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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

Crystal Coffin – China Virtual Pavilion at Venice Biennial 2011

AR Intervention by  Cyberartist Group Manifest.AR

More documentation at


Crystal Coffin - China Virtual Pavilion at Venice Biannale 2011. AR Visualization and Screenshot by John Craig Freeman

Crystal Coffin at Piazza San Marco, simulation by John Craig Freeman

Crystal Coffin - virtual China pavilion, simulation by Lily & Honglei

Help support the Manifest.AR Venice Biennial 2011 Intervention – buy the t-shirts!


‘Cyber-Animism and Augmented Dreams: The urge to augmentby Tamiko Thiel, Leonardo Journal


Butterfly Lovers Augmented Reality at Times Square

Concept and Paintings by Lily & Honglei, AR by John Craig Freeman, Documentation by Will Pappenheimer

Exhibition Venues & Dates:

Gradually Melt the Sky, Devotion Gallery, New York, April 8th. – May 1st., 2011;

Boston CyberArt at Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, April 22 – May 8, 2011;

Unseen Sculpture, Australian Centre of Virtual Art Melbourne & Sydney AU, April 2011;

Jamaica to China, Paining Center NYC, September to October 2011.


Butterfly Lovers Augmented Reality. Mobile Phone Screenshot


Butterfly Lovers Augmented Reality. Mobile Phone Screenshot

More descriptions:


The Augmented Reality Art Manifesto by Manifes.AR



Manifest.AR is an international artists collective working with emergent forms of augmented reality as interventionist public art. The group sees this medium as a way of transforming public space and institutions by installing virtual objects and artworks which respond to and overlay the configuration of located physical meaning. Utilizing this technology as artwork is an entirely new proposition and explores all that we know and experience as the mixture the real and the hyperreal.


Gradually Melt the Sky, at Devotion Gallery Brooklyn, NY, Apr.8 – May 1, 2011

The title of this exhibition takes its cue from the 1964 artwork-poem “Tunafish Sandwich” by Yoko Ono. The text imagines a performance event which is at once cosmic and mundane, an action painting and a protest. The artworks in this exhibition employ a recent developing technology dubbed “augmented reality” to overlay, intervene and challenge the physical world in much the same conjectural spirit as preceding Fluxus and Conceptual works. As the influence of the virtual expands, integrates and maps itself across the material, strange objects, banal byproducts, ghost imagery and radical events appear in our homes and spatially across the landscape. Closed social systems lodged in physical hierarchies are layered, then pried open by popup media available to armies of networked creatives. AR, as this technology is abbreviated, invites artists and viewers to consider coexistent spacial realities in which anything is possible anywhere. Subliminal, aesthetic and political suggestions play themselves out as techno-disturbances in a substratasphere of online and offline experience. The cell phone or the CRT, are immaterial witness to these ephemeral dimensional objects and relational post-sculptural events. The fact that this current technology is primitive, amplifies its potency, with the extra possibility of actualization tacked on to the conceptual gesture.

Will Pappenheimer, Jan 14, 2011

Artists participating:

eteam, Jeremy Bailey, Kristin Lucas, Sander Veenhof, Tamiko Thiel, LoVid, Christopher Manzione, Geoffrey Alan Rhodes, Lily Honglei, Will Pappenheimer, Virta-Flaneurazine, 4 Gentleman, John Cleater, John Craig Freeman, Mark Skwarek, Irvin Morazan, Joseph Hocking, Phoenix Perry, Patrick Lichty, Alan Sondheim, Damon Baker, Arthur Peters


Creativity Bytes: A Brief Guide To Augmented Reality Art Exhibits

Creators Project: The use of augmented reality in exhibition spaces is an emerging field, just beginning to take form and experiencing an experimental sandbox phase. AR artist Helen Papagiannis merges old techniques with new as she commingles the real with the virtual. While artist Pablo Valbuena has been layering projected realities onto objects with his Augmented Sculpture series since 2007. And then there’s the virtual reality hackers like global cyberartist group Manifest.AR whose members arranged the DIY AR invasion of MoMA last year—their hijacking of the physical realm via virtual technologies may seem entirely newfangled, but they have lineage with cross-disciplinary art groups like Neo-Dadaists Fluxus. (read more)


Bushwick AR Intervention – curated by Mark Skwarek

iPhone screen capture

The Great Firewall and Sunken City is a 3D environment constructed in Second Life online virtual world, with symbolic structures commenting current social and environmental issues of China. The Sunken City, a recreation of a real historic site, is an emblem of cultural heritage losses particularly caused by Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydropower station, while the Great Firewall obviously points to Internet censorship effectively suppressing freedom of expression. The artists employ the spacial relationship inside 3D virtual world to indicate how varied problems are connected, tangled.

Developed by Lily & Honglei since 2007, Great Firewall and Sunken City is part of virtual art project Land of Illusion – Reconstructing History and Culture in Online Virtual World. Read more about the project at:

Participation at Jamaica Flux ’10
Opening: April 10th. Closing: Multimedia Performance & Catalog launch party: June 12nd, 2010.

Jamaica Flux '10 Catalog (click to see excerpt)

Portrait of America: Producing Year: 2004 –2010, Medium: Site-specific Installation and Performances on Jamaica Avenue, Queens, NY
As a result of five-year investigation on Chinese immigrant artists’ lives in America, this project creates a ‘live sculpture’ signifying individual’s dilemmatic situation in our global society, which is intended to discover meanings of social behaviors within the contexts of collisions of ideology and culture. Applying the ‘social realistic’ approach that integrates installation, performance, environment and interaction with audience, ‘Portrait of America’ produces an opportunity pondering everyday activities such as running a typical celebrity portrait business with Chinese immigrant artists who themselves can be considered the signifiers of clashes between beliefs and reality.
Portrait of America is also a finalist project of Terna 02 Prize of Contemporary Art

Realization of Portrait of America on Jamaica Ave.

Detail of Installation

Honglei making portrait on Jamaica Ave.

The Butterfly Lovers at Video Slam of Jamaica Flux ’10: The Butterfly Lovers reinterprets a Chinese folktale and metaphorically reflects on cultural displacement. Originally, The Butterfly Lovers is a thousand-year-old legend of a tragic love story often regarded as the Chinese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet. Under the same title, our film places the two protagaonists into a different setting, the landscape of New York City. Loosely based on the narrative of the folktale, the tragedy is unveiled with a completely different context: in the first scene, dressed in traditional Chinese male costume, the couple roam around Times Square at a rainy night, and play the ancient melody of A Moonlit Night On The Spring River with flute on subway station. The camera switches to interior scene, where one of the protagonists is found changing custom to reveal her female identity, while the male character starts vomiting blood sitting in front of a fish tank, a typical deco at Chinese restaurant. The last scene stages the couple standing on Brooklyn Bridge, from where the male character shoots his bow without an arrow toward the vast, empty sky. Gradually, the couple, the glamorous metropolitan landscape, and the restless East River, are all absorbed into boundless darkness…  more

The Butterfly Lovers at Video Slam

still image of The Butterfly Lovers

more pictures

At the installation room

The tour guided by curator Heng-Gil Han

About Jamaica Flux ’10:

Jamaica Flux: Workspaces & Windows is supported, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts, Arts Council Korea, and Romanian Cultural Institute in New York.