Multi-sensory experiences awaken the mind to the challenges we face.
Botanical artist Lucinda Law’s Experiencing Beauty experienced on iPad.
DPLMT’s The Mount That Keeps Growing comes to life on an iPhone.
Andre Wee gives a demonstration of his work A Better Tomorrow.
Visitors at the exhibition.
Visitors trying out the Warrior9 VR virtual reality experience in cleaning up the ocean.

A new generation of artists tackle environmental issues using technology to innovatively depict the devastating effects of indiscriminate human consumption, writes Izwan Ismail


CREATING awareness on how badly our planet, especially the oceans, is being polluted is not something that is easy to do. A group of artists recently took this on as a challenge and organised a one-of-its-kind exhibition at the Art Science Museum in Singapore to educate the public on how severe pollution is today.

Their initiative was also to inspire action towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which include creating sustainable cities and communities, and responsible consumption and production.

But what’s interesting about this exhibition, called MeshMinds 2.0: #ArtxTechforGood, is the way the artworks are being presented. As you walk into the exhibition gallery, you won’t see much of the typical displays except for some static artwork and a few large TV screens.

This is because the real artworks are in the virtual realm, and this is what makes the MeshMinds2.0: #ArtxTechforGood one of-its-kind.

There were more than 20 immersive multi-sensory experiences by these new generation of artists who are ready to tackle the toughest challenges facing the planet.

All of the displays are interactive and you need to scan the QR Code and slip on the VR headset to see how the artists combine art and technology to tackle or create awareness on various environmental issues.

From stepping through a virtual portal to help clean a polluted ocean, or imagining the future of our cities through augmented reality, visitors take part in this ongoing conversation on sustainability through the lenses of technology and the arts.

The exhibition, organised by MeshMinds, a not-for-profit arts organisation that is focused on enabling sustainable development through creative technology, has opened visitors’ eyes to how bad the pollution issue is and the sustainability problems we are facing now.

These artists have been working with Apple products and technology (including the iPad, Mac, ARKit, and VR tools such as the HTC Vive) which have played a significant role in their creative journey and workflowas they developed their apps and augmented/virtual reality experiences.


THE EXHIBITS
One of the exhibits is called Our Ocean Life by Warrior9 VR. It shows pollution of the oceans from the huge amount of plastics thrown into them.

Warrior9 VR (@warrior9vr) is an immersive media company that specialises in making narrative experiences that are of high quality, easily accessible and designed for wide audiences. Based in Singapore, their work is imbued with Asian influences. They create their own projects, and also work with organisations across industries who are open to solving problems with bold and imaginative immersive experiences.

Their works of art were created using MacBook Pro, iPad Pro, Unreal Engine, and AR Kit. To educate visitors on this issue, the artists use augmented reality technology to create an experience where visitors will be invited to step through a portal by wearing a VR headgear and uncover a story about the consequences of plastic pollution on marine life.

Once they put on the head gear, they will enter the virtual realm where they take a dive into the ocean full of plastic bottles. They are given a task to clean up the ocean by collecting as many plastic bottles as they can in the water as they dive.

Inspired by real events, this interactive experience aims to leave visitors with a sense of wonder about life beneath the waves, and emphasises why our actions matter more than we realise.

Visitors can also download Our Ocean Life on the App Store to use at home.

A group of artists and graphic designers who call themselves DPLMT (@dplmt_) created an interesting and colourful artwork called The Mount That Keeps Growing. It is an augmented reality experience that uncovers the reality of the world’s waste situation, represented in this showcase as a mountain of trash that keeps growing.

What’s interesting about their artwork is how they use the Malay folklore, Puteri Gunung Ledang, to show the challenges people face because of pollution. They used artwork to depict Puteri Gunung Ledang, the mystical princess in the tale who lives on Mount Ledang. Just like the folklore where the princess challenges the Sultan who wants to marry her to accomplish impossible tasks before she will consent to marriage, the artwork portrays pollution surrounding her and the almost impossible task that we are facing in cleaning up our environment.

To experience the artwork, visitors need to use their smartphone to scan the QR code by the side of the artwork. They will then be mesmerised by a series of rhythmic, hypnotic kaleidoscopic motifs. On closer inspection, however, visitors will see that the beautiful artwork is made up entirely of waste materials. Capture and share a video of yourself and pledge to #saynotosingleuseplastics.


SUSTAINABLE CITIES AND COMMUNITIES
Andre Wee (@andre_wee) is a 3D world builder, illustrator and visual artist Andre Wee (@andre_wee). He used his iMac Pro, 3D rendering, iPad Pro, Procreate and Spark AR Studio to come out with an artwork called A Better Tomorrow. Visitors need to use their smartphone camera to scan the QR codes and watch the digital drawings of buildings in Singapore come to life and learn how they can contribute towards the creation of a more sustainable future through clean energy, recycling and reduced reliance on fossil fuels.

Artist Adeline Tan aka Mightyellow created an artwork called Water Bodies, which is an interactive virtual reality installation that highlights the encroaching presence of microplastics in our drinking water.

This experience begins inside a virtual human stomach, in which tiny marine creatures, tardigrades and copepods, are swimming amongst multi-coloured microplastics, all of which were rendered to 3D and animated by The Acid House.

The experience isa60-second game

where visitors have to shoot the microplastics to learn more about the plastics that we unknowingly consume. Finish the game, and take a pledge to dispose of plastics responsibly, or join the Bring Your Own movement.

Tan, who created her artwork using iPad Pro, iMac Pro, Procreate, HTC Vive, and Unity, is an illustrator and visual artist based in Singapore.


INTERACTIVE GAMES
The best way to teach the young to reduce pollution is through interactive games, and that’s what Jason Loo and Cherlyn Mark have done. They created OceanScrub, which is an interactive mobile game that encourages players to cultivate the habit of reducing waste.

In this case, the player will play the role of Ambassador for Ocean Protection where he or she will guide sea creatures — the Ocean Pals — through polluted waters to safety and prevent them from consuming plastic waste. The player needs to collect as many points by eating the right kind of food and avoiding life-threatening plastics.

Meanwhile, for the work or art called Experiencing Beauty by nature-led artist Lucinda Law, visitors will get to see the documentation of the flora and fauna she encountered on her expeditions during her artist-in-residence programme with the environmental scientists at Tengah Island Conservation at Batu Batu, a private resort off Johor, Malaysia that also embraces the principles of sustainability.

MeshMinds then added a layer of interactivity and engagement by using Spark AR Studio to bring her illustrations and expedition journals to life. The mixed-media artwork highlights the importance of protecting our biodiversity while encouraging greater exposure to the beauty and sheer magnificence of nature. Through this, it is hoped that we may all discover a greater reverence for the beauty of nature to create a positive impact to restore the natural world and our well-being in this shared environment.


CLIMATE ACTION
Artist Andrew Loh created a multi-part interactive augmented reality installation called Hold My Gaze that draws attention to the consequences of forest fires that have caused hazy spells that have been blanketing Southeast Asia in recent years.

Visitors need to position their face in front of the iPad Pro and hold their gaze with the virtual face — representing their children and their future—on-screen. With face mapping technology, you can interact with the child whose face is masked with a beautiful rainforest. But look away, and you will find the forest on the mask bursting into flames.

This showcase is an allegory on the potential disasters that will befall our forests — and us — if we look away from the importance of preserving and protecting what greenery we have left. You can also download the Hold My Gaze app on the App Store.

This can also be experienced on your smartphone on a more personal level.

Scan the QR code to watch your own face transition from a beautiful rainforest to a devastating forest fire. Capture and share your video in Facebook and pledge for a life that is #BetterWithForests.

What the artists have shown with their creations are some of the potentials of technology in arts. As tools and new emerging tech like VR and AR move forward, we can expect more interesting creations, especially in promoting conservation and sustainability.