Cate Blanchetts (plural) and Nina Chanel Abney’s Imaginary Friend float above the Thames in AR art festival Unreal City

Billed as London’s biggest public festival of AR art, the 36 digital sculptures are arranged as a free walking tour along the Southbank.

2 December 2020

Acute Art and Dazed Media have launched Unreal Art, a free AR art walking tour that sees virtual sculptures by the likes of Nina Chanel Abney, Olafur Eliasson, Cao Fei and Marco Brambilla dotted along the banks of London’s River Thames. Opening next Tuesday 8 December, the festival, billed as London’s biggest public festival of AR art, includes 36 digital artworks across 24 sites between Waterloo Bridge and Millennium Bridge on the Southbank. It also features AR sculptures by Alicja Kwade, Koo Jeong A and Marco Brambilla, and brand new works by Darren Bader, KAWS, Bjarne Melgaard and Tomás Saraceno.

Through the free Acute Art app, the sculptures will be seen floating above each of the red lifebuoys on the riverside railings, including Abney’s piece Imaginary Friend, which she describes as an “always-ready companion to mitigate the uncertainty and precarity of today”. The character, which is reminiscent of a religious figure, was inspired by “the mythological characters and disincarnate guides whom people turn to in times of trouble,” Abney says, bringing to life “childhood strategies of fantasy and play as a proxy for the loss of social comforts and physical contact we experience as adults”.

One of Marco Brambilla’s pieces The Four Temperaments AR stars Cate Blanchett, wherein she performs as four characters portraying the four “temperaments” defined by Greek philosopher Galen: Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic, and Phlegmatic. In the work, each of Blanchett’s characters appears in its own floating crystal ball, staring at the viewer and saying “I love you”.

Cao Fei’s piece expands on her first virtual reality work The Eternal Wave, focusing on the kitchen space from that project, a multi-sensory journey exploring the computers of the early electronics industry in China and the areas in and around the Hongxia Theatre. In the artist’s AR piece, visitors can explore the installation by tapping on objects in the room to activate the environment in different ways.

Olafur Eliasson said that the pandemic has “disrupted so much of our everyday existence” particularly cultural life, and because those sites – cinemas, theatres, museums, etc – are closed, we need to make the most of the outdoors. “It’s important to celebrate – even now – that public space belongs to all of us and that it is, in fact, very valuable. The artwork I’ve created, Wunderkammer, is about looking at your surroundings anew. Use it to explore our shared public spaces and add to them an element of the unexpected.”

To view the Unreal City exhibition, visitors can download the free Acute Art app on iPhone, iPad or Android, through which they can download the map and view the artworks. Unreal City runs from 8 December 2020 – 5 January 2021.

GalleryAcute Art and Dazed Media: Unreal City


Nina Chanel Abney: Imaginary Friend (Copyright © Nina Chanel Abney, 2020)


Olafur Eliasson: Wunderkammer (Copyright © Olafur Eliasson, 2020)


Cao Fei: The Eternal Wave; KAWS: Companion; Olafur-Eliasson: Rare Puffin (Each piece is copyright © the artist, 2020)


Bjarne Melgaard: ​Octo With Ostrich Egg (Copyright © Bjarne Melgaard, 2020)

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Marco Brambilla: The Four Temperaments AR (Copyright © Marco Brambilla, 2020)

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

After five years as It’s Nice That’s news editor, Jenny became online editor in June 2021, overseeing the website’s daily editorial output.

Jenny is currently on maternity leave.

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