Twilight Engines is not, as it sounds, a fanfic crossover between the Twilight series (vampires and werewolves in the Pacific Northwest) and the Mortal Engines series (futuristic steampunk cities on wheels), though it is a bit fantastical, and a bit futuristic.
Indian artist Vishal K. Dar’s Edge of See: Twilight Engines (full title) is an augmented reality installation commissioned by Headlands Center for the Arts at three former military batteries—and a surprisingly seamless combination of technology, environment and imagination.
Viewing the works is a multi-step process (outlined in the exhibition brochure) that involves downloading a free app (only available on iOS devices), walking, driving or biking to three batteries spread across the Headlands’ hills, and positioning yourself at “activation points” to summon the gently undulating and epic arching lines of Dar’s sculptures into view. As a final step, because "pics or it didn't happen" is real, you can document your view with an in-app camera function, saving to your device a series of otherworldly landscapes.
The exhibition brochure also recommends visiting the third floor of the art center’s main building before you venture out into the Headlands’ beautiful wild. There you will find wooden models of the batteries with miniature versions of Dar’s AR effects issuing from them, along with a small display of the artist’s sketches and project notes. While the models’ sleek lines makes the batteries appear more like spaceships than they do when nestled into hills with weeds sprouting from cracks in their cast-concrete walls, this gallery space slightly spoils the surprise of encountering the “real” thing. Be forewarned.
Out in the field is where things get a bit fantastical. You know in your rational brain that Twilight Engines is a digital overlay of orbs and arcs onto your iPhone or iPad’s view of Battery Smith-Guthrie, Battery Wallace and Battery Mendell. But somehow the process of looking at your device’s screen—and simultaneously at the world outside of it—creates the effect of a magical window into another level of perception. It’s like they’re always there, you think. Whoa.
Compounding this is the sensation that the sculptures are alive. They seem to ebb and flow with the sound of the waves crashing below. When I visited, the breeze felt like it was responsible for the slight movement of the white lines I traced above me.