The Amaya AR Project is an experimental location-based Mobile AR documentary inspired by the Nicaraguan April 2018 civic uprising. It presents 2D images and source audio taken from viral videos and photos taken by Nicaraguan impromptu citizen journalism. Through my own personal experience from within the Nicaraguan diaspora, this experimental piece brings to Toronto the story of Amaya Coppens, a Belgian-Nicaraguan political prisoner incarcerated in September 2018 and released in June 2019. The documentary is experienced in the physical space of Lisgar Park in Toronto through a hand-held mobile device and headphones. I wanted to bring the Nicaraguan reality to Toronto's physical space for the audience to experience that situation on their streets.
This experimental piece proposed a shareable Mobile AR experience through image tracking with the purpose of audiences in other places to replicate the experience. Most people have access to a smartphone, and Web AR can allow Nicaraguans in the diaspora to replicate the experience without the need for programming skills.
From April 2018 to February 2019, I compiled a media archive from Nicaragua, drawing from viral images and audio circulated on social media, television, newspapers, magazines and radio as events unfolded. The approach to editing material from the archive is informed by Hito Steyerl’s essay “In Defense of the Poor Image,” leaning into the glitchiness, blurriness and low-quality of the viral content to express the affects of the situation in Nicaragua.
UX Initially, the app on the tablet included the UX instructions. After several tests, I realized most people have never used Augmented Reality as a way to follow instructions and encountered the next issue:
People were distracted by the technology, in most cases, were more interested in the technology than Amaya’s story. For this reason, I decided to remove the wayfinding instructions from the app and instead use numbered physical objects to mark the places where people should stand.
OBSERVATIONS -Participants enjoyed doing the experience with someone. With the use of an audio splitter, I connected two headphones to the tablet. Two people could walk around the park seeing the same visuals and hearing the same audio assets.
-Participants got very emotional; some of them cried.
-I received a significant number of hugs from strangers.
-Toronto is a city with a high number of immigrants and refugees, and several participants told me they related to The Amaya AR Project. Some participants shared their personal experiences of living in the diaspora while similar situations happen in their home countries. They were mostly from Ukraine and Pakistan.
-After doing the experience, a significant number of participants researched Amaya’s story and then came to me and asked additional questions about Nicaragua's situation.
-By removing the wayfinding AR instructions on the app and using numbered physical objects to mark where participants should stand, I noticed people felt extremely comfortable following the instructions that way. It allowed participants to immerse themselves in Amaya’s story fully. Only two participants required me to explain to them where to go.
-Participants and people walking around the park thought the signs were part of the park. Participants said the signs blended well with the environment and were not distracting.
THE PROCESS Amaya's interviews inspired the Amaya AR Project's narrative to the Nicaraguan and international press before her arrest. The interviews were gathered, summarized and translated from Spanish to English. My personal experience as a Nicaraguan living in the diaspora was added to fill the social and political context gaps and center the audience to the Toronto Location.
The script consists of six scenes in which I relate my feelings about unfolding events, and Amaya explains Nicaragua's situation. It includes chants from marches, phrases from protests and pieces of advice from social media gone viral, voiced by Nicaraguans in the diaspora. AUDIO EXPERIMENTATION & COLLABORATION The sound design of The Amaya AR Project results from collaboration with Kiersten Depina, a local sound designer. Amaya’s words were performed by a Nicaraguan woman, vocal against the government and living in the diaspora. The Amaya AR Project uses sound effects from original audios in Nicaragua that had affective resonance, iconic phrases spoken during the protests and marches, and readings of written phrases that went viral on social media. This resulted in the project including three sets of voices - Amaya’s, mine, and those of the multitude (spoken by people from the Nicaraguan diaspora).
The final script was sent through email to Nicaraguans who met the parameters I had set (Living in diaspora and vocal about the Nicaraguan government injustice and human rights violations). Performers recorded their voices with their cellphones on their own time and gave their own voice emphasis to the script. This resulted in imperfect, glitchy sound recordings, as discussed by Hito Steyerl and as encountered in my everyday connections with Nicaragua in Toronto.
Many of the recordings include voices with heavy accents. Most people told me it was significant and emotional for them to scream and vocalize the march chants and protest phrases. In a way, they formed a virtual protest, participating individually without knowing who else was involved, yet connected through their interest in doing something to support the Nicaraguan resistance. In this way, the project supports giving voice to the network of Nicaraguans in the diaspora. TRANSPARENCY - Citation / Credits Table
Due to the political situation in Nicaragua and my schedule in Toronto, I was not able to travel. The Amaya AR Project was created with pieces taken from the internet, newspapers, websites, and social media. It is important to give credit and recognition to those brave journalists and photographers who had the courage to risk their lives to document the news.
As part of the research-creation process, I created a series of citation/credit tables to keep track of the origin of the images and sounds. Though there are certain photos and videos I was not able to locate their origin.