Seeing The Invisible: The AR Experience At 12 Botanical Gardens Around The World


Watch out: Invisible art is coming to a garden near you. 

Perhaps thousands of miles from you, I experienced “the invisible” framed by eucalyptus at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. You might see it in front of cacti in Tucson or while wandering around Edinburgh’s stunning gardens. 

Seeing the Invisible is an augmented reality (AR) exhibition held simultaneously in 12 gardens across the globe from September 2021 to August 2022. 

Whether you live in or are traveling through the United States, Canada, Israel, England, Scotland, South Africa, or Australia, we can all share in this experience. The artworks are the same, but the backdrops differ. 

Born Of A Pandemic

Seeing the Invisible was initiated by the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens and Outset Contemporary Art Fund and is co-curated by Hadas Maor and Tal Michael Haring. 

COVID-19 increased our appetite for virtual interactions and for the great outdoors. This exhibition combines both. Tal Michael Haring explains, “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.” 

Isaac Julien CBE RA Stones Against Diamonds Ice Cave AR 2015 2021 2 of 2 Melbourne Gardens
Isaac Julien CBE RA, “Stones Against Diamonds (Ice Cave) AR,” 2015 (Photograph by Mathew Lynn)

My Experience 

Before leaving home, I downloaded the app on my phone. 

Being of a certain age, I’d missed the AR craze of Pokémon Go, but I’d seen young people outside on quests, so I understood the concept. 

The GPS-based app kicked in as soon as I parked near Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Garden, showing me a map of art sites, the closest entrance for my first encounter. 

The gardens had also physically signposted each artwork’s location. Once I discovered that you must point the phone’s camera at the ground, not at the sign, the artworks sprang to life. I saw the invisible, and It felt magical. 

First was Ai Weiwei’s Gilded Cage. While other visitors observed a garden bed, I saw a massive cage. Stepping back to fit the structure on my screen, people walked in front of me. I saw them entering a trap of gilded bars that only I could see.

Mohammed Kazem’s work Zero rises like an arch that people can walk beneath. The inscriptions are geographic coordinates of every country in the world. The artwork reflects the significance of the number zero and reminds people of the role of the Persian mathematician Muhammad Ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi.

Ori Gersht’s Forget Me Not seems a disarming still life flower arrangement. Enchanted, I reached for the flowers, which exploded in a whirlwind of confetti. I’m sure the gardeners were pleased the petals were virtual and not a mess to rake up. 

Daito Manabe’s Morphecore Prototype needs to be experienced through the app as his figure dances, morphing into new shapes. The artist, programmer, and DJ used MRI scans of his brain translating these into digital movements that choreograph his 3D-scanned body. 

I have only described a few of the 13 installations, but hopefully, you get the picture. This exhibition is so much more than flat images. 

Bring earphones. I was in front of Refik Anadol’s Machine Hallucinations: Nature Dreams, a psychedelic experience where the artist uses 68,986,479 million raw images compiled from nature. The artwork pulsates and emanates sounds. I made a few sounds when I first saw it. People wandered over, as it looked like I was staring at nothing and making strange noises. These people were the Pokemon generation, so it felt good showing them how to use the app. 

Pro Tip: While invisible to the naked eye, you can photograph the artwork using your device. Selfies might be difficult, but someone else could screenshot the app with you in the frame. 

The Artists 

Seeing the Invisible features new works by more than a dozen international artists, including Chinese Ai Weiwei, Australian Mel O’Callahan, Turkey’s Refik Anadol, Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui and British video artist Isaac Julien. Other artists include Ori Gersht, Mohammed Kazem, Sigalit Landau, Sarah Meyohas, and Jakob Kudsk Steensen. For some, this is their first time working in AR.

The Power Of Art To Connect People To Nature

Art is only half the experience. The show also points to botanical gardens as fascinating subjects. Botanic gardens became fashionable during European colonialism when botanists started collecting plants from over the world. With their vast plant collections, they are stunning places to visit. 

Below are the gardens where you can experience this exhibition. The exhibition is free, but garden entrance fees may apply, and some gardens are across multiple sites, so I have included exhibition details for each venue. 

Mohammed Kazem, Directions (Zero), 2020, 2021 at Massachusetts Horticultural Society, The Gardens at Elm Bank.
Mohammed Kazem, Directions (Zero)

1. Massachusetts Horticultural Society, Wellesley

Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Garden at Elm Bank is a horticultural jewel of Greater Boston. As America’s first established horticultural society, it has practiced horticulture “for the public good” since 1829. The gardens are a serene place of beauty and contemplation. Several plant societies and garden clubs have installed permanent displays to inspire home gardeners. Garden spaces include the Italianate Garden, the New England Trial Garden, and Weezie’s Garden for Children. 

Exhibition Details

2. Denver Botanic Gardens

Denver Botanic Gardens is a beautiful oasis in the city’s heart and one of the top botanical gardens in the United States. Enjoy a giant water lily pond, a Japanese garden, and 18 arid gardens showcasing Colorado’s plants. The garden often has a rotating lineup of art shows. See TravelAwaits’ 11 Reasons To Visit The Denver Botanic Gardens Any Time Of Year. 

Exhibition Details 

Refik Anadol, "Machine Hallucinations," at San Diego Botanic Garden.
Refik Anadol, “Machine Hallucinations,” at San Diego Botanic Garden

3. San Diego Botanic Garden

TravelAwaits readers voted San Diego Botanic Gardens (SDBG) one of the best botanical gardens in the United States, as did the American Public Gardens Association. The 37-acre urban oasis has 4 miles of trails through microclimates ranging from tropical rainforest to desert. Highlights include the largest public bamboo collection in North America and Hamilton Children’s Garden, the largest children’s garden on the west coast. Here’s a lovely example of Sarah Meyohas AR work captured at SDBG. 

Exhibition Details

4. Tucson Botanical Gardens

The Canadian Garden Council named this tranquil oasis one of the top 10 North American Gardens worth traveling for. Enjoy mature trees and specialty gardens such as the Cactus & Succulent Garden, Barrio Garden, and Herb Garden. From October to May, see tropical butterflies from around the world at the Cox Butterfly & Orchid Pavilion.

Exhibition Details

5. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota, Florida

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens was founded in 1973 when Marie Selby bequeathed her former home “for the enjoyment of the general public.” Enjoy a bayfront oasis with a rare and beautiful collection of tropical plants. It claims to be the only botanical garden in the world dedicated to the display and study of epiphytic orchids, bromeliads, gesneriads, and ferns. Selby Gardens comprises the 15-acre downtown Sarasota campus and the 30-acre Historic Spanish Point campus less than 10 miles away. 

Exhibition Details

6. Royal Botanical Gardens, Ontario, Canada

Located at the head of Lake Ontario in Burlington/Hamilton, Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) is the largest botanical garden in Canada and a National Historic Site. There are 2,700 acres of protected wetlands, parkland, botanical collections, and display gardens. Engage with local artists and enjoy music and culinary delights during RGB After Dark sessions of Seeing the Invisible. 

Exhibition Details 

7. Eden Project, Cornwall, England

The Eden Project offers sustainable architecture that wouldn’t look out of place on Mars. The strange sight of bubble-like biomes has drawn millions of visitors from around the world, including President Joe Biden and Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, during the 2021 G7 summit reception. Trek through the world’s largest indoor rainforest. Immerse yourself in the calm fragrance of the Mediterranean biome. Enjoy extensive outdoor gardens and contemporary artworks.

Exhibition Details

Ai WeiWei, "Gilded Cage AR," 2021.
Ai WeiWei, “Gilded Cage AR,” 2021

8. Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, Scotland

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a national treasure of Scotland and the second-oldest institution of its kind in Britain. It was founded near Holyrood in 1670 as a physic garden to grow medicinal plants and moved to its present location in 1823. Today, it occupies four sites across Scotland, each with its special collection. The Edinburgh site has 70 beautifully landscaped acres, Victorian glasshouses, banks of rhododendrons and azaleas, and a world-famous rock garden. 

Exhibition Details

9. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Cape Town, South Africa

Set in the foothills of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch Gardens are among the most beautiful in the world. More than 7,000 of southern Africa’s plant species are grown here, including proteas, heaths, and ericas. Enjoy the Tree Canopy Walkway and its sensational views. In 2004, the Cape Floristic Region, including Kirstenbosch, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Exhibition Details

El Anatsui, "AG + BA (AR)," 2014-2021.
El Anatsui, “AG + BA (AR),” 2014-2021 (Photograph by Mathew Lynn)

10. Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne, Australia 

Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria has been a treasured part of Melbourne’s existence for over 175 years. Set on 94 acres, this is a wonderful place for shady picnics, besides lakes on green lawns. “Doing The Tan” means conquering the 2.4-mile jogging track around the circumference. Punt on the lakes, as if in Cambridge. Don’t expect koalas. The gardens are way too European. 

Exhibition Details

11. Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Cranbourne, Australia 

The Cranbourne Gardens offers an Australian twist on the traditional botanic garden. Located 28-miles southeast of Melbourne, the experience is like walking through a series of state-of-art landscaped gardens. Each its own entity The innovative concept received a string of design awards. Remove your shoes to wander through the Rockpool Waterway Escarpment, cross waterways on giant lily pads, cool off in arbors, under Australian climbing plants. Trek through deserts but watch out for snakes! The colors are intense: red earth, deep greens, and an Australian blue sky. Enjoy 6 miles of walking trails or 3.7 miles of bicycle tracks. 

Exhibition Details

Ori Gersht, "Forget Me Not," 2021.
Ori Gersht, “Forget Me Not,” 2021

12. Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, Jerusalem 

The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens are Israel’s oldest and largest botanical gardens. The 30-acre garden is home to over 6,000 species and varieties of plants from around the world —  displayed in six geographical sections: southern Africa, Europe, North America, Australia, Southeast, and Central Asia, and the Mediterranean. There’s always something in bloom. The gardens also boast one of the largest bonsai collections outside Japan. 

Exhibition Details

Pro Tips: Seeing the Invisible is free, but garden entrance fees may apply. Post or explore images using the hashtag #seeingtheinvisible on Facebook and Instagram. Downloadable on the App Store or Google Play. 

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