With augmented-reality app, artists (virtually) revive the demolished McKeldin Fountain

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A shot of the “NONUMENT 01::McKeldin Fountain” app. Via NONUMENT 01.

Eighteen months ago, construction crews reduced the Brutalist concrete fountain at the heart of the Inner Harbor’s McKeldin Square plaza to rubble, making way for green space and some additional seating at the corner of Pratt and Light streets. The effort was led by the Downtown Partnership, whose leaders said the structure had become an eyesore.

Gone is the 35-year-old sharp-edged edifice that played host to curious wanderers traversing its walkways and people wading into its waters, and served as a backdrop to countless demonstrations, from pinnacle events like the 2015 protests of police after Freddie Gray’s death and the 2011 Occupy campouts to weekly protests.

But it lives again—if you have a screen handy. Just search “Nonument 01” on your app store.

The McKeldin Fountain is the first public monument to be virtually memorialized as part of the Nonument project. Its re-creation in the form of an augmented-reality app was spearheaded by four artists–Martin Bricelj Baraga and Neja Tomšič, both of the Museum of Transitory Art in Slovenia, and Lisa Moren and Jaimes Mayhew, both of Baltimore—and a collection of architects, developers and others.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Imaging Research Center and the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund at Johns Hopkins University provided grant funding, and local firm BaltiVirtual built the app.

Beyond being able to relive the experience of standing in front of the fountain by viewing it through their phone’s camera, a user can watch interviews with 18 people sharing stories from the structure’s three-plus decades of life, ranging from tales of protest to fond memories. Subjects include former Mayor Sheila Dixon, local architect Fred Scharmen, a member of Baltimore Hoop Love, local rappers DDm and Eze Jackson, the anti-war group Women in Black, participants from the Otakon anime convention, protesters from the 2011 Occupy demonstrations, ACLU of Maryland senior attorney David Rocah and others.

“It’s diverse,” says Moren, a professor of visual arts at UMBC.

Moren has been working with interactive installations since the 1990s. For this project, she invited Baraga and Tomšič to come to Baltimore on grant funding to explore “public space, and how people use public space very differently here,” she said.

“We were looking for a site where a lot of different types of people went. We wanted to create an ephemeral monument, something that was against a symbol that validated leaders and politicians, and that was like stone and bronze and just sort of asserting authority forever over a space, and instead create a new ephemeral space.”

McKeldin Square offered an ideal site, she said, both for its central place as a “free speech zone,” and for the Brutalist style of its erased fountain. Working with the fountain’s original architect, Thomas Todd, the Imaging Research Center and Scharmen, they were able to get accurate measurements of the fountain before it was demolished. The version developed by BaltiVirtual is a scaled model, Moren said.

The platform offers various “nodes” that users can click to access interviews, each one between three and five minutes long, Moren said. “You click on a protest sign or an Occupy tent, and you hear memories of what it was like to be there.”

Photograph by Kaja Brezočnik, via NONUMENT 01.

The app, available for download on both Android and Apple devices, will officially premiere at a launch event at the plaza this weekend from 1-4 p.m., featuring appearances from local performance artists Labbodies, Erik Spangler, who composed the music in the app, Rocah and DDm. A reception will follow from 5-8 p.m. at the Maryland Art Place at 218 W. Saratoga St., where an accompanying exhibition is opening.

Moren said she hopes locals will “be proud of the app,” and that tourists will use it, nudged by a brochure at the nearby visitor’s center in the Inner Harbor.

She ultimately wants people to see “that if you’re out there in the public using these spaces without commercial interactions… that people do it, that they are encouraged to do it; that they’re the ones who, when they do that, they’re actually expanding our public realm, instead of diminishing it.”

Ethan McLeod
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