Cutting-edge technology is on its way to the natural, idyllic setting of the Price Sculpture Forest in Coupeville.
This may sound like a dichotomy, but the merging of these two things is anything but.
Starting Feb. 25, visitors to the sculpture park can use an app to experience a new exhibit in augmented reality.
Also referred to as AR, the technology consists of a digital element overlaid into the real world. Although AR is often conflated with VR, or virtual reality, no bulky headset is required to view the exhibit – just a smartphone or tablet.
Scott Price, owner of the sculpture park, worked with California-based start-up company XR-Room to develop the AR app over the past year. Rather than relying on computer-generated imagery, the AR component is based on real-world sculptures.
“Nobody had done that before,” Price said. “I love that even more, because it’s based on something real.”
Visitors can use their personal devices and the park’s free high-speed wi-fi to scan a QR code on a sign in the parking lot, which will prompt them to download the app. A short distance away from the parking lot is the viewing area for the new exhibit, which consists of an empty circular pedestal. After choosing one of four more QR codes to scan, an art piece will appear on the device, seeming to fit right on top of the pedestal.
The sculpture is not just a 2-D image on a screen, however. People can walk all around the sculpture and view it from every possible angle.
“It’s very interactive,” Price said. “It’s just like you’re really there, but you’re seeing it through the augmented reality of the app.”
The app takes photos, so people can stand beside what looks like a very real sculpture but in reality, is empty air.
The sculptures that can be seen using the app are not currently in the park, but in locations around the nation. Programmers of the app created the 360-degree view of the sculptures with the help of long, continuous videos of the sculptures, taken by the artists in bright lighting and with minimally distracting backgrounds.
Though Price is no computer coder, he offered much feedback on the user interface of the app, which has gone through several iterations before settling on a final version.
He intentionally chose a limited number of sculptures for the AR exhibit, and plans to swap them out from time to time.
The sculpture park, which is also a nonprofit, received two grants for this project, one from Island County and another from the Coupeville Festival Association.
The new exhibit is a continuation of Price’s embrace of technology. When the park first opened in 2020, Price created QR codes for every piece of art on display, which, when scanned, will bring up a video of the artist.
“This is a new way of experiencing art, and it’s pretty cool to be involved in sharing that with people,” he said.