make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend


‘Seeing the Invisible’: experiencing the phygital in botanical spaces

Co-curators Hadas Maor and Tal Michael Haring discuss with STIR the ambitious augmented reality project titled Seeing the Invisible.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Feb 18, 2023

“Seeing the Invisible is an augmented reality contemporary art exhibition initiated by the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens in partnership with Outset Contemporary Art Fund, with the support of the Jerusalem Foundation.” This is how the exhibition's site introduces it, and a conversation with the co-curators engenders a deeper understanding as to the intricacies of this fascinating and future-forward project in TechArt. Hadas Maor, a contemporary art curator based in Tel Aviv, tells STIR that she and Tal Michael Haring, who is also a curator, and an XR art producer, purposefully identified a group of like-minded and established artists, and blended this line-up with some up-and-comers who are creating exciting work right now. Haring says, “The themes of the exhibition are sustainability, climate change, humans and nature. So, we looked at artists from that lens; artists who already talk about these kinds of issues within their work.” He continues, discussing two key points of focus for the curatorial team, and shares, “It was interesting to look at video artists and think about how we could translate that kind of practice into AR. This was the first thing. The second thing was that, just like our blend of prominences, we also wanted to have some artists who had worked with AR / VR, along with artists whose practice was very interesting to us, but had no experience with this tech.” Maor adds to this, explaining that "some works part of Seeing the Invisible are pre-existing pieces which were translated to AR, and other works were built from scratch, for the project."

Directions (Zero), 2010/2021, AR, Mohammed Kazem |Seeing the Invisible| STIRworld
Directions (Zero), 2010/2021, AR, Mohammed Kazem Image: Hadas Maor and Tal Michael Haring; Courtesy of Mohammed Kazem, Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, Outset Contemporary Art Fund, and Jerusalem Foundation

Seeing the Invisible's site stresses on the fact that is the first exhibition of its kind to be developed in collaboration with the Botanical Gardens, and that its ambit extends simultaneously to 12 different gardens around the world. The exhibition features 13 augmented reality (AR) works by artists including Ai Weiwei, Daito Manabe and Refik Anadol. While the participating gardens all present the same exhibition, the works on display are augmented keeping in mind the geographical and contextual specificities of the gardens, and the exhibition is therefore experienced differently at each location.

Pneuma, 2021, AR, Mel O’Callaghan |Seeing the Invisible | STIRworld
Pneuma, 2021, AR, Mel O’Callaghan Image: Hadas Maor and Tal Michael Haring; Courtesy of the Mel O’Callaghan, Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, Outset Contemporary Art Fund, Jerusalem Foundation

Seeing the Invisible is open-air and continues the rich efforts made since the pandemic to explore art through new experiential languages, while also placing front and centre, local creative communities to be exposed to the audience-ship of international contemporary art. The curatorial team wished to create a participatory element within it: the exhibition can only be viewed by participating visitors at the gardens where it is conducted, and only through the Seeing the Invisible mobile app developed for it. Regarding this, Maor says, "One cannot view the works from afar in the app. They must go to the space with the app open and walk around in close proximity to view them. These pieces are activated, and in some cases modified, depending on the viewer’s presence and proximity from the work."

Stones Against Diamonds (Ice Cave) AR, 2015/2021, AR, Isaac Julien |Seeing the Invisible | STIRworld
Stones Against Diamonds (Ice Cave) AR, 2015/2021, AR, Isaac Julien Image: Hadas Maor and Tal Michael Haring; Courtesy of the Isaac Julien, Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, Outset Contemporary Art Fund, Jerusalem Foundation

Setting these digital experiences up for wide viewership inside botanical gardens was undoubtedly a difficult process that was compounded by the project’s drive to undertake this without disturbing the gardens’ own preservations, and while keeping the carbon footprint generated to a bare minimum. Each artwork on display is meant to be moving and morose in equal measure, and as a note by the project’s organisers tells us: Offer contemplative moments for the viewers to immerse themselves in. As viewers are invited to explore the botanical gardens and actively locate the artworks scattered throughout them, they must use technological devices to establish the digital works into existence and, in many cases, experience the way their own physical presence affects the work and changes its course, further exploring the interrelations between the "art object" and the self. Since the works cannot be experienced online, but require viewers to physically visit the gardens, they offer a ‘phygital’ experience combining the physical location and the digital manifestation. Thus, the exhibition invites viewers to also contemplate contemporary notions relating to site and non-site; physical and digital realms. The project takes some cues from Robert Smithson’s 1968 series of works entitled Site/Nonsite,, that were geologically and geographically based pieces which were “part of Smithson’s ongoing radical challenge of the limits of sculptural practice, and paved the way for his most ambitious work,  Spiral Jetty (1970). At the time of their creation, the tension between outdoors and indoors, scattered and contained, natural and constructed, was at the forefront of theoretical discourse and artistic practice. Today, as questions relating to the physical and digital realms are at the core of our existence, they become an inevitable part of artistic discussion and are at the heart of this exhibition.”

Profile picture of Tal Michael Haring, 2022, image, variable dimensions, Tal Michael Maring|Seeing the Invisible | STIRworld
Profile picture of Tal Michael Haring, 2022, image Image: Courtesy of Hadas Maor and Tal Michael Haring

Out of the practitioners that form Seeing the Invisible's roster, multimedia artist and activist Ai Weiwei is perhaps one of the most prominent creatives, who has achieved global acclaim for his work, becoming a household name among those who are even tangentially interested in multimedia practices. His piece Gilded Cage is an iconic work from 2017 as part of a global migration campaign titled Good Fences Make Good Neighbors. It has been deftly brought into the realm of AR and augmented into the different botanical gardens, and as a curatorial note about the artists and works tells us, “This large-scale gilded cage addresses power structures, habitats, borders, confinement, and restriction, but also care giving, preservation, and nurturing. The work invites viewers to enter and walk through it, experience the different cells and turnstiles, while viewing the gardens from within, through its gilded bars, as a captured bird or an imprisoned man would.”

Profile picture of Hadas Maor, 2022, image, Hadas Maor |Seeing the Invisible | STIRworld
Hadas Maor, 2022, image Image: Courtesy of Hadas Maor and Tal Michael Haring

Regarding the future of Seeing the Invisible, Haring tells STIR, “We have ended one year of the exhibition in September of 2022, and that was Season 1, if you will. Season 2 has started, and as of 2023, we have launched it in 10 gardens across the world for now. It will be exciting to see how Seeing the Invisible and other similar projects that fuse XR with public space reshape these places as points for creative activation. 

What do you think?

About Author


see more articles

make your fridays matter

This site uses cookies to offer you an improved and personalised experience. If you continue to browse, we will assume your consent for the same.