Artist + Designer Valentino Vettori’s “Arcadia” Exhibit Aims to Save the Earth

Immersive installations and augmented reality experiences inspire and offer simple solutions

It’s no secret that we’re living through tumultuous times. Every day a new environmental problem appears in the news. A lot of time is spent discussing problems the earth faces but little progress has been made in finding a solution that is broadly enactable. Valentino Vettori wants to change that. Inspired by a recent trip to Summit in Los Angeles, the storied artist and designer took a vow to create an experience that would change the way people interact with and learn about the challenges facing the environment. Eschewing a fatalistic approach, he set out to create an educational hub that brought together leading minds in various disciplines.

From the creation of a cave made from 44,000 plastic bags (the amount used in the state of New York per minute) to tapping augmented reality to immerse visitors in the depths of the ocean, Vettori’s exhibit titled Arcadia, is here to disrupt—and break down environmental problems into simple and practical solutions. By contextualizing some of these massive problems, Vettori hopes the exhibition guests will be compelled to take action. By teaming up with Oceanic Global, Arcadia is also here to show guests that no matter how small the action they might take, it can have huge consequences for the planet.

Can you tell us a little bit about how the exhibition came about? 

Well it was two years ago when I started it. It was Summit in LA where I met Paul Hawken, who was launching the book Drawdown, which I think is the first ever solution book [to the environmental crisis]. So, as you would imagine, at Summit you have incredibly educated people, and you have somebody giving a talk that tells you how to save planet Earth—you would expect everybody to be at his talk. However, I don’t want to say it was empty, but it was definitely not as packed as should be.

So I asked Paul why, and he told me “look, there are two issues. One, people are not aware of what’s happening, and they think that the science community is going to solve it. And two, it’s always negative. Everyone thinks ‘Oh, we are all going to die. And if we’re all going to die, then let’s go party.’ But we’re not gonna die if we act now.” So that day I made a vow to create an immersive journey using new technology such as VR, AR, to try to captivate the new generation that otherwise doesn’t pay attention. I wanted to create a kind of inception. You go in to have fun and learn but you come out wanting to do your part and do more for the earth.

So what are your goals for when people experience Arcadia? And in a perfect world, how do you see the experience going for these people?

I think people should just come and have fun, and then, all of a sudden, once they start realizing everything, that they will individually choose one thing that moves them. As long as they activate at least one thing, then I will consider this exhibit a success.

How did you decide on what parts of environmentalism, and all these different components, that you were going to showcase? The Amazon’s on fire, people are polluting the ocean, coral reefs are dying, etc. How did you choose your focus?

That’s actually perfect, because this question is the base of it all. I’m just like anybody else and we each have two choices: either wait to learn, and then nothing’s going to happen, or ask people that know. So I call WWF for the land, and Oceanic Global for the water. I told them “be my scientific community, stand behind me as a charity organization, tell me what are the real problems.” And every time I was building something, and then writing something, I was going back to them and saying, “Is this real? I mean are you serious? Three and a half Manhattans [burn] every day. No. Impossible.” They were like, “No, that’s real.” And so you start building the experience based on that. The only difference I would say is that for me it was important to put everything in perspective. They don’t tell you “three and a half Manhattans.” They tell you “50,000 acres.” I don’t know how big that is. So it was important to kind of calculate and contextualize it into something that is relevant to us.

What was the most surprising thing that you found out when you started doing this?

I actually thought that it was amazing that I can do four things, and save the planet. It wasn’t about what is happening, because those are the consequences of something that I can do. Eat less meat, waste no food, shop responsibly, and use no single plastic. And if we all do one of these things, then tomorrow we’re fine. We’re perfect. I think if we educate people that they can actually do four things that are simple, and have consequences, that was my big wow. And that’s why I did this.

Arcadia opens to the public on 30 August. Tickets are available at arcadia.earth and proceeds from sales benefit Oceanic Global.

Images courtesy of Arcadia