Indonesia blog post #2: Augmented Reality Heritage Trail

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CBC’s Creative Producer, Liam Smyth, has been selected for a residency with the British Council in Indonesia as part of the three-year UK/Indonesia season which aims to build new relationships and collaboration between the two countries. Liam will be working with his host organisation, Grobak Hysteria, for four weeks; learning about the region and working in collaboration to develop community art projects.  

After three weeks here, I have begun to feel at home on the sultry streets of Semarang. I have become confident enough to order food from the warungs in Indonesian Bahasa (albeit very badly) and continue to meet local residents.

Villagers in Kampung Petemesan.

Grobak Hysteria’s bohemian style live-in workspace initially presented a bit of a culture shock for me but I have felt the benefits of working in such a communal atmosphere. Hysteria regularly host artists and academics at their hub and I have profited from regularly meeting with different civic innovators. Their open door policy not only serves to embed the organisation in the community but is an effective way of collaborating to solve important public problems in creative and powerful ways.

Following on from my first ten days of research and development in Central Java, we have decided to map the streets of the kampungs to create an augmented reality heritage trail. The idea for a heritage trail came about by accident during one of my workshops when I was describing the difference between ‘augmented reality’ (AR) and ‘virtual reality’ (VR). I explained that whereas VR places the user in a “digital ghost world”, AR brings the “ghosts” to life in the real world. It was felt that an AR heritage tour would be attractive for people of all generations by using smart technology to access folklore, narratives and history of the villages. I’ve elected to use ‘Aurasma’ AR software as it is easy to use, cost effective (free!) and capable of including 3D models.

Augmented Reality has so far not caught on in the way developers had hoped. However, with the recent announcements that have come with the new iPhone it is increasingly likely that AR will become more a part of our daily lives and cultural organisations must adapt to how audiences consume culture in the future. You can read a recent article from Forbes magazine here.

Plotting the heritage trail at Grobak Hysteria headquarters.

Creating an augmented reality project is two-fold: finding a strong ‘trigger image’ that can be scanned by a camera phone in order to activate an ‘overlay’. The overlay could be anything from an image or video to animation or 3D model. We spent two days scouting a 45 minute walking tour, photographing trigger images such as graffiti, permanent signage and patterned walls. Grobak Hysteria’s extensive knowledge of the kampungs meant that they were able to pinpoint interesting people, places and moments in history that could be brought to life using AR. The first image we trialled was a graffiti painting of Raden Saleh in Kampung Bustaman. Raden Saleh was a pioneering 19th Century Indonesian painter, considered to be the first modernist to emerge from the country. After hearing about the project, the Goethe-Institut were kind enough to provide me with a high resolution image of Saleh’s masterpiece, “The arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro”. The resulting AR experience effectively turns the streets of Bustaman into an augmented museum.

Before and after image of AR in action: reproducing Raden Saleh’s artwork when audiences view his mural through their smart phone.

I continue to trial and develop content for AR overlays which include video interviews with local residents, 3D scans of villagers and animating existing artwork on the village walls:

Screenshot of interview with local shoe maker.

There are a lot of tales regarding a large stone in Kampung Malang. This still is from an animation that recounts some of the folklore surrounding this mysterious landmark.

The project is ambitious given the relatively short timeframe I have been allotted but I have been surprised by the ease in which groups like Grobak Hysteria are able to get things done. This is mostly down to the deeply entrenched sense of community in the local kampungs. Communication is much easier than it is in the UK as messages spread from neighbour to neighbour within an afternoon. Everybody knows everybody and if you need information or access to a building they are more than happy to help or will take you to the person you need to speak to. On the flipside, Grobak Hysteria struggle to support themselves without equivalent organisations to Arts Council England. The conversations I have with my host organisation often revolve around contrasting and comparing the working environments at home and abroad. Whereas Indonesians cannot fathom how a 9-5 working day could possibly exude positive results, I remain in awe of how Grobak Hysteria can remain so influential over such a long period of time with comparatively little in the way of financial resources.

With one more week to go, there is still a lot to do in developing all of the content for the full AR heritage tour. The trouble with site specific projects such as this one is that it is hard to share your work with others. Having spoken to the British Council, we have decided to create a showcase in order to exhibit all of the activity that has taken place for the duration of my residency. I hope to have this completed and ready for my final blog post in a couple of weeks’ time so stay tuned!

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