This 3D art display at Times Square brings climate change to life

Manhattan’s Times Square was “flooded” on Wednesday in a multimedia art display aiming to show how climate change could lead to sea levels rising over low-lying sections of New York City. Using smartphones, visitors to Times Square could see 3D holograms of ships and marine life floating above them in the flooded square in an augmented reality display, titled Unmoored, by American conceptual artist Mel Chin.

Climate change is predicted to drive sea levels up by as much as 6 feet (1.8 m) by 2100 in New York City, according to a 2015 report by the city’s Panel on Climate Change. Chin, 67, who has worked across various mediums for more than 40 years to create art that sparks discussion, said the augmented reality allowed viewers to see virtual structures superimposed on the surroundings via their smartphones.

Pedestrians look at artist Mel Chin’s Unmoored.

“It’s an opportunity to have ideas float above you,” said Chin, who spent more than a year on the project. Engineered by software giant Microsoft, Unmoored immerses viewers into a six-minute long augmented-reality film. The multimedia experience starts with Wake, a 60-feet (18 m) high wooden hull of a shipwreck topped with an animatronic female figurehead of the 19th-Century opera star Jenny Lind that was once mounted on the USS Nightingale.

Art lecturer Naoko Wowsugi, 37, watched as waters and the vessel began rising to the surface through the augmented reality display that is showing until September 5. “Mixed reality really helped me to physically experience the artist’s imagination,” she said. Now, she said, she wondered what can be done to prevent climate change.

Participant uses a HoloLens to look at the installation.

Augmented reality took the world by storm in 2016 when Pokemon GO, a mobile game, sent millions of players worldwide in a craze to capture Pokemon creatures in the real world. The technology has also given rise to claims that it is well-suited to sensitise masses to social causes because its realism generates empathy among users.

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