Written by Ut Quyen for Hanoi Grapevine and VCCA; photos by VCCA
Do not re-post or copy without permission from the author, Hanoi Grapevine and VCCA
“Entertaining people by Van Gogh’s paintings was never my intention,” said VCCA’s artistic director Mizuki Endo about the ongoing exhibition Reflective Impressions: Van Gogh & his works at VCCA (until April 9). “For this exhibition I’d rather wish audience to walk slowly, and spend time to appreciate each of his works projected on the wall, and know that they can do the same in front of their phone or computer monitor.”
When hearing of a digital fine art exhibition, you might expect to see an impressive show of super high-res images projected overflowing the ceiling, the walls and spreading across the floor like in some other famous exhibitions. Then sorry, the Reflective Impressions: Van Gogh & his works at VCCA might disappoint you. Wait! Don’t turn your back on it! Here is what the curator said:
“There are thousand ways of variating Van Gogh paintings now a day. The high-end technical exhibitions which use VR interactive projection showing Van Gogh’s paintings with endless animated moving or sparkling effects is a way of getting entertainment with Van Gogh paintings. If you spend long enough time to look at Van Gogh paintings, you can see all the movements of the wind and cloud, the sparkling of the stars without adding any animated effects. Each detail in Van Gogh painting can live by itself.”
Reasons behind a ‘low-tech’ exhibition
From technical point of view, this exhibition is very simple. The enlarged images are projected on to the walls, no fancy digital effects.
The reason Mizuki chooses Van Gogh, firstly, is because he is one of the most famous artists in the world. Maybe there are other more famous artists around, like Picasso. But Picasso started painting from three years old until the end of his life. And his works cover a wide range of genres and styles. While Van Gogh had a very short career, and he was almost unrecognized during his lifetime. But look at the incredible amount of work he left us today, every single work by him is able to touch our feelings, and no one can ignore the power of his paintings once seeing them.
The second reason, Mizuki said, is Van Gogh’s paintings are very suitable for this way of exhibiting. With enlarged projected images, you can see the details very clearly. This especially good to show how unique strokes, touches, brushes of Van Gogh’s paintings are. And the emotion they bring can also be enhanced.
There are a lot of different ways to appreciate an image
It is common to think it’s better to see the original artwork to appreciate it. For Mizuki, there are a lot of different ways to appreciate an artwork. There are some international standards among art museums and curators to loan a masterpiece. The tropical weather and the condition of museums and galleries in Vietnam make it more difficult to bring masterpieces to this country, which means to be able to see original works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Cezanne… physically, you have to go all the way to Amsterdam, Paris, New York, Japan, etc…
From all people in the world who know about Van Gogh, how many of them have a chance to actually see his original works? Most people might just see his works through reproduction such as postcards, magazines, books, movies, catalogs, posters, and now, especially internet. Internet with the help of handy camera devices which are more and more popular now a day, including smartphone, has made art accessible to almost everyone.
Let’s imagine seeing an artwork in the museum, you have to stand in a crowd, behind the security bar, and look at the artwork which is sometimes very small, under spotlights, and in quite a distance from you. Can you really appreciate the work in this kind of situation? Now imagine you have a reproduction version of the work you love, you can see it very closely, and you can see it again and again, anytime when you feel like to. If you have photo of the artwork in your phone, you can enlarge it to see the details, you can even write or paint on it if you like. And you can share that photo to your friends also. You can be very intimate with the work this way. And it makes another way to use and appreciate images.
Where Impressionism meets digital photography
The projected painting has its own characteristic, it creates a special way of seeing. The painting itself is actually not there. There is just the light. What interesting is you can appreciate the colors physically. Not only can you see it through your eyes, but you can actually feel the light through your body. So it makes different effect on seeing the artwork.
When seeing Van Gogh paintings, audience unconsciously understand that the material is oil on canvas. But the digital image also has its own material just as the physical painting. It is composed of dots which we call pixels that are encoded as 010100 numbers. Everyone is familiar with digital photos now a day, because most people use smartphone to take pictures. However, no one seems to think of the image in its materiality because it’s impossible to see the dots, or the pixel on your phone’s monitor.
The invention of photography is the absolutely opposite way to the invention of impressionism. Photography is realism. Because photography was invented, there are more and more artists who don’t want to paint in realistic way anymore since photos could do it better than they could. As a reaction to photography, impressionists tried to go to a more painterly way. They tried to catch the essential existence of the objects with light, shadow, colors. Their paintings didn’t have to be realistic, but rather a compression of color dots and dashes. And the most essential aspect of impressionism painting was to depict the light, so the light itself became a material in the painting. “It’s very interesting for me to think that even though impressionism was trying to go the opposite way to photography, in the end, it meets the essential of digital photography,” said Mizuki.
With the popularity of handy camera devices, especially mobile phone, there are billions of photos taken every day, or even every hour. You will slide through a bunch of photos on your phone screen. It is easy to pick up a photo you like as well as to abandon it. How many people have time to appreciate the photos they took? In this exhibition you can take more time with each image, you can see slowly on the details. If you go closely to the screen, you can see the dots, which is the material of the image, and you can appreciate it in a different way.