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4 Best Things About Seeing the Invisible

October 19, 2021

By: Emily Sharma, Communications Intern, Royal Botanical Gardens

RBG’s augmented reality (AR) exhibit, Seeing the Invisible, brings contemporary artwork from international artists right in the middle of Hendrie ParkFrom this innovative, immersive experience to delicious bites, fiery fall colours and stunning natural spaces, there’s endless things to do and see.

1. The Art Installations

Of course! The main attractions are the fantastic, augmented reality (AR) installations. It works like Pokémon Go — your phone or tablet screen acts as your window to “see the invisible”, and the 3D pieces are placed within the physical landscape behind it.

Unlike an ordinary gallery, there’s no rules against “touching” the art because digital isn’t fragile. You’re able to walk around, up close, or even through some pieces. Push through the turnstiles inside Ai Weiwei’s massive Gilded Cage AR, trick your eyes with Mel O’Callaghan’s Pneuma, or transport yourself to another dimension with my personal favourite piece, Timur Si-Qin’s Biome Gateway. Seasoned art-lovers, outdoor fans and guests of all ages will enjoy navigating their way through the exhibit.

sky high yellow gilded cage
Gilded Cage AR (2021) by Ai Weiwei was originally created physically in 2017 as part of a global migration campaign Good Fences Make Good Neighbors (a line taken from the 1914 poem Mending Wall by Robert Frost). Ai’s work addresses power structures, habitats, borders, confinement, and restriction, but also care giving, preservation, and nurturing.
Emily standing in the centre of a bubble in the garden
Pneuma is an ancient Greek word for breath, spirit, or soul. Mel O’Callaghan’s work interlaces these meanings and invites the viewer to not only observe the work, but also engage with it and take part in a ritual process based on breathing.
Timur Si-Qin Biome Gateway, 2021
Biome Gateway (2021) by Timur Si-Qin features a temple cave that connects the biotopes and organisms of the botanical gardens to a parallel landscape. Si-Qin challenges common notions of organic vs synthetic, natural vs cultural.

But there’s more to the AR than a fun stunt. These installations, many from world-renown artists, are placed in specific garden spaces, because the surroundings are part of the art. Many make comments on connections and relationships to us and the natural world — your device brings you closer to this discourse on nature, instead of blocking you from it.  

When you’re out in Hendrie Park, think about why the artist chose that specific location for their sculpture. How does Dawn Chorus (Meyohas, 2021) play off the backdrop of Kippax? What about Imagination Grove influences your understanding of the Anamazon (Limb) (Rosenkranz, 2021)? 

small blue birds flying around a black piano in Kippax Garden
Dawn Chorus, Sarah Meyohas, 2021
bright green tree branch floating above the ground
Anamazon (Limb), Pamela Rosenkranz, 2021

Green art: digital art pieces keep this exhibition’s carbon footprint to a minimum. They don’t disturb any of the cultivated areas they’re placed in, and no fuel is needed to physically move the installations to the 12 botanical gardens hosting the event across the globe.

2. Dan Lawrie International Sculpture Collection

Did the exhibit leave you thirsty for more unique, contemporary art? RBG’s very own Dan Lawrie Sculpture Collection is your cure!

In 2013 Dan Lawrie, Hamilton businessman and Burlington resident, made a 10-year commitment to donating sculptures to RBG. Today it has grown into stunning collection of 15 inspiring sculptures from around the world throughout Hendrie Park. Two brand new pieces, Overture and Reverie, joined the collection just last month!

overture, steel sculpture resembling a treble clef
Overture, Jeremy Guy, 2021
Kinnectic Symmetry, Ivan Black, 2020
Kinnectic Symmetry, Ivan Black, 2020
Hour Glass Sculpture Ted Fullerton
Hour Glass, Ted Fullerton, 2017

Many pieces from this permanent collection are along the route of the exhibit, and RBG interpreters are on site to provide insight and guided tours. Take some time and compare the physical pieces to the digital experience — is there anything inherent about either collections that makes them inherently “art” for you?

3. Access to Phenomenal Horticultural Wonders

You’re at a garden after all! There are beautiful blooms to admire across Hendrie Park, from the Trial Garden beds to the Global Garden. As I write this, mid-October, there are still bursts of colour emanating from lovely roses in the Rose Garden, and it’s only been a month since the opening of the brand-new Healing Garden, which showcases the power of plants in traditional and modern medicine.

Seeing the Invisible tickets include General Admission to RBG’s four other garden areas for the day, so make the most of it! If you’re coming by transit, consider loading your bike for easy travel between Hendrie and the other gardens. Plan what areas you’d like to see around your exhibit timeslot — the Cactus Collection is open on weekend in the Mediterranean GardenLaking Garden is hosting a collection of fall veggies, and some truly giant pumpkins have just been put on display at the Rock Garden.

Deep red roses
Rosa ‘KORelamba’ sold as BORDEAUX
Seasonal mum display - laking garden

Despite the warm weather this week, the wind is carrying an autumn breeze, and fantastic fall hues are sweeping in across RBG’s properties, making the Gardens the place to watch the changing of seasons. 

4. Delicious Bites and Night-time Fun

A whole day at the Gardens will make anyone hungry. A Hendrie Park staple, Turner Pavilion Teahouse has a fresh snacks and drinks menu with prime patio seating overlooking the reflecting pool.

New for this event is the Collective Arts Container, a shipping container-turned-snack bar sponsored by Collective Arts Brewing. Serving up grab-and-go fare including warm pretzels, charcuterie plates and a selection of drinks, the Collective Arts Container and Turner Pavilion menu are more than 50% plant-based and incorporate locally sourced produce.

DJ Donna Lovejoy in the Rose Garden Tent
DJ Donna Lovejoy
Guests in the rose garden tent
two soft pretzels and two canned drinks

For a night out on the town, look no further that RBG’s added After Dark event on Thursday evenings that transforms the garden into the region’s best fall patio! Get an exclusive look at AR exhibit, cozy up by the fire and enjoy the talents from a different featured local artist each week. This 19+ event takes place near the Rose Garden tent, with music, brews, and unique programming all under the starry Autumn sky.

What are you waiting for? Seeing the Invisible is on Thursdays – Sundays until Nov. 6. Grab your tickets today.

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