Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden transformed by 'invisible' art in augmented reality exhibition

One of Edinburgh’s best-known visitor attractions has been transformed by a major new exhibition – which can only be experienced on a smartphone or tablet.

Ai Weiwei's work Gilded Cage can be experienced at the Royal Botanic Garden.
Ai Weiwei's work Gilded Cage can be experienced at the Royal Botanic Garden.

Augmented reality technology has been used to create the latest visual art experience at the Royal Botanic Garden.

Visitors can enjoy work by artists from Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa, the United States and across the UK.

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But there is no physical sign of the exhibition, Seeing the Invisible, at the Botanics.

Salt Stalagmite, by Sigalit Landau, is part of the augmented reality exhibition at the Royal Botanic Garden.

Instead, the 13 works in the exhibition can be be seen in specially-chosen locations, to blend in with their surroundings, by downloading an augmented reality app for the show, which runs until August 2022.

Images from Seeing the Invisible showing how the works of art – which explore themes around nature, environment, sustainability – will appear on screen have been released by the Edinburgh attraction to coincide with its launch.

Visitors will be able to see a dancing figure, a temple cave, a shimmering portal, a gilded cage, a salt stalagmite, a bouquet of flowers and installations mate out of bottle caps against the backdrop of the Botanics.

The exhibition, which is said to “explore the interplay of the physical world with the digital one,” has emerged from the first collaboration of its kind between horticultural attractions around the world.

Eva Madden looks on at El Anatsui augmented reality piece AG + BA (AR), which is part of the new exhibition being hosted at the Royal Botanic Garden.

The same show has opened simultaneously in 12 different attractions around the world, including the Eden Project in Cornwall, Massachusetts Horticultural Society and botanic gardens in Denver, Jerusalem, Sarasota, Ontario, Melbourne, Arizona and San Diego.

Emma Nicolson, head of creative programming at the Botanics, said: “Installing Seeing the Invisible in the Gardens has been hugely rewarding. We’ve seen the Botanics in an entirely new light as artworks are discovered nestled between trees or arching over pathways and even in the case of Ai Weiwei’s work, redrawing the Edinburgh skyline.

"Not only does the exhibition showcase the work of these incredible artists, it encourages us to look more closely at the Gardens and appreciate the beauty and biodiversity of this unique setting.”

Tal Michael Haring, co-curator of the exhibition, said: “Coming out of the pandemic when outdoor experiences and nature have taken on a new meaning and gravity in our lives, this exhibition represents a fresh way for people to engage with art and nature simultaneously.

Timur Si-Qin's work Biome Gateway is part of the new exhibition.

“The interplay of these augmented reality works in vibrant natural settings breaks down the binary between what is often considered ‘natural’ versus ‘digital’, and in this way provides an exhibition experience that is much more connected to the way we live today.”

The work of the artists Ai Weiwei, Refik Anadol, El Anatsui, Ori Gersht, Mohammed Kazem, Sigalit Landau, Daito Manabe, Sarah Meyohas, Mel O’Callaghan, Pamela Rosenkranz, Timur Si-Qi and Jakob Kudsk Steensen is featured in the exhibition.

Hannah Rendell, executive director of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, which instigated the project, said: “There is exceptional potential for botanical gardens, with their deep expertise in engaging diverse audiences in their complex work, to lead the way in creating new models for visitor experiences of contemporary art.

“We are deeply gratified for the opportunity to forge new connections with partner gardens all across the globe, paving the way for what we hope will be many future collaborations.”

Mohammed Kazem's work Directions (Zero) is part of the augmented reality exhibition.

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