S.D. Botanic Garden to host ‘invisible’ augmented reality art exhibit

"Directions (Zero)," an example of an augmented reality virtual art piece by Mohammed Kazem
“Directions (Zero),” an example of an augmented reality virtual art piece by Mohammed Kazem, one of 13 artists participating in “Seeing the Invisible” at San Diego Botanic Garden this fall.
(San Diego Botanic Garden)

The Encinitas venue is one of 12 gardens worldwide participating in the yearlong contemporary art show


Beginning in September, visitors to the San Diego Botanic Garden will be able to admire the plants, flowers and trees they can see with their eyes, as well as 13 contemporary art “installations” that will only be visible with the assistance of a cellphone or tablet.

The 37-acre Encinitas attraction is one of just 12 botanical gardens worldwide participating in “Seeing the Invisible,” a first-of-its-kind augmented reality outdoor exhibition that will take place simultaneously at gardens in six countries. San Diego Botanic Garden is the only California participant in the yearlong show.

The exhibit will feature original, three-dimensional digital artworks created by 13 of the world’s leading and emerging contemporary artists, including Chinese-born art activist Ai Weiwei in Berlin, Turkish artist Refik Anadol in Los Angeles and Ghanian artist El Anatsui in Nigeria.

"Salt Stalagmite #1 [Three Bridges]," an augmented reality artwork by Sigalit Landau
“Salt Stalagmite #1 [Three Bridges],” an augmented reality artwork by Sigalit Landau, one of 13 artists featured in “Seeing the Invisible” at San Diego Botanic Garden.
(San Diego Botanic Garden)

Augmented reality exploded into the public consciousness in 2016 when the app-based video game Pokémon Go sent millions of cellphone-wielding players worldwide out into streets, parks and tourist attractions to hunt for animated game characters positioned at locations on real maps of their cities.

The technology uses real-time global position mapping, digital compass, 3-D modeling and other software technology that allows digital images or text to appear in the actual landscape on a phone or tablet’s video screen as the user approaches the GPS location where the art is virtually located. For “Seeing the Invisible,” garden visitors will download the exhibit’s app and use it to guide them as they walk around the gardens to find the hidden artworks with their smart devices.

"Dawn Chorus," an augmented reality artwork by Sarah Meyohas
“Dawn Chorus,” an augmented reality artwork by Sarah Meyohas, one of the artists featured in “Seeing the Invisible” at San Diego Botanic Garden.
(San Diego Botanic Garden)

Ari Novy, San Diego Botanic Garden’s president and chief executive officer, said “Seeing the Invisible” will add another layer of entertainment for park visitors.

“Botanic gardens are wonderful places to leverage art to explore our relationship with nature,” Novy said.

The exhibit will be free with paid garden admission. The opening date in September has not been announced. Although the 13 art pieces will be the same at all 12 international gardens, where they are located within the garden spaces is up to the individual properties.

The artworks will be designed to appear as if they naturally exist within the garden environments and they will be designed around themes of nature, environment and sustainability.

The old world desert garden at San Diego Botanic Garden.
(Rachel Cobb)

“Seeing the Invisible” was created in Israel by the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens and Outset Contemporary Art Fund and co-curated by Hadas Maor and Tal Michael Haring.

“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,” said Haring, a new media art creator in Tel Aviv, in a statement. “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.”

As part of the exhibit, the Eden Project in Cornwall, England, is developing accompanying educational programming for children, educators and families at the participating gardens, which are in the U.S., Israel, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia and Canada.

Other participating artists are Sarah Meyohas and Timur Si-Qin, both in New York; Sigalit Landau in Israel; Ori Gersht and Isaac Julien in England; Mohammed Kazem in Dubai; Daito Manabe in Japan; Mel O’Callaghan in France; Pamela Rosenkranz in Switzerland; and Jakob Kudsk Steensen in Germany.

Founded in 1970 on Quail Gardens Drive, San Diego Botanic Garden has 15 gardens representing regions of the world, 12 demonstration gardens, the largest bamboo collection in North America and the largest children’s garden on the West Coast. The garden is open Wednesday-Sundays and admission tickets range from $10 to $18. For exhibition details, visit

Toni's Tree House in the Hamilton Children's Garden at San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas.
(Rachel Cobb)