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      Visual Democratisation: AR and the Underpass Festival

      , ,

      Proceedings of EVA London 2019 (EVA 2019)

      Electronic Visualisation and the Arts

      8 - 11 July 2019

      Augmented reality, Smart cities, Democratising technology, Art festivals

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          This paper discusses the opportunities Augmented Reality (AR) offers art experiences to merge underused public spaces with cultural programming, establish communities, and influence urban development. It focuses on the issues of usability and accessibility necessary for the democratisation of the technology and uses Etic Lab’s current project in development, The Underpass Festival, as a model for speculatively testing these ideas. This structure exemplifies Etic Lab’s bottom-up approach to R&D that aims to align emerging technologies with issues surrounding social and cultural development. The Underpass Festival in Milton Keynes will constitute a study taking cues from groups of artists, the local community and publicly available data to propagate the use of AR in the built environment. It is scheduled to take place in Summer 2020. Our research currently extends to an on-going feasibility study to establish a route to ‘hanging’ artworks on the walls of public walkways. The festival aims to transform Milton Keynes’ iconic but underappreciated public spaces into the cultural real estate they were designed to be, and to develop a radical new democratic model for the role of art and galleries across the city, navigating the, “digital representations that reconfigure everyday experiences of place” (Feldman 2018), with little to no ‘visible’ footprint. We believe that software-based AR, the kind contingent on the existing technology people already carry around, should focus on accessible spaces repurposed as virtual sites for augmented reality implementation. It is our understanding that the suspension of disbelief that augmented and virtual reality play with is not limited to high definition visuality, and that the fidelity of the ‘reality’ presented should not be at the expense of its immediacy, accessibility and usefulness. These characteristics, for us, are the crux of visual democratisation and the basis of our research. Our feasibility study is, therefore, looking to the limitations of the existing technology available to the average member of the public: not as a route to developing the AR assets themselves, but instead as a means for the city and its inhabitants to begin mapping and reclaiming these particular sites. This paper will examine the issues of usability and democratisation of AR technology in relation to the Underpass Festival, and to what constitutes visual democratisation in the context of AR development. It will discuss the festival as speculative case study and work in progress, and its site-specificity. It will use the challenge of displaying artworks virtually in public spaces to consider the importance of visual quality relative to other attributes such as accurate mapping and ‘hanging’ on the underpass walls. It will conclude by comparing this project with some previous Etic Lab research around what we call the Oz Effect, and the impact of revealing ‘the man behind the curtain’, or the workings of the technology. It will examine this in relation to the aesthetics of the ‘poor image’.

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              Simulation Lab (TAaCT)


                Author and article information

                July 2019
                July 2019
                : 198-205
                Etic Lab

                Frolic House, 23 Frolic Street,

                Newtown, Powys, SY16 1AP, Wales
                © Tilt et al. Published by BCS Learning and Development Ltd. Proceedings of EVA London 2019, UK

                This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit

                Proceedings of EVA London 2019
                EVA 2019
                London, UK
                8 - 11 July 2019
                Electronic Workshops in Computing (eWiC)
                Electronic Visualisation and the Arts
                Product Information: 1477-9358BCS Learning & Development
                Self URI (journal page):
                Electronic Workshops in Computing


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