Encounters brings augmented reality to Congress 2023

An AR image of water on campus

By Elaine Smith

Experience York University’s Keele Campus with new eyes during Congress 2023 by participating in Encounters, an augmented reality (AR) event commissioned for the event.

Using AR technology, participants can engage with their surroundings in new ways, potentially deepening connections with each other in the process.

“The Encounters app was designed to encourage users to get together, as opposed to staying apart, as might commonly be expected with digital interfaces,” says artist Elahe Rostami, from the Artifact Lab where she works with brother, Amir Bahador Rostami, a graduate of the Digital Media program at York’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD). Both artists have expertise in experimental interfaces and virtual world building.

Once participants download the app to their mobile phones, they are prompted to invite another person to join them for the experience.

“The users embark together on a journey of exploration and discovery, sharing new perspectives and insights about their intersubjective experiences of the landscape,” Elahe said.

“The app also generates an avatar that’s overlaid on your body,” said Joel Ong, a professor in the AMPD and member of the Congress 2023 Scholarly Planning Committee. “It’s a fun experience that also invites conversation and the relationship building that is an important aspect of Congress 2023.”

Using the app, participants will be guided to various spots around the Quad at the Keele Campus in a choreographed walk, including wayfinding to locations for other Congress 2023 activities. As they walk, bodies of water appear virtually, providing the opportunity to pause for conversation or contemplation.

A body of water as it appears through AR
A body of water as it appears through AR

“When the lake or pond is there, it connects people back to each other, and they can discuss the latest talk, event, other possibilities and futures or just celebrate connection,” Elahe said. “It’s a moment of trust.”

Elahe, who immigrated to Canada from Iran, hopes people will think about ways people come together, whether in celebration or in protest, as was the case in her homeland during the past year. Citizens there gathered regularly to protest the prison death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who was jailed for not wearing her hijab properly.

“If there are images projected on the ground, it’s something to come together around, to collaborate,” Elahe said. “Why not think about the future of public spaces and democracy when we think about interfaces?”

In various ways, Encounters evokes the theme of Congress 2023, Reckonings and Re-imaginings.

York University and the Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences will host Congress 2023 from May 27 to June 2. Register here to attend, community passes are available and term dates have been adjusted to align with timelines for this year’s event.