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Augmented reality brings art to gardens

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El Anatsui, a sculptor from Western Africa, whose iconic recycled bottle-top installations shimmer gently as though moved by a soft wind.
El Anatsui, a sculptor from Western Africa, whose iconic recycled bottle-top installations shimmer gently as though moved by a soft wind.

“Art is a harmony parallel with nature,” said the 19th Century French artist Paul Cézanne. For the next year or so, art and nature will not only be in harmony at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, they will merge, and then some.

An augmented reality (AR) art exhibition launched at the gardens on Wednesday 22 September. Entitled Seeing the Invisible, the exhibition opened as one of 12 participating gardens across six countries.

The ground breaking exhibition allows Kirstenbosch visitors to observe 13 contemporary artworks from internationally acclaimed artists by means of a technology-mediated experience. The Seeing the Invisible app will use physical locations in Kirstenbosch and augment the real world with virtual artworks.

The exhibition is being featured simultaneously in 12 other biomes all around the world. For example, the tapestry from artist El Anatsui may appear on a phone in the area of the Kirstenbosch concert lawn while a visitor to the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh will discover the same artwork among giant redwoods.

“The AR technology is the first of its kind to be used in an exhibition at a SANBI Botanical Garden,” says Sarah Struys, events and tourism manager at Kirstenbosch. “Kirstenbosch visitors will be able to engage with global artists’ masterpieces. You’ll be able to walk around or through some of the pieces and even hear sound effects.”

Each artwork explores the boundaries and connections between art, technology and nature, some with thought-provoking perspectives.

Among the artists is El Anatsui, a sculptor from Western Africa, whose iconic recycled bottle-top installations shimmer gently as though moved by a soft wind. It’s a first for El Anatsui’s art to be adapted to AR.

Other exhibits include new work by Sigalit Landau, which offers the viewer endless routes of investigation, both around and inside the hidden creeks of a work inspired by the natural formation of a salt stalagmite.

Also new, work by Jakob Kudsk Steensen revolves around the organic shape of a dried branch of cacti, furthering his re-examination of the desert as omens of life, rather than symbols of death.

In addition, the exhibition includes a meticulous translation of Ai Weiwei’s Gilded Cage into AR, and addresses issues related to power structures, habitats, borders, confinement, and restriction, but also caregiving, preservation and nurturing.

Seeing the Invisible was developed as a collaboration of botanical gardens around the world. It was initiated by the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens and Outset Contemporary Art Fund, with the support of The Jerusalem Foundation.

It is co-curated by Hadas Maor and Tal Michael Haring.

“Seeing the Invisible was born out of a collaboration during the pandemic with the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, which opened our eyes to the incredible opportunities for creating an entirely new kind of contemporary art experience within the setting of a botanical garden,” says a joint statement by Outset Contemporary Art Fund co-founder Candida Gertler OBE and Outset Contemporary Art Fund Israel Director Mirav Katri. “We are thrilled to be partnering with exceptional gardens from across the world on this exhibition. It bridges the physical and digital worlds to create a new ‘phygital’ model, pairing their expert knowledge of their field together with the most cutting-edge technology in contemporary art to develop a new exhibition format beyond the typical museum or gallery space.”

Visitors will be able to access the 13 Seeing the Invisible artworks at Kirstenbosch via a smartphone or tablet through the Seeing the Invisible app. The app is available for free to download from the Google Play or App Store.

The Seeing the Invisible exhibition is now on until August next year. It opened on Wednesday 22 September. to It will be held inside Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens off Rhodes Drive, Newlands daily.

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.

  • For additional information about the exhibition at Kirstenbosch, visit or Follow #SeeingTheInvisible on social media for further updates.

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