Rachel Stevens

Artists Meredith Drum, Rachel Stevens and Phoenix Toews are collaborating on Oyster City. Meredith Drum makes interactive documentaries about pollution governance and environmental justice and she is leading our outreach to the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School and other members of the Oyster Restoration Research Partnership. Rachel Stevens teaches graduate seminars on Nonlinear Storytelling and Psychogeography in a documentary oriented MFA program at Hunter College in NYC and recently participated in the Visible Evidence documentary conference. Phoenix Toews developed the augmented reality browser software Palimpsest in the interest of creating socially mediated narratives and experiences contextualized by geographic location and the physical environment. He has also worked on numerous creative projects incorporating sound, live and recorded video, computer/human interaction, installation and theatrical performance.

Session Title: Oyster City

Oyster City is an eco-psychogeography, augmented reality adventure game (in progress) featuring the rise and fall and rise of oysters in New York City and its surrounding estuaries. Our presentation will address how notions and forms of documentary are changed by embedding them in space and place and how storytelling design and user experience must be reconsidered when narrative is situated, embodied, mobile and mediated with proprietary technologies. We will share challenges in designing for an ever-changing, vibrant urban environment with imperfect GPS signals while maintaining our vision of making something experiential yet informational and historical yet relevant to communities of the present.

When Henry Hudson sailed into the bay in 1609, 350 square miles of wild oyster beds surrounded Manhattan and adjacent islands. NYC became the world’s largest producer of oysters until industrial pollution and over harvesting depleted the oyster population in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Colorful lore detailing how oysters were cultivated, monetized, distributed, prepared and consumed reveals interconnections between ecological, social and economic systems. Recent interest in planting oyster reefs is playing a role in the regeneration of shoreline ecosystems and water quality. For Oyster City, sites in NYC are being populated with AR elements enabling participants to learn and play as they interact with their immediate environment.

Oyster City is being made with Palimpsest, original software developed by Phoenix Toews. Palimpsest enables not only GPS placement of text, images and sounds, but also touch, orientation, and movement events, allowing the participant to act as a performer as well as a viewer. A fully functional beta, Palimpsest currently works on iPhone 4/4S, and iPad 2 with 3G. The framework will be released as an open-source project.

Oyster City was presented at Mobility Shifts: International Future of Learning Summit at The New School in NYC.

Preview images can be found here (by midnight 11/28/11 NYC time):