Can you see the tree? | Un/Seen Evergreen

St George’s Square in Valletta just got a little bit more interesting, thanks to recent – and award-winning – project by local audio-visual production company Shadeena. Creating an ‘invisible sculpture’ of a tree that can be viewed and ‘nourished’ through your smartphone, Shadeena’s Martin Bonnici speaks to us about the dynamics of Un/Seen Evergreen, whose future development plans have scored the company an Award in Creative Innovation at this year’s edition of the Malta Innovation Awards  

Un/Seen Evergreen reveals a tree structure in St George’s Square through a smartphone app
Un/Seen Evergreen reveals a tree structure in St George’s Square through a smartphone app

What were some of the initial ideas and discussions that led to the project? Did exploring Generative Art and Augmented Reality lead to the topic in question, or was it the other way around? 

Initial discussions started from a technical side, in the sense that I worked on a generative art project with RedTape Dance Company for Ziguzajg and I remembered how much I enjoyed coding and exploring the relationship between mathematics and beautiful imagery.
So that project set me off thinking, what doors are opened by newer technology? The recent developments of products such as the (now discontinued) Google Glass, the recently released Oculus Rift and the upcoming HoloLens by Microsoft, served as a big inspiration to push towards using Augmented Reality. 

As I was sketching out the idea, at first I thought a mega structure or a huge tree, but seeing as the environment had been a prominent issue for quite a while in local media, so a tree seemed like the most fitting element. And what do trees do? They grow, so adding the generative element to it was only natural.

Was it easy to assemble the team that makes up the project? How did you set about looking for people with these particular skill sets?

Not really, there are a lot of talented individuals in Malta and very often it’s mostly about challenging them to channel their creativity and skills into something that stands out. Maybe I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by really talented people, but assembling the right team has been the least of my worries in any of the Shadeena projects.

For the Un/Seen Evergreen, it was also an opportunity for me to get back into coding – a hobby of mine throughout most of my life – so while I had invaluable help from our intern Andreas Bugeja and our project consultants, Samuel Sultana and Kris Camilleri, I shouldered most of the code, especially writing what I like to call ‘the DNA’ of the tree.

What would you say are the main benefits of Generative Art, and do you think it’s got potential to thrive in the Maltese context? Why? 

Well, like any other art form I would say it depends on its implementation. Does any art form really have a benefit over any other? Personally, I’ve always tried to respect the form I’m using so with regards to generative and digital art, the worst we can do is using it to emulate other forms, instead of using it's strengths and weaknesses to our advantage.

The most exciting thing for digital art is that it is accessible and can be interactive, today most people have a smart device, and that is a very powerful tool. It’s up to the artists to challenge the users with what they can do with that tool. Malta is quite open to technology so I do hope that Digital Art and Generative Art do thrive here.

How does this project fit into the overall programme of Shadeena, and do you hope to expand your exploration of Generative Art beyond Un/Seen Evergreen?

Shadeena is always on the look out for the next fun challenge to undertake and we look forward for the continued development of the company not only as a film company, but as an entertainment company.

The Un/Seen Evergreen is our first attempt in the development of interactive digital experiences using Generative Art and Augmented Reality and we have other digital projects in the pipeline that build on this and capitalise on the knowledge that we gain with every new challenge.

Un/Seen Evergreen is supported by the Malta Arts Fund. Download the app on the Google Play store: Windows and iOS versions of the app are forthcoming

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