Immersive art that fuses technology with traditional exhibits has become the latest fad in Denver’s art scene. Along with Meow Wolf, which opens this month, Denverites have been able to see the concept on display during Shiki Dreams by Prismajic, Novo Ita at Spectra Art Space, or Van Gogh Alive at Stanley Marketplace. Yet few venues have featured art enhanced by what is known as augmented reality (AR)—a tech-powered window that adds another lens to what you already see with your eyes.
Now, starting September 21, Denver Botanic Gardens is hosting an AR experience called Seeing the Invisible. The exhibit features contemporary sculptures from world-renowned artists such as Ai Weiwei, Jakob Kudsk Steensen, and Sarah Mehoyas, among others.
A smartphone is the only tool viewers will need to see the art. To start, people will download the Seeing the Invisible app, available in the App Store and Google Play. They’ll then be guided via maps to various physical locations in the gardens. Once they approach a virtual piece, signs and app notifications will let visitors know to open up the app, which they can use to admire the works—visible on a phone, but invisible to the naked eye.
“We experience so much through our phones these days, and we love to take pictures of what we see to share our experiences,” says Jen Tobias, associate director of exhibitions and art collections at Denver Botanic Gardens. “This is such an interesting way that integrates that, and many of the works comment on technology and our experiences with nature.”
In fact, the creators of the exhibit—Jerusalem Botanic Gardens and Outset Contemporary Art Fun—were intent on choosing botanical gardens as the location for their virtual works. Denver Botanic Gardens is just one of 12 gardens around the world that will simultaneously launch the AR experience, found at locales in Australia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Each artwork comments on themes, such as nature and sustainability, all while exploring the connection between the natural world and the technological, man-made world.
“We’re always looking to connect people to plants,” Tobias says. “This is another experience that we can offer people to think about the relationship between themselves, nature, and technology.”
Curating augmented art is vastly different from traditional art. Instead of finding a spot on a gallery wall, Tobias and her team were tasked with locating the best landscapes within the garden that would serve as a home for each artwork. The augmented sculptures could not be placed too close to one another—which could cause technical glitches—nor could they be placed somewhere where they would be interrupted by a bush or a tree. The team also worked with GPS developers to make sure the desired locations were compatible with the app’s technology. The months of development and beta testing have ensured that when the project opens to the public, the art and technology will come together seamlessly.
Some of the pieces are even interactive, allowing guests to enter into the artworks and see them from the inside. Worried about how to get a good shot for Instagram? Just have a friend screenshot the app with you in frame—the experience allows for plenty of photos.
“We ultimately just want people to have fun,” Tobias says. “It’s a neat experience to walk through the gardens and see these invisible things spring to light when you look in the right spot. We’re always looking to bring some joy into people’s lives and let them relax and have a good time.”
If you go: Seeing the Invisible opens on September 21 at Denver Botanic Gardens’ York Street location. There is no extra cost to view the exhibition on top of an admission ticket, which is $11-$15. Tickets must be purchased in advance and are timed entry.