How do you transport a precious 3-metre sculpture made of 45,000-year-old New Zealand ancient Kauri halfway around the globe? The answer: you don’t. So we teamed up with Staples VR to do the next best thing.
Artist Gill Gatfield’s Native Tongue cuts an impressive figure standing proudly at the centre of the Spark Atrium in downtown Auckland. The towering sculpture, carved from a single log of ancient Kauri, is a breathtaking marriage of artistry and engineering. Having overcome seemingly insurmountable logistical and physical challenges, Native Tongue’s very existence is testament to the power of creative problem solving. However, when the Spark Foundation approached us to tell the story of this elegant giant, it seemed they had one more problem to solve.
Gill Gatfield ha been selected for two overseas exhibitions – the Venice Architecture Biennale in Italy and the American Institute of Architecture in New York. These events created an international opportunity to showcase Native Tongue, a New Zealand taonga (treasure). While the sculpture had been through quite a journey already, a trip halfway around the world just wasn’t on the cards. This meant that Gill Gatfield and The Spark Foundation needed to devise a way to transport the experience of the artwork, while leaving the actual sculpture exactly where it was. That’s where we came in.
We knew we could tell most of the story and history of Native Tongue in a traditional, linear video format. However, when it came to capturing the sculpture’s stature and physical presence, we thought we’d take a page out of the Native Tongue playbook and get a little more innovative. Wanting to push the limits and try something different, we looked to an exciting new tech: Augmented Reality.
For those unfamiliar, Augmented Reality (AR) is a broad term for any interface or technology that enriches the real world with digital information or media. It has been a bit of a hot topic in the last couple years, with advances in mobile tech opening up a whole new world of development possibilities. An increasingly sophisticated application of AR is the ability to use mobile phones to live-project digital overlays into the real world. These projections, visible through the phone’s camera, exist in a fully-navigable 3D space, tracking them into the real world and allowing the user to experience them spatially in a way more traditional forms could not. For our goal of making Native Tongue physically accessible to anyone, anywhere, at anytime – we couldn’t have asked for a more novel solution.
With a plan in hand, we turned to our friends at StaplesVR to help make it happen. Experts in their field, the team at StaplesVR helped us to develop a simple but robust mobile app that allows users to project a 1:1 digital recreation of Native Tongue into any environment. Using photogrammetry to accurately document the sculpture’s form and textures, the app provides an authentic experience of Gill Gatfield’s work. Once user’s have placed the sculpture in an environment of their choosing, they can move around and view it from any angle they desire, getting a full sense of scale and presence. An ambient soundtrack of Native New Zealand birdsongs accompanies the experience, and an optional voiceover provides more information on the sculpture’s significance and history. Ultimately, the finished app allowed users around the world to experience Native Tongue in a new and engaging way, while the physical sculpture itself remained exactly where it was.
This project was a unique crossroads of art, storytelling, and science – merging traditional hand-crafted mediums with reality bending tech. As technologies continue to develop, exciting new opportunities for story-telling and problem-solving emerge. However, while it’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement, it will always be important to make sure you’re choosing the right tool for the job. In this instance, the finished app allowed users to engage with Native Tongue in a physical, spatial way that a simple photo or traditional linear video would not. While we’re always excited to try something new, it was especially rewarding to discover a novel use for an exciting new storytelling tech.
Native Tongue (AR App)
Using the latest in augmented reality technology, this interactive app allows people around the globe to experience something of the sculpture’s physical presence and stature in fully navigable 3D space. You can download the app and have a play here.
Native Tongue – A Taonga (Linear Video)
This linear, fixed-frame video provided more traditional coverage of Gill Gatfield’s sculpture, allowing us to direct attention to more specific features and details that would not have been possible in the AR app alone.