Butterfly Lovers
– An Augmented Reality Art Project


Artists: Painting by Lily & Honglei, Augmented Reality by John Craig Freeman, Documentation by Will Pappenheimer and John Craig Freeman
Year of Completion: 2009-2011
Medium: Oil on paper, Augmented Reality application for mobile phone

Work Description
Derived from a popular Chinese folktale Butterfly Lovers (梁山伯与祝英台)regarded as the equivalent of Romeo and Juliet, the painted figures in traditional costumes are placed at Times Square. The site-specific Augment Reality installation addresses issues of Chinese diaspora and cultural identity, and visualizes the restless, roaming cultural spirit of the East hidden in western metropolis.

Integrating painting and mobile phone augmented reality application, artists weave storytelling of Chinese folklore into a contemporary, global circumstance. The two layers are contradictory yet interpenetrating: while the Butterfly Lovers symbolizes perpetual repression of humanity and resistance in Chinese culture,  the night scene of Times Square is an emblem of Americanism and consumerism. As Chinese immigrant artists, we have witnessed many tragic stories of our friends pursuing American dreams. Although being surrounded by crowds and dazzling material world, they live in isolation, and struggle to survive. Our own life experience and the fate of immigrants urge us to expose the situation through artworks. What is the real relationship between  cultural spirit and material reality? this is  the question raised by Butterfly Lovers.

Previously, we reinterpreted Butterfly Lovers into an animated short film unfolding the famous Chinese folktale in context of westernization. The film’s implication of cultural displacement is visualized by illustrating the story in New York City. 2011, collaborating with other  Augmented Reality Manifesto member John Craig Freeman who provides  full technical support, we transformed the animated film into a mobile phone experience  that our painted ancient figures superimposed with actual scenes of Times Square.

Previous animation version of Butterfly Lovers is viewable at:


Still image of animated film Butterfly Lovers