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Exhibition combines the physical and digital worlds

Case Studies | February 1, 2019 | By:

The physical and digital worlds converged
to create a playful, multidimensional and
experiential exhibit in an installation designed
by artist Michael Rees. Photos: Ken Ek.

Contemporary artist Michael Rees likes to create artwork that connects to a specific space. His experimental exhibition at Grounds for Sculpture, a 42-acre sculpture park, museum and arboretum founded on the site of the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds, began in the exhibit hall looking for inspiration.

His show, “Synthetic Cells, Site and Para (Site)” is a sculptural project that combines inflatable vinyl sculptures and digital technology to create an interactive experience that tests perceptions of space and reality. Rees designed seven ten-foot inflatable vinyl cubes and suspended them from the ceiling of the exhibit space. Each cube is a unique architectural piece that can be interpreted multiple ways, but that is just one element of the experience.

Imagining a 21st century Chautauqua—an assembly for education, art and culture—Rees and curator Tom Moran conceived of the installation as a “para-site” for artists working with augmented reality to use digital technology to create shows beside the cubes. Grounds for Sculpture invited guest curators Edward Winkelman and Murat Otrbozekov to curate the exhibit with six artists: Will Pappenheimer, Claudia Hart, Chris Manzione, Tamiko Thiel, Carla Gannis and John Craig Freeman.

Using tablet computers, augmented reality was created by layering images of animals and insects. Visitors viewed the computer-generated butterflies, a rooster, a turtle and more through the tablets. The combination of the real and the virtual created an entirely new experience. Using the viewfinder, people could play with the animals and control the experience or even get into the picture themselves and become part of the virtual world. For more information, visit

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