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Track down ‘invisible’ art at Gardens by the Bay’s augmented reality show

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Gardens by the Bay is hosting an “invisible” art exhibition.

The 12 art installations of the Seeing The Invisible exhibition include works by renowned artists such as Ai Weiwei, Sir Isaac Julien and El Anatsui, and are visible only via augmented reality (AR).

Visitors have to download an app and an Internet connection is required. A word of warning though: The app drains battery power quickly and it froze twice on a test run, so a power pack and patience is required for this art trail.

Gardens by the Bay is the only Asian venue for the show, which opened on Oct 12 and is scheduled to run for a year. Nine other gardens around the world are also hosting this virtual exhibition.

AR reduces the carbon footprint of the show as there is no need to transport actual artworks and visitors are invited to think about art consumption in new ways. It also offers international art lovers the chance to view the exhibit simultaneously in different countries.

While well-intentioned, the show poses some challenges for art-lovers as the installations are scattered throughout the Gardens, and it takes effort to track down each work. The in-app map is, unfortunately, not interactive and needs some deciphering.

For easier navigation, refer to this map.

Navigating the exhibition proves difficult without an interactive in-app map. PHOTO: GARDENS BY THE BAY

At a leisurely pace, the whole exhibition takes about two hours to navigate, though it can easily be completed sooner if one knows the Gardens well.

Of the 12 installations, the standouts are Ai’s Gilded Cage, a magnificent structure that stands in the middle of a grassy hill. When sunlight hits it at the right angle, it feels like a scene from a fantasy novel.

Mel O’Callaghn’s Pneuma offers a virtual portal that distorts the landscape. PHOTO: GARDENS BY THE BAY

Pneuma, an installation by Australian artist Mel O’Callaghan, creates a virtual portal that distorts the landscape as if it were a funhouse mirror. This is a fun work to see with friends as one can see how the portal distorts people’s appearances.

Perhaps the most impressive sight is Emirati artist Mohammed Kazem’s Directions (Zero).

A giant bronze ring, embedded in the grass, is covered with geographical coordinates of every country in the world. The magnitude of the installation and the coordinates create a sense of wonder, as if asking visitors to consider their place in the world.

Mohammed Kazem’s Directions (Zero) is a bronze ring covered with the geographical coordinates of every country in the world. PHOTO: GARDENS BY THE BAY

The location of each installation is marked by a bright yellow sign detailing information about the piece and the artist. Despite its colour, the stand is easily missed or mistaken as another banner about the Gardens. O’Callaghan’s stand is even hidden behind trees.

New York-based artist Timur Si-Qin’s Biome Gateway is the most interactive installation, where one can actually walk into a virtual cave environment. But unless visitors pay close attention to the information panel’s lengthy wall of text, this is not immediately obvious and most will probably miss this element of the work.

Another shortcoming is that the app’s pop-ups are location-based. This creates some awkward wandering around each marker to prompt the art to show up, and often results in the visitor having to backtrack to fit an oversized installation on the device’s screen.

In good weather, the walk to each installation is enjoyable. However, the venue offers little shelter from sudden rain and high temperatures can discourage visitors from taking their time to appreciate the exhibition.

The show presents a different way to view art installations, but lacks consideration for visitor experiences and easy navigation.

View it

What: Seeing The Invisible
Where: Gardens by the Bay, 18 Marina Gardens Drive
When: Daily, 5 to 2am
Admission: Free

Gardens by the BayAUGMENTED REALITYartexhibition