Making Art Come Alive

Use an iOS device to see the astounding new mural by the artist JR.


Interactive murals by JR


If you’re trying to find the enigmatic artist JR inside a massive gallery space at SFMOMA in San Francisco, look for the Frenchman wearing sunglasses indoors.

Here he is now, welcoming friends a few hours before the gala launch of his new work, The Chronicles of San Francisco, an expansive video mural with a multimedia dimension that must be seen to be believed.

Open the JR:murals app, point your camera at one of the faces, and listen as their stories come alive.

The piece unfolds on an LED screen 17 feet high by 120 feet long. Rendered on its 26 million pixels are videos of 1,206 people whom JR recorded in San Francisco. All are in motion. They run, break-dance, sing, sell newspapers, and, in one eye-catching case, give birth.

“It’s not a group photo—it’s a group of photos,” JR says. “I wanted to represent the city and people for who they are. Everyone is at the same size, and everyone is shot in the same light: the mayor, the policemen, the homeless. Everyone is represented equally.”

The French street artist JR is pretty excited about his newest exhibition.

The coolest part? Using the JR:murals app, you can point one of the exhibit’s specially outfitted iPads at any of the 1,206 faces to hear that person’s story, in their own words.

You’ll meet a man walking a duck on a leash. A small boy and a girl wearing NASA uniforms and gazing skyward. A priest kneeling next to a homeless man sleeping next to a dog.

Keep looking around. An old man steals a glance at what a young woman is writing in her notebook. A mother pushes a stroller in front of another woman doing a handstand. Abraham Lincoln rolls by on a skateboard.

To make all of these images, JR and his team took a mobile photo studio, installed inside a 53-foot trailer truck, to 22 locations around San Francisco in early 2018.

Laurence is just one of the 1,206 models in JR’s mural, The Chronicles of San Francisco.

Because the video scrolls, the actual mural is closer to 250 feet in length. At any given time visitors can only see about 40% of the complete artwork, and it takes about an hour to scroll through the whole thing.

The iOS technology will be available at home as well. In connection with the exhibition, JR is releasing an accompanying book, also called The Chronicles of San Francisco, that’ll use the same technology to let readers hear stories via the JR Chronicles app.

The to-go version will also work on a mural outside the museum, in installations pasted up around San Francisco, and even on souvenir tote bags.

“People will see this is as a final piece that’s finished, but this is not the case,” JR says. “This is a piece that’s alive and free. That’s how I’m using technology: Not to split people, but to bring them together into real physical experiences.”


    Interactive murals by JR