Friday, September 24, 2021

Seeing the Invisible at San Diego Botanic Garden, Encinitas

by Patricia Frischer

El Anatsui - AG + BA (AR) The shadow of the rock and the slight lifting of the drapery as if disturbed by wind in this work make it truly magical. Don't forget to walk up close to see how pieces of aluminum or tin are joined with jump rings making this such an impressive piece of recycling. 

San Diego Botanic Garden (SDBG) in Encinitas is “showing” artworks created to enhance the real physical world. This augmented reality (AR)  exhibition Seeing the Invisible  includes works by 13 artists:  Ai Weiwei, El Anatsui, Mohammed Kazem, Sigalit Landau, Mel O'Callaghan, Isaac Julien CBE, Sarah Meyohas, Daito Manabe, Timur Si-Qin, Jakob Kudsk Steensen, Pamela Rosenkranz,  Refik Anadol, and Ori Gersht. 

This means that as you wander through this exquisite garden, you use a smart device and the invisible becomes visible. Some of the artists present moving images, others images that you move through and around. Sound is supplied to enhance and sometimes challenges you. The garden supplies smells and touches of wind and sun. No I didn’t eat any of the fruit I saw, but it was tempting to make this a fully 5 senses experience. 

Nothing about this was static as you had to participate to get the full effect by moving your body and even interacting with others on the site. A few of the works were scary, others were meditative but they all involved you with a surprise of some sort and many engendered questions.

I know this was not intended to be a Halloween specific display, but put it on your to-do list of haunted properties. And go with friends and family, if you can, as like going to the movies in a real theater, the audience adds to the thrill. 

This show will premiere across 12 gardens in six countries simultaneously in September 2021 will be available for a whole year until August, 2022. So in our local venue the works might be seen in a coastal setting but somewhere else it might be in a forest. It is co-curated by Hadas Maor and Tal Michael Haring organized by Jerusalem Botanical Gardens and Outset Contemporary Art Fund.  At SDBG, the president and CEO Ari Novy started this process one years ago, but SDBG was lucky to hire Senior Director of Education and Visitor Services Tomoko Kuta who joined the staff in April and helped to plan each location for optimal viewing. 

Besides investigating the subjects of each of the works, this is a chance to explore the interplay of the physical world with the digital one. It aims to present nature AND digital instead of nature versus digital.

You need a smartphone or tablet to experience these work available to download from Apple App or Google Play App. The exhibition is included in the price of admittance to the gardens and free to members. If your device is not enabled, you can borrow an iphone from SDBG on a first come first serve basis. 

My great thanks to Lourdes Munoz  who escorted me around the display and to Ashley Grable who set up my tour. 

Ari Novy on his World of Bromeliads throne

Ai Weiwei - Stoll through a Gilded Cage with turnstiles which makes that familiar sound as you ratchet around the space.  Look up and yearn for freedom. Or consider yourself safely cocooned from the outside world but with a view. 

Sigalit Landau  - Salt Stalagmite #1 [Three Bridges] Walk all away a round this mountain of miniature waterfalls and moats, hear the water and glide over arches avoiding the barbed wire. This work is based on the idea of salt bridges from the Dead Sea serving to connect warring factions in the Middle East, resulting in peace. 

Mohammed Kazem - Directions (Zero) Sited on a dramatic overlook, this enormous zero looms up and over you but peer closely to see the writing on the surface are location of every country in the world. And visit often to see the ever changing color. 

Isaac Julien CBE - Stones Agaist Diamond is a slow walk through ice caves in Iceland. All side of these five screens are changing and relating to each other and you as you encircle the work. Slowly the images change, and overlap with your movement. The beauty of the ice is revealed as precious as diamonds. 

Mel O'Callaghan -Pneuma One of the most powerful of the works, this globe distorts your view of the bamboo where it is sited, But as you can move inside the image, the heavy breathing and pulsing of the shapes becomes truly ominous. 


Daito Manabe - Morphecore Prototype AR Does this figure look stilted? Just wait to  see him start to dance and as the frenetic pace increased, his limbs are more and more disjointed. Add to that, you can walk right through him and the pixels start to dissolve and then re-align.  The artist extracted MRI scans of his brain and used this raw data to determine the digital movement. 

Jakob Kudsk Steensen - Water Serpent Sorry not to have a better image of this wicked piece of dried out cactus with a giant coiling snake eye that is almost obscene as it follows where ever you go. The artists states that it has "positive spirits and omens of life." You decide, but sounds of water where they is none does give pause. 

Ori Gersht - Forget Me Not Yep, it looks like just a 17th century Dutch vase of flowers, but then as you come close, it explodes with a loud noise (big bang theory) and the individual flowers, petals, leaves, glass and insects are shot into the air and then float down. Makes you think about the state of our own environment. 

Pamela Rosenkranz - Anamazon (Limb) This ghoulish green limb grows out of a real bright green leafed plant, but looking closely at the base, you can see a weird green glop dripping onto the ground. Shades of the Wicked Witch meets Little Shop of Horrors as this could be plant or human arteries and veins.  

Refik Anadol - Machine Hallucinations: Nature Dreams AR This abstract painting comes to life, pulsing as if the artist's paint was alive and trying to escape the frame. The colors are beautiful and the shapes enticing. But the algorithm that generates this work is based on natural images. (68,986,479 million of them)!

Sarah Meyohas - Dawn Chorus A simple grand piano playing itself with keys moving and string vibrating but then the blue birds (of happiness?) whips through the scene. When I changed my stance I came face to face with one of these creatures. These birds are what I imagined Cinderella's seamstress birds were like as they outfitted her for the ball.  Are the birds conducting the music or is the music orchestrating the birds movement?


Timur Si-Qin -  Biome Gateway It is hard to remember you are standing in the middle of a parking lot as you enter this dark cave with florescent cave drawings on the walls. Suddenly a ellipse of light beckons you forward and you find yourself outside under a star filled night. Nope, it is still sunny and bright in the real world, but this is a strong shift in perspective.  

Some helpful tips to make the most of your visit:
  • If you have not been to the Botanic Garden recently, there is a new entrance which is just a few block north from the old entrance. It is well marked and you park in a lot right next to the Dickenson Family glass conservatory. 
  • When you download the app, swipe up to start, try to find the signs for each of the AG sites. The little blue direction cones help to orient you to the right direction.
  • Put your sound level on high for the best experience. 
  • The app will let you know when you are there and then follow the prompts.
  • Try centering at different points of the same work especially if the sun is in your eyes.
  • Move around and even through the works, Look up and down and go up close.
  • If you smart device is not accepeted, borrow one of the loaner phones (which I had to do).
  • Go back again on a day with different weather as the background is so much a part of the experience and the AG is available until August of 2022.
  • Take water with you and make sure your device is chargedh!
Here are a few bonus images of the World of Bromeliads which was in the new Dickinson Family Education Conservatory. 

A wonderful tower of Bromeliads.

This wonderful new space can be used for all sorts of events. When the Bromeliads are gone, the large overhead displays can be lowered to fill the space or stay high to accommodate a large crowd. What a beautiful venue for a wedding!

300 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas, CA 92024
Wednesday - Sunday 9 am - 5 pm (Closed Christmas)
Admission charges vary
760-436-3036 x231

Want more digital exhibitions: Digital Me opens to the public on Saturday, October 9 at the Fleet Science Center through January 9, 2022 and was created by Amir Schorr, produced by Madatech: The Israel National Museum of Science, Technology and Space. It lets you track your digital footprint in the world with over a dozen larger-than-life exhibits covering geolocation, facial recognition, Artificial Intelligence, computer vision, data privacy including some wacky Insta-filters. 

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