Monument Public Address System
Design Prototype Monument Public Address System
Issues of race, memorialization and the public memory of slavery and racial oppression are especially lively, especially important right now. A series of tragic murders of Black Americans over the last ten years have sparked the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and have led to an international reckoning with histories and symbols of racism and slavery. Protestors, journalists, academics, students, politicians and many others have debated the relationship between systemic violence and discrimination against black people and symbols of the Confederacy for many decades – now these debates have come to a boil.
To briefly recount one of several chains of events: in Charlestown, SC in 2015 nine Black Americans were murdered during a bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. A photo of the killer, Dylann Roof, holding a confederate flag raised the volume on calls to eliminate Confederate symbols on public property. South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from state grounds. And plans were initiated by cities and states to take down monuments, including the Lee statue in Charlottesville, VA. A back lash formed and manifestation in the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville which resulted in the killing of counter-protester Heather Heyer. The subsequent murder of George Floyd by a police officer in 2020 ignited further BLM protests during which crowds toppled confederate monuments across the country.
A 2020 Quinnipiac poll shows a significant increase of support for the removal of Confederate statues from public places (19% since 2017).1 Yet the debates continue; some are divisive while others are constructive. Many municipalities struggle to make decisions about what to do with their monuments. Towns and cities have stated that they are too financially challenged to remove the monuments or to provide contextualization.2 These debates, and the potential for digital art and digital humanities to support democratic and balanced discussions, have galvanized our work on this proposed project - Monument Public Address System.
Monument Public Address System addresses public monuments as shapers of our culture, values, and beliefs, and ultimately shapers of our social and political behavior. Our team aims to support democratic processes in cities, towns, and neighborhoods regarding the future of the
Confederate monuments. We recognize the need for contextualization of existing monuments as well as sites where monuments have been removed. Our goal is to enrich encounters of these locations by providing thoughtful and truth-centered narratives about the memorialization of slavery and the Confederate War with an easy-to-use, mobile augmented reality environment.
The accessibility of the mobile Augmented Reality (AR) platform that we are using is essential to the success of our project. With the web-based XR program 8th Wall,3 participants simply load a website on their mobile device to experience the augmentations. Our team will create printed materials featuring QR codes and distribute the materials to our potential participants. When scanned with the camera of a mobile device, the QR code will open 8th Wall in the mobile browser and launch our AR experience. Unlike most AR platforms, users do not have to download a separate application. As many users do not like downloading apps or lack of available space on their devices, 8th Wall has the potential to reach a larger audience. Furthermore, the platform is less exclusive in that it functions well on older smart phones and tablets.
Our democratically-themed project is nicely complimented by the accessibility of the 8th Wall technology. Since the platform is free for users and can be accessed with a mobile device anywhere, it can be added to monuments everywhere, even within municipalities that express their inability to remove, alter or amend their monuments due to financial, social, cultural or political constraints.
Our UX design encourages participant to explore Confederate monuments, and the spaces around them, as they interact with the virtual visual materials that we are building and listen to segments of the narrative histories that we are collecting. In mid 2020, Meredith Drum began interviewing, recording, and editing these narrative histories. The interviewees are community organizers, students, professors, artists, writers and activists. Drum is now reaching out to politicians, city planners, architects, city council members and a multitude of other citizens to include their voices. The audio narratives reveal the struggles, triumphs and everyday experiences that these individuals have experienced in relation to race, representation, prejudice, justice, and truth, with a particular focus on the memorialization of the Confederacy.
All of the audio narratives are being archived as part of a web project that Meaghan Dee and Meredith Drum are designing. The audio will be available for anyone to download and to use under a Creative Commons license. Drum has constructed an in-progress version of the online archive in the form of a VR space featuring 360-degree sound of the oral narratives.
To enhance the community-building aspect of this initiative, Drum will offer free workshops to people who live in the municipalities where Monument Public Address System is presented. Workshop participants will create a simple AR project using Java Script within the 8th Wall platform; they will also to learn how to prepare aural and visual assets for the platform, including modeling, texturing and exporting virtual 3D objects. Drum has already scheduled such an AR workshop for February 2021 with an arts organization, Stove Works, in Chattanooga, TN that is hosting Monument Public Address System as part of a larger exhibition.