Environment

Augmented-reality mural in Miami warns of climate-change danger

Miami Murals, a climate-focused mural series, unveils its first augmented reality mural on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, in front of the historic City of Miami Cemetery. The mural is brought to life through an app, which shows two alternate futures for the city.
Miami Murals, a climate-focused mural series, unveils its first augmented reality mural on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, in front of the historic City of Miami Cemetery. The mural is brought to life through an app, which shows two alternate futures for the city. For the Miami Herald

A patient audience on Saturday night waited on the sidewalk along North Miami Avenue in front of the Historic City of Miami Cemetery for the unveiling of an augmented-reality mural depicting the dangers of climate change to South Florida.

“Miami is indeed a ‘canary in the coal mine’ with respect to the effects of sea level rise. I love this city very much, lived here most of my life, so it is an honor to be involved in a project to raise awareness on this issue by mixing augmented reality with mural art. We owe it to future generations to take action now while there is still time,” said Juan Carlos Gallo, a digital designer for Miami Murals. “Our local government also recognizes this, so there’s an opportunity for the people and the government to come together.”

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Juan Carlos Gallo, one of the AR/VR digital designers for Miami Murals, a climate-focused mural series. LESLIE OVALLE For the Miami Herald

The canary Gallo referred to — painted in the mural — refers to the birds used in coal mines to warn miners when it no longer was safe to move forward in caves.

Linda Cheung, curator and founder of the month-old project described it as “a grassroots movement.”

“It’s about acknowledging that we live in a vulnerable place,” she said.

The crowd chatted while the artists scrambled to light the 96-by-14-foot mural. Heavy afternoon rains killed the electricity on the block that day, leaving the mural in a shadow that made it unrecognizable to the accompanying Android app.

Minutes later the artists succeeded in installing improvised spotlights and the group of strangers huddled around app users including Cheung to see the mural come to life in the small screen.

The mural, painted by artists Odobo and Muta Vision, depicts the city’s skyline and name in big letters, each representing an area of its famous nightlife —diamond studs, skyscrapers, neon lights and a Xanax pill.

“The idea was a postcard to the city,” said Lina Fernandez, 16, one of the high school students in the group that pitched the concept to Cheung. “It’s a letter and people can reply by being part of groups like this that use their talents to make a difference.”

Oohs and aahs synchronized as the app’s simulation produced two alternate futures for the city.

The first was inspired by the Netflix show “Stranger Things” and its “upside down” dimension; water suddenly covers the pavement, a decayed concrete structure collapses as pollution roams and an innocent turtle is caught in set of six-pack rings.

The other is a sustainable future: It depicts green building, solar energy and life underwater and on the ground

“We give the user a choice, they can pick their own future,” said Emily Pascual, a 3-D designer and artist for Miami Murals.

To complete the AR experience the audience is asked to answer one question: Be the change or not be the change?

“Be the change!” said the group huddled around Cheung.

The team’s goal is to motivate “over one million individual actions,” calling on their audience to share how they will be the change on social media. They will keep count with the hashtag #climateawakening. For the more committed in the audience they also offer a seven-day #climateawakening challenge, scheduled to begin on March 5, each day of the week has a climate issue theme.

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Sofia Dotta, multimedia artist and team manager for Miami Murals, assists artists Muta Vision and Odobo paint the project’s first augmented reality mural on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018. The mural is across the street from the historic City of Miami Cemetery. LESLIE OVALLE For the Miami Herald

“It’s always a challenge when you start learning,” said Sofia Dotta, multimedia artist and team manager for Miami Murals. “Before you know it you’ll be making a difference.”

Cheung’s non-profit Before It’s Too Late and the project’s sponsor, the Climate Leadership Engagement Opportunity (CLEO) Institute, plan to unveil a dozen murals like this one, beginning in the fall. Each will depict a specific community in Miami, their environment and their needs.

A carbon footprint path led the group four blocks north to the Limited Edition Gallery, where music, tacos and more climate-aware art followed.

An 18-foot-tall metal sculpture of a fisherman by Alberto Aragon Reyes, a Mexican artist, welcomes everyone.

Adjacent are dozens of smaller human-like sculptures by Reyes on display, titled “Witnesses.” They are arranged in a circle looking idly at a nucleus, a sphere and pyramid with projected light patterns controlled by sound, which represent creation.

“In Miami, we are building things that are not ready for sea level rise,” said Albert Gomez, who works with Reyes. “We are the witnesses.”

The collection of smaller sculptures is made of ECOncrete solution, a concrete product design to enhance coastal and marine infrastructure by having the capacity to harbor life. The sculptures will eventually be submerged into the ocean, where they will grow coral reefs, sponges, sea fans and contribute to sea life, according to Gomez.

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