Phoenix-based artist Jen Urso is working on an augmented reality artwork for Canal Convergence. (Photo courtesy Jen Urso)

By Kristine Cannon

You’ll need more than just your face mask and hand sanitizer at this year’s Canal Convergence.

To get the most out of the 10-day experience, attendees will also need to download a cell phone app to experience the more than 20 augmented reality experiences.

“We wanted to do something like this for some time,” says Natalie Marsh, director of Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation, “and given our current situation, where we’re encouraging people to experience the artwork during Canal Convergence all the time but experience things in smaller groups, we just felt this was the right year to launch augmented reality.”

Due to COVID-19, the hands-on, in-person activities and workshops were stripped from the annual event.

However, attendees will have the opportunity to engage with more than 25 augmented reality experiences and virtual offerings, including a few virtual workshops, across the Waterfront and downtown area.

Canal Convergence partnered with Boston augmented reality platform and camera browser Hoverlay.

The AR experiences are triggered via location or QR code. People will either be notified on their phone of an AR experience once they have stepped into a location with one or scan a QR code on-site to activate the experience.

“What’s great about it is we’re still able to provide all of those experiences people are used to having, but people can do it on their own terms now,” Marsh says. “You can still have fun with Canal Convergence, no matter where you are.”

AR experiences range from hologram videos of the artists discussing their artwork to AR artworks people can interact with from anywhere, including their backyard.

Phoenix artist Casey Farina is one of the Canal Convergence artists working on the latter.

“It seems like a good use for the technology really motivated by the circumstances,” Farina says.

In addition to providing a physical art installation called “Across the Divide,” Farina is working on “Keeping Time,” described as a “kinetic sculpture presented in augmented reality.”

Best experienced under an open sky, Farina’s audio-visual experience immerses the user in an array of animated, rotating bell-like structures that extend toward the sky.

The user will also hear bell-like sounds as the structures orbit around the user.

While Farina has created plenty of other interactive video installations, “Keeping Time” marks his first finished AR piece.

“I’ve done a lot of interactive work before, but seeing how people interact through this window and the actual space should be to be really interesting. I’m anxious to see how that plays out,” Farina says.

Fellow Phoenix artist Jen Urso is also creating an AR experience for Canal Convergence.

Urso’s AR artwork is called “Magnified Mundane Magnificent” and is considered a geolocated AR artwork, meaning you’ll have to be in the area for it to activate.

The exact location of Urso’s AR is yet to be determined, but it will be somewhere in Old Town.

“When you hold your phone up to that location, you would see this thing blossoming out of the ground, like a bouquet of line drawings that magnifies everything that’s shown in that very small spot,” Urso explains.

After scouting several spots in Scottsdale, Urso found an alleyway where she was able to sample different plants, which she then took home and looked at under varying levels of magnification.

“And I’m creating drawings of that in all those varying levels of magnification,” she says.

Urso’s AR also teaches users about the plants. “You’d be able to hold it up and explore this micro world,” she says.

Budapest-based Koros Design will also have a unique AR experience at the Scottsdale Artists’ School.

Guests will be able to walk into a portal and, through 360-degree images, see their workshop, including all the tools they use and the kinds of machine-work they have in their studio.

Koros Design is also hosting a virtual workshop via Zoom from its studio in Hungary.

“That’s another benefit of this time we’re living in,” Marsh says. “Now that we’re becoming used to using technology as a vehicle for connecting with each other and learning more, this just seems like the right time to launch these pieces and do some more of this kind of technically based engagements.”

Canal Convergence will offer a few other virtual workshops in place of the more than 130 physical ones they hosted last year.

Farina will host one on the coding and the technology he uses when creating interactive video installations and AR.

“The (virtual workshops) are still not going to be anywhere near the number of people we engaged last year, but the quality of them is what we’re aiming for—that personal experience,” Marsh explains.

Scottsdale Arts is also working on permanent AR experiences in the downtown area.

For example, at One-Eyed Jack, the larger-than-life white rabbit sculpture on the corner of Marshall Way and Indian School Road, users can watch Tempe-based artist John Randall Nelson talk via hologram about the inspiration behind the piece.

At Bob Parks’ Bronze Horse Fountain on Fifth Avenue, users can watch Scottsdale Public Art’s Curator of Collections & Exhibitions Wendy Raisanen give the history of the donated artwork, including that the horses do, in fact, have names.

And at the Passing the Legacy sculpture located at the Marshall Way roundabout near Olive & Ivy, users can listen to the head of the Navajo County Sheriff’s Hash Knife Posse talk all about the Hash Knife and how it culminates at said sculpture.

“What’s cool about these is that unless you’ve gone on a public art tour, a lot of these stories are sometimes hidden,” Marsh says.

Canal Convergence is also partnering with Phoenix College and the Cosanti Foundation to design permanent AR experiences along the canal and at Soleri Bridge and Plaza.

Phoenix College will design an experience at the canal that invites people to explore the wildlife beneath its surface.

“They’re working with information from SRP,” Marsh says. “And when you hover your phone over the QR code, it’ll trigger almost like an aquarium to pop up and have that virtually swimming in front of you,” Marsh explains.

Cosanti Foundation is creating time-lapse videos and 360-degree videos that invite users to walk through a virtual portal and explore both Cosanti and Arcosanti.

“We didn’t want to ignore our permanent art collection, also located in the vicinity, so we’ve selected about 12 pieces from the permanent collection that are within walking distance of the waterfront,” Marsh says.

Marsh says they were initially worried about adding the AR element to the Canal Convergence artists’ respective workloads, but “surprisingly, every single one of them came up with a cool creative way to do it.”

Now, Marsh’s concern is attendees won’t know to use their phones and the Hoverlay app to activate the AR experiences.

“Be prepared to engage in the artwork in a different way,” Marsh says. “Unless you played Pokémon Go, you probably have never used AR and so you don’t know how fun it can be.”

“I really hope that people take advantage of this and they play with it,” she adds.

Canal Convergence takes place November 6 to November 15.

Hoverlay is available for download on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

The Canal Convergence AR experience will be available under the “Canal Convergence” channel on Hoverlay closer to the start of the event.

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