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Experience the Amazon in Avatar-like world first

Audiences around New Zealand will be able to experience an augmented reality artwork that places the viewer in the heart of the Amazonian rainforest. 

In a ground-breaking fusion of art and science, which draws on conversations with scientists and indigenous leaders in Brazil and New Zealand, the internationally recognised artist Joseph Michael will explore our physical, biological, and cultural link to trees.

Michael is embarking on a nationwide tour of his augmented reality (AR) experience Amazon – Raised Up Sky late November and early December. In 10 different venues he will deliver a free talk, show a documentary which follows the evolution of the project, and give audiences the opportunity to experience the artwork he is producing.

Michael’s visual art, including his display on the United Nations building in New York, has usually been created through expeditions to remote places where he uses technology to capture the essence of a landscape and translate it into an artwork that people can enjoy and experience – but Covid-19 changed all that. 

“I was preparing to take a team of 10 to 12 people over to scan huge Amazonian trees, but the pandemic arrived and we couldn’t go, Michael says. “Instead, I’ve had to focus more on research, collaborating with various universities in New Zealand and Brazil and using drones directed from here but using operators on the ground in Brazil.”

The support of the Latin America Centre of Asia-Pacific Excellence (CAPE), enabled the artist to initiate the project and to develop it remotely during the pandemic. The partnership enabled him to involve audio-visual producers who could collect the data and images in Brazil, turning the project into a cross-cultural collaboration. The collaboration has already proven fruitful, revolutionising as well the way that the artist is currently working in New Zealand.

“It’s been frustrating at times, but this new challenge brought about by the pandemic has really transformed my artistic practice.”

The Latin America CAPE has supported this project as part of its mission to develop New Zealanders’ knowledge and understanding of Latin America, to enhance public awareness of the importance of Latin America to New Zealand and the world, and to strengthen New Zealand’s profile, partnerships, and presence in that region.

“By supporting this work, we seek to capture the imagination of New Zealanders through state-of-the-art technologies that generate awareness of Latin America,” says Matthew O’Meagher, Director of the Latin America CAPE. “Michael’s compelling art brings to light similarities between New Zealand and Latin America, as well as demonstrating concrete ways that researchers can engage, even during the pandemic. It forms part of a wider programme of building cultural bridges through the transfer of academic and industry knowledge.”

Through the digital scanning of significant Amazonian trees, focusing on the majestic Ceiba Pentandra, the work is paralleled by a New Zealand study Michael is undertaking with other partners that includes scans of Tane Mahuta, New Zealand’s giant Kauri.

Amazon – raised up sky, will be on in Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, New Plymouth, Wellington, Christchurch, Ashburton, Wanaka and Dunedin.

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