December 5, 2023

Jo Mai Asian Culture

Embrace Artistry Here

Imagining “The Cut,” with Eto Otitgbe and augmented reality, at Asian Arts Initiative

4 min read

Ryan takes his children to see the new AR piece by Eto Otitgbe at “The Cut” and at Asian Arts Initiative. The exhibit and project, “Invasive Species,” raises issues about urban habitats, invasive species and climate change, while allowing the viewer to imagine different realities. AAI’s annual block party and live outdoor programming happens this weekend, Sat., Oct. 7 and Sun., Oct. 8. More information and links in Ryan’s post.

Recently, I embarked on a journey to ‘The Cut,’ a wild, human-free oasis nestled beneath Callowhill Street, running parallel to North Broad Street. As I scanned the QR code on a large sign along the bridge with detailed instructions, I activated the app, and a fascinating au reality (AR) world unfolded before me – it felt like opening a present and I was thrilled to open more. 

Step into the world of ‘Invasive Species: Eco/Systems Land-Based Initiatives,’ an innovative Augmented Reality art project led by Eto Otitgbe, Assistant Professor of Sculpture at Brooklyn College. Otitgbe says, “I think the point of this project isn’t really AR at all. Really the point of the project is to get people to think about “The Cut” and speculate on our relationship to it and what it could be in the future.” While our world is hyper focused on AI, virtual reality, the soaring expectations and ultimate failure of the Metaverse, “Invasive Species” invites us to notice the space and our relationship to it. “I teach sculpture, but a lot of this project was about kind of standing back, standing away from the space and reflecting on it and speculating,” Otitgbe adds. 

Invasive Species Installation Piece of Projected Image of the Cut
Invasive Species Installation Piece of Projected Image of the Cut – Work by EO studio – Photo by the author

In an era where AI is on everyone’s mind and continues to dominate social conversations there are artists asking very different questions. Jobs have been created solely to engage in conversations with AI in pursuit of achieving better search results. The Artblog has entered the AI fray with Clayton Campbell’s “Trip through AI”, Lane Timothy Speidel’s “An Artist’s Role in Latent Space”, Ruth Wolf’s “Your Brain on Art”, and Beth Heinly gave us a comedic look in this 3:00 book.

As I stood there, gazing at “The Cut” with my three children, I couldn’t help but notice yet another missed opportunity for Philadelphia. The land is inaccessible to people, viewable only from the bridge. Otitgbe says there are designs on the table but they are at least 2 decades from being realized. I am reminded of Lindsay Smiling in Wilma Theater’s adaptation of “Cherry Orchard” talking about politics, “Everything that’s happening out there is a failure of imagination.” I encourage my children to look beyond the iPhone and the AR plants and into the actual world we are sharing. I tell them art is a voice through which we can express a world we wish to inhabit. What is it they want to see? What do people who have no vote wish to see and express?

Invasive Species Art Installation piece at Asian Arts Initiative
Invasive Species Art Installation piece at Asian Arts Initiative – Work by EO studio – Photo by the author

The heart of this project beats with the rhythm of nature, as Otitgbe and his team have made observations and recordings of The Cut,” “This is the most biodiverse area, you know, for several blocks. It’s amazing what you see, especially at dawn.” Bunnies and foxes have made “The Cut” their home. Ultimately this project is about the space, about community, and the connections to ourselves in the world we occupy. “Our hope is that this area doesn’t go the same way a lot of things are going, not just in Philadelphia… in a lot of cities where things are overbuilt, overturfed, overasphalted.”

Beneath the layers of technology and environmental discourse, “Invasive Species” is about a project that thrives on human connections. Using a QR code to bump into someone else experiencing “The Cut” is the beginning of that conversation. “I think it’s always about having those conversations. About climate justice when my work is being talked about,” Otitgbe added. 

Ashley Gripper and Sonia Gallagher are local urban farmers, who started the “Invasive Species” project and led Otitgbe into interviewing chefs, climate justice activists and other urban farmers. Otitgbe wonders, “But now, I’m like, why can’t we have more cities that are just full of wildflowers.”

Invasive Species Installation Piece of Projected Image of the Cut
Invasive Species Installation Piece of Projected Image of the Cut – Work by EO studio – Photo by the author

Returning to Asian Arts Initiative for an immersive experience of sight and sound re-imagining “The Cut” and the flora and fauna in that space, my son also loved the opening reception’s cheese options. The space was filled by two large projections. one of kaleidoscopical flowers and another displaying “The Cut” through the seasons and years. I invite you to interact with ‘Invasive Species’ and join the Asian Arts Initiative this weekend, and become part of this transformation. On Saturday and Sunday, October 7 and 8, join Asian Arts Initiative’s annual Block Party 2:30-6:30pm at Matthias Baldwin Park, across the street from “The Cut”, with live performances at 7-9pm that will further immerse you in this transformative experience.

Find more about the project here.

Asian Arts Initiative



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