The digitisation of art is a phenomenon the art market has been slowly witnessing for years, accelerated by the limitations imposed by the pandemic. While NFTs and the concept of ownership through ‘tokenisation’ have taken centre stage in recent discourse, the digitisation of exhibitions has seemingly flown under the radar. Perhaps this is because the concept is less contentious, or perhaps this is due to the minimal access afforded to the public over the pandemic. As cities re-open and culture starts to bloom, the public will greet the old masterpieces and contemporary artworks hung proudly in our galleries again. However, during their time out of the public eye, curators and producers have been finding ways to transform and enhance the way we consume art. By incorporating digital technology and virtual reality into the traditional gallery format, exhibitions are more visceral and immersive than ever before.
‘Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience’ exemplifies the successful collaboration between technology, creativity and art. Set in the heart of Brick Lane and surrounded by food stands and pubs, the unconventional nature of the exhibition is noticeable before you even step foot in it. The exhibition divides into four sections, each increasingly interactive and exceptional. The first section contains no original works but offers a sensory and detailed insight into the painter, starting with a timeline of Van Gogh’s tumultuous and melancholy career. Copies of Van Gogh’s sunflower painting series are presented and analysed, providing food for thought for the reader. Next, you are invited to step inside Van Gogh’s ‘Bedroom in Arles’ to confront a large-scale interactive remake of the room. Visitors are encouraged to touch the installation and take photos sitting on the straw chair, an act unfamiliar in traditional galleries.
Next, you enter a dimly lit warehouse-style studio where crayons and drawing paper containing templates of Van Gogh’s most celebrated works are provided on arrival. Visitors are encouraged to explore their artistic abilities and appreciate the complexities of the artist’s work by having a go at creating themselves. One can even become a part of the exhibition as visitors’ works are pinned to the walls and selected works are projected on a screen at the front of the studio to inspire observers. This portion of the exhibition provides an extremely accessible way to interact with the revered artist.
On completing your masterpiece, you arrive at what can only be described as a set from ‘Black Mirror’. With the aid of a virtual reality headset, you are transported into an advanced digital world, where a narrator guides you through scenes instantly recognisable from the artist’s work. Starting with his early years in Antwerp and leading to his resting place in Auvers-sur-Oise, viewers are granted three-dimensional and 360 degree access to the enchanting settings that inspired Van Gogh’s masterpieces. These include the mystical forests of Liesbos, the Langlois Bridge at Arles and the quaint town of Saint-Remy on the Rhone. This unforgettable experience – firmly at the intersection of technology, music and art – leaves you entirely disappointed when, upon taking off your headset, you realise that you are not, in fact, on holiday in rural France.
The exhibition culminates in a vast room in which all four walls are bought to life with digital animations of the works of Van Gogh. The famous ‘Starry Night’ breathes as it moves across the walls to the sound of Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’. With cushions and deck chairs scattered sporadically, viewers can sit and watch as Van Gogh’s work twists and morphs in front of them – blending his original iconography with a futuristic new medium. As the animation projects into every corner of the room, you are provided with an ambient opportunity to ponder the life of the seminal, yet, equally as troubled, artist.
The exhibition runs until February 2022 and tickets can be found here.