Augmented Archive App, showing the (now torn down) burning NDP building in Downtown Cairo

SEEING HISTORY – the augmented[archive]

The augmented[archive] is a digital art project, an iOS and Android app, for Cairo’s urban space. A growing, expanding archive, a topography of the possible, a map of fragments from a city’s manifold presents. The project takes the form of a spatial narrative, functioning like a speculative archaeological tool, leading you through real and virtual ruins of past, present and future of the city and its imaginary expansions. Its framework is a media architecture, a GPS-based archive that can be read and rewritten, open for your thoughts and interaction. A guide that speaks of the various contestations of the city and your personal encounters with and within them.
You will have to use a device to enter this virtual palimpsest, a smartphone, or a tablet and your imagination. Think of Walter Benjamin’s Arcade Project in the digital age of transmission and realtime; a fragmentary poem guiding you through actual and potential disasters and desires; spaces and times of here and now. While walking with this device you will experience video documents—recorded at the same place at other times; performances—absent yet present; associative story-telling—dreamlike yet hyper-real; suggestive instructions—asking for your own contribution and continuation of a story that is as conflicted, disjointed and elusive, as yourself and the city around you.

Augmented Archive App, showing the (now removed) military road blocks in Downtown Cairo

The augmented[archive] explores—in theory and practice—the changing medialities of the archival in its transition from a mode of recording and storing to a means of transmission. It is built as an iOS/Android app, employing GPS data, Augmented Reality and video streaming technology. It makes the various layers of a story, a city available site-specifically, i.e. at the location of their initial recording via GPS and mobile devices. Users of the app can thus explore the urban space through various layers, juxtaposing different layers of time onto a specific site as they are passing through it. Its media framework is conceived as an expanding, interactive platform enabling its users to contribute to this archive, by recording and uploading videos and other contributions to the narrative architecture themselves, giving form to the idea of a collection of speculative thought.

The augmented[archive] is an attempt to rethink our understanding of a city as a potential archive in the age of virtual networks, where notions of chronological time, site-specificity and linearity are displaced with the experience of real-time, simultaneity and virtual cloud architecture; where tradition cannot be separated from transmission; where an event unfolds as much in real as in virtual space. As in those events that took place in Cairo and other cities since January 2011, witnessed by a global audience: when citizen journalists documented the political disputes in the streets with their hand cameras and mobile phones, giving birth to new subjectivities and forms of political participation on- and offline. Eight years after, terms like the “Arab Spring” and the “Facebook-Revolution” have become historic, dated and cannot be used outside of quotation marks. How do we now deal with the abundance of traces, testimonies and traumata? What happens to those newly articulated subjectivities once they enter the all-objectifying realm of the archival? How to keep this contested past relevant and accessible in the present given the continuous attempts by the authorities to either erase or appropriate the emancipatory legacies of this immediate past?

We are used to navigate through our present via GPS and mobile devices, always aware of our real-time coordinates in actual and virtual worlds. Yet how can we employ these technologies critically? How can we navigate our multi-layered past bringing it into our immediate present? In the age of constant connectivity traditional forms of historiography fail to reflect our shifting sense of time and space, of a present that is enmeshed in the vast, instantly available repositories of our past-future.

The narration featured in this project consists of videos documenting events of recent history in and of the city, in addition to a series of short related interviews and performative interactions. The videos are partly from the video archive of Mosireen, a group of media activists that has produced and compiled one of the largest video archives related to the political and urban changes in Cairo from 2011-2013. This archive is currently inaccessible to the public.

These videos are accompanied by newly produced material — performances, texts, encounters, instructions, produced by Kaya Behkalam in collaboration with various performing and visual artists — creating a context for the archival material and taking users on a multi-layered tour through actual and potential layers of the urban fabric.
While the app’s menu offers a digital map marking all locations of video fragments produced as parts of this project, the user has to physically visit those sites in order to access the material. Users’ own contributions can be added at any point, uploaded and included into the media architecture. The project is in Arabic and English, available for download free of charge.

Watch a short video teaser: