Experience is a powerful force. At its most influential, it changes how humanity sees the world.
But can an experience be powerful enough to actually change the world?
In the eyes of New York-based experimental artist Valentino Vettori, that is the point of experience. “We have the power to bring change,” says the Italian-born artist.
To inspire that change, Vettori recently opened Arcadia Earth, the first immersive augmented reality journey through planet earth. The 18-room exhibit in Lower Manhattan is stunningly beautiful, blending technology and art, while playing upon the senses of smell, sound, touch and vision, every aspect working together to educate about environmental sustainability.
As Vettori described the experience to Vogue, “Arcadia is designed to inspire us to make small lifestyle changes today to protect the future of our planet; every message has an actionable solution.”
Creating An Experience To Educate About Reality
Vettori is no stranger to creating experiences, with a résumé that includes retail installations for Vivienne Westwood, Diesel and Century 21.
Arcadia, however, is a much more personal endeavor for Vettori—created to save a planet, instead of to sell a product.
“We’re not going to be able to blame our children, because they inherited it. And we can’t sit around waiting for the scientific community to solve this—it’s on us,” Vettori says of his motivations behind Arcadia.
”We’re not going to be able to blame our children, because they inherited it. And we can’t sit around waiting for the scientific community to solve this—it’s on us.Valentino VettoriNew York-based experimental artist
Designed in collaboration with a collective of local environmental artists and presented in partnership with Oceanic Global, a non-profit that engages new audiences in ocean conservation, Arcadia immerses exhibit goers (referred to as “explorers”) into a large-scale multi-sensorial journey through underwater worlds, fantasy lands, and inspirational art installations that are powered by augmented reality, virtual reality, projection mapping and interactive environments.
All of that sounds incredible on recycled paper. But does Arcadia stand up to the promised experience in person, or does it crumble like a paper straw?
For Encore Live Creative Director Nikki Koenig, the answer is resoundingly the former. “I was really impressed with the build out of the space, and the overall experience and messaging,” says Koenig, who recently explored Arcadia Earth. “From a design perspective, I was absolutely inspired by everything. It was so beautiful. All of the details. It truly was a multi-sensory experience.”
Harmony of Technology and Art
Deriving its meaning from ancient Greek, the word Arcadia refers to a vision of harmony with nature. In this sense, Arcadia Earth is aptly named, as it seeks a harmony between humanity and our planet.
Yet a more subtle, and equally important, harmony exists within the experience: one between technology and art. Each relies on the other in perfect balance, to inspire and educate.
“It doesn’t depend on the AR or VR for you to truly enjoy the space,” says Koenig.
Each of the exhibit’s 18-rooms focuses on a different environmental issue, including climate change, the oceans and the negative impact of plastic. To illuminate these issues, and make them feel real in the moment, Arcadia explorers are given an iPad, which they can use to animate each room with messages and animals. This AR-experience brings nature to life, while also inspiring change through actionable messaging.
“It was really simple language and calls out two to three things you can do to help,” says Koenig.
In addition to Arcadia’s augmented reality aspects, each room itself is a piece of actionable art. For example, one room is made from discarded library books, while at the center of another is a tsunami of waves created from plastic that washed up on the shores of Long Island. To highlight the fact that plastic is predicted to outpace ocean life by 2050, another room is filled with a vibrant plastic-coated jellyfish. And one of Arcadia’s underground caves is made out of 44,000 discarded plastic bags: the number used in New York every minute.
All Are Welcome
Importantly, Vettori’s Arcadia Earth was not designed to judge or to lecture. Vettori puts it bluntly, “Everyone is always talking about climate change in a very negative way. Who wants to hear that we are all going to die? We are going to die anyway—the point is we need to do what we can now and make changes.”
Instead, Arcadia is meant to inspire change through experience—an experience all are welcome to explore.
“If someone wasn’t an environmentalist, I think they would have enjoyed the experience as well. It was educational but it wasn’t preachy,” says Koenig.
A welcome change from how environmental issues are politicized and weaponized in today’s climate.
”Everyone is always talking about climate change in a very negative way. Who wants to hear that we are all going to die? We are going to die anyway—the point is we need to do what we can now and make changes.Valentino VettoriNew York-based experimental artist
For Vettori, this is about inspiring small changes toward a larger goal, something Arcadia’s explorers are asked to do at the end of their journey, where they visit a “vow room” to make personal pledges for these small changes.
“At the end of the tour you make a pledge,” says Koenig. “It inspires the individual to take action.”
And like every great exhibit, explorers can visit Arcadia’s gift shop for sustainable alternatives to everyday products.
While it may never be fully known if Arcadia Earth changes the world, its inspiration, design and boldness are changing small habits one individual at a time. And that ability to inspire change through experience, however big or small, is a truly powerful and uniquely human force.