseph Hart.
In a university project, Shrub allowed Boyd to “leave the normative desk and laptop setup repeatedly used as a graphic designer.” On a quest for what he called “serendipity and keen observation,” Boyd sought out the “quietest places within the city of Richmond,” documenting what he found on the app and producing a zine of his shrubbings. Shrub’s “on-the-spot images” gave Boyd a chance to use “technology in a different context” and identify with his neighborhood in a refreshing way, in this case “led by the absence of sound.”
The ability to recontextualize one’s relationship to our environments by way of an artistic smartphone app is a very welcome shift in the paradigm of human-phone operation. “This is about going to many locations,” says Scudder, relating his app to psychogeography, and for shrubbers “the prime location is wherever you are with your data.” So, if you're going to roam the streets with a face cemented to a screen, consider downloading Shrub. It just might take us to the alternate realms of our minds—and our neighborhoods.
Shrub is available for download on in the App Store.