Lauren Lee McCarthy, an associate professor of design media arts at the UCLA School of Arts and Architecture, recently contributed an augmented reality piece to an art event in San Francisco that honored the history and present social landscape of the city’s Chinatown, exploring topics such as the neighborhood’s resilience, past memories and hopes for the future.

Staged by Chinatown Media and Arts Collaborative, the collection of exhibits was called “Neon Was Never Brighter: A Glimpse Into the Future.” 

McCarthy’s exhibit, called “I’m Glad You Asked,” was an augmented reality piece which reflects McCarthy’s experience with social isolation and confusion in pandemic and post-pandemic times. Viewers could use their phones to scan over public park benches and see virtual labels for each seat, inviting the viewer to take a seat if they identified with the message: for example, “This seat is for people that need to be seen.”

McCarthy’s work explores how labels and technology divide us and create gaps in communication we might never breach; thus she imagines what different individuals might be thinking of the world from within their own bubble.

McCarthy was recently honored as a 2021 United States Artist Fellow. She was honored by the Sundance Institute with the 2020 Sundance New Frontier Story Lab Fellowship, and again in 2021 as a Sundance Institute interdisciplinary program grantee and an “Art of Practice” fellow in the field of emerging media. Her work, which focuses on the role and interplay of technology in our modern social landscape, continues to be exhibited globally.