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Place your iPhone over this Coquitlam lake to see the giant seedling

Hyung-min Yoon's AR sculpture over Lafarge Lake in Coquitlam is creating quite the buzz with Town Centre Park visitors.

Her art wasn’t meant to go digital.

When Hyung-min Yoon worked with the Evergreen Cultural Centre (ECC) curators following her show at the Coquitlam arts hub last year, the Vancouver-based artist initially set out to create a physical sculpture.

But by the time Trace closed last April, the pandemic lockdown was in full swing with no end in sight, forcing Yoon to revise her plans.

Still, as the health restrictions wavered during the year and the bureaucracy to show her art slowed, Yoon opted for a new format. 

“Augmented reality made sense because technology has been evermore present during these times,” she told the Tri-City News.

Her digital work Seedling (cedar), which can be seen until October, is an interactive display that requires the viewer to download the free app Seedling, scan a QR code and hold the mobile device above Lafarge Lake.

On the screen, participants can see Yoon’s digital image of a western red cedar — with roots and all — hovering over the water.

Yoon, who has her master’s degree in fine arts from the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London, England, depicted a young cedar because “seedlings are so small but perfect,” she said in an phone interview on Monday. “They’re also odd-looking because we’re used to them being bigger in size. Seedlings are almost alien-shaped but they’re full of potential. You can find them everywhere.”

Yoon also chose the species as it’s common to the Pacific Northwest and in Indigenous traditions: from ceremonies to medicine.

However, the western red cedar is also on the decline because of climate change, logging and development “and other ongoing effects of settler colonialism,” Yoon writes in her artist statement to ECC.

As well, placing it above Lafarge Lake, an area once used as a quarry, ties in the “impact of the settler colonialism on the land.”

As for the AR image, Yoon said she blew up a high-resolution scan of a cedar at UBC and placed the “sculpture” over the lake for viewers to reflect on the lake’s history and the gradual decline of the species.

Still, having her installations around bodies of water isn’t anything new for Yoon: Her ongoing Um…. series centres on sculptures on water so that the text can be read on the surface and mirrored via the reflection.

For Seedling (cedar), viewers can scan the QR code on the sign near the Evergreen Cultural Centre or at the dock to get the 2D image on their screen; Yoon likes both locations because the mountains serve as a backdrop.

But as the format is new to her, Yoon said she’s making tweaks along the way: Last week, she toned down its contrast to make it softer. 

The Korean-born artist, who typically splits her time between her homes in Vancouver and Seoul, said her experimental piece comes as AR exhibits are creating a buzz on the international arts scene. “This is a platform for contemporary art. It’s meaningful and it makes use of the situation we are in.”

She added, “We can’t be separated from our [mobile] phones or iPads so I wanted to use this portal for something different — not just for checking or reading. Because we can use water as a screen or for reflection, I think that’s the best meditation: To create a moment to enjoy nature through culture.”