The Golden Calf is an iteration of Jeffrey Shaw’s pioneering augmented reality installation from 1994.
A white pedestal stands alone in the space, seemingly devoid of any object. After taking up a small tablet, the participant hovers the monitor over the plinth, and a virtual image of the pedestal appears on the screen. In this mirrorworld known as augmented reality, or AR, yet another apparition is evoked, that of a golden calf. By moving the monitor around the real pedestal the viewer can examine this calf from above, below, and all around. Because the tablet carries a motion tracking system, the computer can recognize its spatial position and orientation with great accuracy.
The monitor functions in this way as a kind of dual window: as it reveals a virtual animal, it also augments and is situated within the real space. The calf itself is shiny, like the body of an idolatrous object that is no longer a real entity but is instead the immaterial subject of a mediated process of revelation. Representation is and always was the twofold domain of our embodied and disembodied yearnings, and in this conjunction we experience a form of euphoria due to our dislocation from the present world.
As The Golden Calf makes the viewer a co-creator, it exemplifies Shaw’s commitment to dialogue and co-operation with the public. As such, it realizes one of the artist’s persistent preoccupations: the desire to overcome the barriers set by traditional representational conventions that separate the artwork from the viewer. Deeper still, in moving the screen around the pedestal, the viewer engages in a ceremonial dance before a simulated, false image.