Arcadia Earth 1 Favorite 



Sep 10 2019


New York, NY

At ‘Arcadia Earth,’ Dazzle Illuminates Danger
Using augmented reality, virtual reality and installations of light and art, the creators of this pop-up exhibition hope to inspire action on climate change.

By Laurel Graeber
Oct. 23, 2019

The creators of “Arcadia Earth” want to awaken your conscience. But they also plan to make that guilt trip extraordinarily fun.

Entertainment, coupled with enlightenment, is the purpose of this pop-up exhibition about ecological crisis, which opened at the end of August in Manhattan. An immersive experience consisting of 15 rooms, “Arcadia Earth” combines video projections, augmented reality and virtual reality with installations by more than a dozen environmental artists.

Together, they evoke the landscapes, marine depths and life-forms that global warming threatens. In “Oxygen Oasis,” featuring the work of Justin Bolognino, Eric Chang and others from the company META, you see orbs of light float upward and proliferate, a metaphor for how phytoplankton make oxygen.

Put on a virtual-reality headset in the “Underwater” space, which includes a glittering LED installation by the artist Chika, and watch a giant ray, a dolphin and other sea creatures swim by in a film by Underwater Earth.

In the room labeled “Our Land,” another VR film, from Wild Immersion, places you directly in the path of regal-looking lions, one female and one male, which advance toward you until you’re nose to nose.

“Climate change is always told in a very negative way,” said Valentino Vettori, an experiential designer who worked in the retail fashion industry before conceiving “Arcadia Earth.” “I don’t think negativity is powerful,” he added. His goals were to make the exhibition “beautiful and positive.”

But “Arcadia Earth” also raises alarm. Each installation has text about environmental damage. You will learn, for instance, of the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where ocean currents have amassed plastic pollution in an area 11 times the size of New York State. And that unsustainable fishing practices annually destroy enough oceanic species to fill 153 New York City garbage trucks every hour.

Perhaps most disquieting is the note that so much plastic invades the food and water supplies worldwide that we each unwittingly eat the equivalent of one credit card a week. (Mr. Vettori said all the “Arcadia” information was vetted by Oceanic Global and the World Wildlife Fund, nonprofit conservation organizations that assisted his research.)

The displays counter such sobering statistics by listing ways that visitors can help. These include using public transportation instead of driving and avoiding single-use plastic containers — simple steps. “It’s like, ‘Do one thing,’” Mr. Vettori said.

As you explore each room, you also hear a mellifluous voice-over uttering the relevant environmental facts and recommendations, just in case you’re too busy taking and posting pictures to read the wall texts. The 13,000-square-foot exhibition, which was designed with social media in mind, requires a free iPhone app to experience fully. (If you have another type of phone, “Arcadia” lends you an iPad.)

Downloading the app enables you to point your device at symbols on the walls, floors and ceilings, an action that unleashes another visual display. In the “Overfishing” exhibit, where the artist Jesse Harrod has created colorful weavings from salvaged fishing nets, scanning QR codes will give you lists of local businesses and restaurants that support sustainable practices. In other installations, pointing a cellphone at a marker causes the screen to fill with tiny images of trash.

“I like the data visualization,” said Basia Goszczynska (pronounced BASH-a Gosh-CHIN-ska), a 34-year-old Brooklyn artist who created “The Rainbow Cave” for “Arcadia.” Her installation, which resembles the interior of a crystal palace but is actually made of about 44,000 plastic bags — the estimated number used every minute in New York State — celebrates New York’s plastic-bag ban, which takes effect in March. “Math is such an abstract thing,” she said. “It’s hard to have an emotional impact with a statistic. We’re bringing that data to a wider public through art.”

Mr. Vettori, 48, traces the inspiration for “Arcadia” to 2017, when he took part in a Summit Series conference and attended a presentation by the environmentalist Paul Hawken, the editor of “Drawdown,” a book on global warming.

Mr. Vettori said he vowed not to take off the wrist band for admission to the series until he had created an environment that would lead people to take action on behalf of the earth. (He is still wearing it.)

As Mr. Vettori planned “Arcadia” with his two partners, Kyle Calian and Aparna Avasarala, he sought to create a sustainable space incorporating recycled material. The artists he enlisted include Etty Yaniv, whose ghostly looking sculptures in “Plastic Tsunami (Sirens)” consist of waste collected from Manhattan offices, and Cindy Pease Roe, whose “Gyres” installation incorporates objects she collected on Long Island beaches, among them soda bottles, beach toys and flip-flops.

Perhaps the best-known participant is Tamara Kostianovsky, 45, whose work has been shown at the Jewish Museum and El Museo del Barrio. Her art appears in the section “Eat Less Meat,” which “Arcadia” designed with multiple mirrors — we are what we ingest — and moss-lined walls. Ms. Kostianovsky’s sculpture “Alchemy,” which hangs there on a meat hook, is a large animal carcass made from vibrant pieces of recycled garments attached to a wire armature. Fabric flowers and vines bursting through one side offset the inherent gruesomeness.

“I see it as the embodiment of a metamorphosis,” Ms. Kostianovsky said, from “the slaughter culture” toward green alternatives. Although such installations are undeniably expensive, Mr. Vettori declined to reveal the total cost of “Arcadia,” saying only that it was “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” And while the exhibition donates 10 percent of its gross revenue to Oceanic Global, its main education partner, and plants a tree for every ticket sold, it remains a for-profit venture. (A full-price adult ticket is $33.)

“It’s important for it to be profitable so that I can just continue to do this,” Mr. Vettori said. Income also means that he can further develop the space, which will be open at least through January. Ms. Goszczynska recently completed “Action Tracks,” an installation that lines the exhibition’s stairwell with cardboard signs collected after the city’s climate strike.

“There will be empty signs, too,” she said, “so people can leave their own messages.”

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