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Published: 10:39, September 30, 2022 | Updated: 15:53, September 30, 2022
Come for the Instagram, stay for the art
By Chitralekha Basu
Published:10:39, September 30, 2022 Updated:15:53, September 30, 2022 By Chitralekha Basu

While the technical aspects of immersive art exhibitions are getting more sophisticated by the day, Chitralekha Basu wonders if it isn’t time for Hong Kong’s art-tech wizards to go beyond creating spectacles.

Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist has a towering presence in the two-channel video installation, Sip My Ocean. It’s a highlight piece of her solo exhibition Behind Your Eyelid, now on at Tai Kwun and an exemplar of the artist at her provocative best. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Hong Kong has seen a deluge of immersive art exhibitions recently, and there are more in the pipeline. These include the highly anticipated En Voyage with Claude Monet, co-presented by local art and tech company ChillHoYeah and the Belgium-based creative studio Dirty Monitor. The latter is a trailblazer in the field of 3D video mapping, having produced stunning, 360-degree immersive video installations and VR experiences based on works by Vincent van Gogh and Gustav Klimt.

Featuring around 200 paintings by the French impressionist Claude Monet (1840-1926), En Voyage will also see the launch of a state-of-the-art exhibition space in Cultural Plaza, next to Xiqu Centre in the West Kowloon Cultural District. “Over 21 high-tech projectors and speakers will create a digital experience based on the historical paintings of the master of impressionism,” says Julien-Loic Garin, director of arts and culture for the upcoming exhibition.

Local art and tech company ChillOhYeah has joined forces with Belgium-based studio Dirty Monitor to create a 360-degree immersive experience based on the life and works of French impressionist master painter Claude Monet. The show arrives in Hong Kong end of October. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Garin had a role in bringing Claude Monet: The Spirit of Place to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in 2016. Drawing over 200,000 visitors, that exhibition too had an immersive component. En Voyage is mounted on a grander scale and promises to be a jaw-dropping achievement in architectural mapping. Garin reveals that the show has been designed as a “continuous journey, allowing us to discover Monet’s evolution in terms of technique, topics and vision”. 

Local art and tech company ChillOhYeah has joined forces with Belgium-based studio Dirty Monitor to create a 360-degree immersive experience based on the life and works of French impressionist master painter Claude Monet. The show arrives in Hong Kong end of October. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Local art and tech company ChillOhYeah has joined forces with Belgium-based studio Dirty Monitor to create a 360-degree immersive experience based on the life and works of French impressionist master painter Claude Monet. The show arrives in Hong Kong end of October. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The 36-minute show guides the viewer through “the key moments of Monet’s life: the caricatures of figures he drew as a child; the exhibition that launched the impressionist movement; the passing of his wife Camille; and finally, settling in Giverny”. Monet famously designed his Giverny estate landscape himself, building a lake and filling it with water lilies because he wanted to paint them.

Chroma 11 by Jessey Tsang, now showing at Freespace in West Kowloon Cultural District, features an immersive audio-visual installation and VR pieces.  (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The water lilies will bloom again and with complete fidelity to Monet’s original images when En Voyage opens in October, but can the show go beyond pulling off a superb technological feat? Could it, possibly, add to the expectations of an audience already familiar with immersive adaptations of Monet’s works?

Garin is confident that En Voyage can provide “an additional experience for us to appreciate the creations of the master in all their details, colors and diversity”. Prior to their exposure to the immersive phase of the show, viewers get a chance to walk through an “introduction room” to gain “insights into Monet’s life, ways of working, and research into movement and light”.

“Then the scale and technology of the immersive projection … magnify for us every single detail from many artworks, allowing us to see and feel the large brushstrokes and small touches,” Garin adds.

Chroma 11 by Jessey Tsang, now showing at Freespace in West Kowloon Cultural District, features an immersive audio-visual installation and VR pieces.  (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Dark fantasies

Hong Kong’s own tech wizards are producing more immersive shows than ever before and seem to be getting steadily more brilliant at it. Orbstellar by studio Xcept, running at Pacific Place until October 9, conjures up a seamless simulation of a walk through a “metaspace galaxy” in which viewers can even use an app to create their own planets.

The proliferation of shows where artists are able to cajole viewers into happily suspending disbelief leads to a number of concerns about the ways in which the gifts of technology are being used to create immersive art. Might the art that overwhelms the senses also stimulate the mind? Persuade the viewer into applying a degree of intellectual rigor in order to make the experience more meaningful?

Pipilotti Rist’s ongoing exhibition at Tai Kwun features works such as Open My Glade; Big Skin and Pixel Forest, an apparently cheerful LED light installation enticing the audience to explore the wildly fantastical world of the artist’s creations. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Tobias Berger, head of art at Tai Kwun, has seen it happen recently. While Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist’s ongoing Behind Your Eyelid exhibition is drawing its share of Instagrammers, a number of them seem to be staying back for a deeper engagement with the art. 

“I have never seen so many good, funny, amazing comments about an exhibition at Tai Kwun before,” says Berger who curated the show. “Viewers are really touched.”

Rist takes immersive to the next level. She is as bewitching as she’s bold, as self-deprecating as she’s empathetic. There are surprises at every turn and not always pleasant ones. For example, the gateway to the show is through a curtain made of 3,000 hand-sculpted LED light crystals, twinkling with the colors of the rainbow. Called Pixel Forest, the piece seems like a perfect opening gambit — a representation of the boundary separating the audience from Rist’s fantasy world. On closer inspection though, it turns out the crystals resemble female genitalia.

The theme of repressed female sexuality resurfaces throughout the exhibition. It’s there in Sip My Ocean, a two-channel video projection showing mirror images of the artist swimming underwater. The combination of super-size screens attached at right angles and use of extreme close-ups make the artist’s twin images tower over the viewer who is literally pushed into a corner. 

Pipilotti Rist’s ongoing exhibition at Tai Kwun features works such as Open My Glade; Big Skin and Pixel Forest, an apparently cheerful LED light installation enticing the audience to explore the wildly fantastical world of the artist’s creations. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

In the video installation Open My Glade, Rist’s face pops up behind the bars of a clerestory window. With her mouth and nose squashed against the glass, the manic look in her eyes is enough to creep out the most seasoned noir art aficionado. 

In The Apartment, splashes of vivid rainbow colors left on glass slides are somewhat revoltingly brought to life by adding blobs of saliva on which the artist draws with her fingers. These images are then blown up to cover the walls from floor to ceiling, immersing the viewer in a whirlpool of sensory overload.

Even as they fascinate the audience or freak them out, Rist’s darkly fantastical works are in fact closer to traditional art forms than they might appear. “You don’t see a lot of computer-generated art in her works. Maybe they’ve been digitally edited, or the colors enhanced. But 95 percent of the time, it’s real things being photographed or filmed,” Berger notes.

This makes Rist a true maverick in the field of immersive art. It also proves that while using the newest technology can help make an immersive experience more seamless, its ability to stir human emotions and enrich the mind probably comes from elsewhere.

Pipilotti Rist’s ongoing exhibition at Tai Kwun features works such as Open My Glade; Big Skin and Pixel Forest, an apparently cheerful LED light installation enticing the audience to explore the wildly fantastical world of the artist’s creations. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Together forever

For filmmaker Jessey Tsang Tsui-shan, the transition to new media art was inspired by content. Ward 11, her documentary featuring the dancing duo Ix Wong and Aaron Khek — who also happened to be romantic partners — won the Silver Award at ifva 2020. Khek died of cancer in 2019 — the year the film came out. Seeing Wong’s deep and abiding love, which has endured beyond his partner’s lifetime, made Tsang wonder if it might be possible to use VR technology as a bridge between the worlds of the living and the dead.

“The idea was to place the viewer in the middle of the protagonists’ memories, and retell their love story in a different dimension,” says Tsang of her VR piece, Chroma 11.

Tsang upends conventional notions of framing images, making the visual projections sweep across the floor and walls of the white cube-shaped exhibition space. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Instead of 3D scanning old and new footage for motion capture, Tsang went for 2.5D Depthkit technology, to make the dancers’ movements appear “less robotic”. She loved Depthkit’s way of representing human figures in the form of luminous, parallel vertical lines, making them appear abstract and incomplete compared to fully fleshed-out 3D figures, especially since the fragmented images resonate with the theme of passing on to a world beyond the known and familiar.

The first Hong Kong-made VR project to make it to the Venice International Film Festival, Chroma 11 is currently on show at the West Kowloon Cultural District’s Freespace, in an enhanced iteration. The package comprises a video film, an immersive audiovisual installation and the VR piece.

The set of the immersive audiovisual show features a white cube with another slightly smaller one inside it. The form is repeated in the wooden stools meant for viewers. Resonating with the framelessness of VR, the visuals sweep across walls, floor and ceiling, going against the conventional notions of framing images.

Asked if the setting is meant to remind viewers of a mausoleum, Tsang notes that the texture and color of the white-cotton walls do indeed exude a funereal vibe.

“The cube is a key element, both in the VR piece and immersive installation,” she adds. “The box framing represents the folding and unfolding of memories. It’s also a reference to the daily rituals performed by Wong (in memory of Khek).”

Chroma 11 by Jessey Tsang, now showing at Freespace in West Kowloon Cultural District, features an immersive audio-visual installation and VR pieces.  (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

At the end of the VR piece, the half-formed dancing figures disappear, and the viewer is left with an image of two entwined trees.

“We wanted to end on a meditative, peaceful note,” says Tsang. “The trees suggest ongoing life. The VR experience ends and you go back to reality.”

If you go

Behind Your Eyelid — Pipilotti Rist

Date: Through Nov 27

Venue: JC Contemporary and sitewide, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central

taikwun.hk/pipilotti


Tsang Tsui-shan — Chroma 11

Date: Through Oct 1

Venue: Freespace, West Kowloon Cultural District, 18 Museum Drive, Tsim Sha Tsui

westkowloon.hk/en/phygitald_chroma11 


En Voyage with Claude Monet

Date: Oct 27 through Jan 15

Venue: Cultural Plaza (next to Xiqu Centre), West Kowloon Cultural District, 88 Austin Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

envoyage-monet.hk

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