Seeing The Invisible | An Augmented Reality Contemporary Art Exhibition

Seeing the Invisible is an augmented reality contemporary art exhibition initiated by the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens in partnership with Outset Contemporary Art Fund, with the support of the Jerusalem Foundation. The first exhibition of its kind to be developed in collaboration with botanical gardens, it will open and be on view simultaneously at twelve different gardens around the world. The participating gardens all present the same exhibition, but as the works are augmented into the unique surroundings and context of each garden, the exhibition is experienced differently against the backdrop of each location, and is constructed, as a whole, on different iterations of the same corpus of works. An open-air exhibition, Seeing the Invisible continues the efforts to present and discuss art in the current pandemic crisis, while also allowing local communities to be exposed to the forefront of international contemporary art. The exhibition can only be viewed upon visiting the participating botanical gardens and through the Seeing the Invisible mobile app developed for this project.

The exhibition features thirteen augmented reality (AR) works by established artists from various countries. Co-curators, Hadas Maor (curator of contemporary art) and Tal Michael Haring (virtual and augmented reality expert and curator) worked with the artists to select existing works as well as commission new ones, and to position these new experiential artworks in unique spots in each of the participating botanical gardens. As institutions holding documented collections of living plants for the purpose of scientific research, conservation, display, and education, botanical gardens are hybrids in their own right, blending nature and cultivation, order and coincidence.

Setting these digital experiences inside botanical gardens, without disturbing the preservations, and keeping the carbon footprint to a minimum, the exhibition addresses themes pertaining to nature, environment, and sustainability and explores the boundaries and connections between art, technology, and nature. Both bleak and hopeful, each artwork offers a unique perspective on these unresolved issues, creating thought-provoking, experiential, and contemplative spaces for the viewers to immerse in.

As viewers are invited to explore the botanical gardens and actively locate the artworks scattered throughout them, they must use technological devices to establish the digital works into existence and, in many cases, experience the way their own physical presence affects the work and changes its course, further exploring the interrelations between the “art object” and the self. Since the works cannot be experienced online, but require viewers to physically visit the gardens, they offer a “phygital” experience combining the physical location and the digital manifestation. Thus, the exhibition invites viewers to also contemplate contemporary notions relating to site and non-site, physical and digital realms. 

In 1968 Robert Smithson created a series of works entitled Site/Nonsite. These geologically and geographically based works were part of Smithson’s ongoing radical challenge of the limits of sculptural practice, and paved the way for his most ambitious work, Spiral Jetty (1970). At the time of their creation, the tension between outdoors and indoors, scattered and contained, natural and constructed, was at the forefront of theoretical discourse and artistic practice. Today, as questions relating to the physical and digital realms are at the core of our existence, they become an inevitable part of artistic discussion and are at the heart of this exhibition.

So where can you see the exhibition?

The much anticipated augmented reality (AR) art exhibition titled: Seeing The Invisible has launched at our very own Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town. Visitors will be able to observe 13 contemporary artworks from internationally acclaimed artists by means of the ‘Seeing The Invisible’ app that will use physical locations in the Garden and augment the real world with virtual artworks.

Tips For Your Visit:
• The Seeing the Invisible app works on Android and iPhones not older than three years.
• We recommend downloading the app from the Google Play or App Store prior to arriving at Kirstenbosch.
• Complimentary wifi will be available from the Visitor Centre (Gate 1) to download the app, but there is no wifi along the art route.
• Visitors must use their own data to use the app.
• Bring earphones/headphones to experience the exhibition with all your senses.
• Make sure your phone is fully charged before you start.
• Be mindful of other visitors’ private space as well as the plant beds and installations.

The Seeing the Invisible exhibition runs from 22 September 2021 to August 2022. It will be held inside Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden off Rhodes Drive, Newlands in Cape Town. Kirstenbosch and the exhibition will be open every day. Entry to the exhibition is free but garden entry fees apply; Botanical Society (BotSoc) members with membership cards will gain free access to the garden and exhibition.

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