▲ “Orchard in Blossom, Bordered by Cypresses.”Photographed by Kim Seung Hyun.
The life of an artist is often a lonely one, and Vincent Van Gogh’s is no exception. He moved around countless times in his life. Love eluded him, and so did the life of Christian mission he wished to dedicate himself to. Conflicts with other artists intruded upon his comforting world of light and paint, and he departed life with no one but his beloved brother Theo to watch over his passing. Every painting he created reached out to his viewers, as they still do to viewers today—they speak of loneliness, tranquility, contentment and quiet pain.
Works of art can be remade and interpreted in numerous ways. One may become inspired by a painting and choose to write a story about it. They may see the same painting and create another— an homage dedicated to the original work that moved them so. Now, in the 21st century, a new method of reliving what the great masters left behind has been introduced.
Media art is a form of art that employs many different elements; music, computer graphics and animation can all be used to create a unique experience. When coupled with traditional and well-loved works, media art can yield results that are powerful, to say the least. Animation and music breathes life into art, opening new paths of insight into the old work. The exhibition Van Gogh: Light, Color and Soul makes great use of these elements to allow viewers a glimpse into the heart of the artist.
The entire seventh floor of the Hello apM building is dedicated to the exhibition. Located in Jangchungdan-ro, Dongdaemun-gu, the building is just one road away from the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) and will be easy to spot. Entering a small doorway shrouded by black cloth, a room with a screen awaits—something viewers will see each time they enter a new zone. The zone that immediately follows it is different from others. A long, narrow hallway with writing all over the walls, Zone 2 gives information about Van Gogh’s life and also presents events pertaining to the development of modern art.
▲ Van Gogh’s self-portraits. Photographed by Kim Seung Hyun.
Quiet darkness greets the viewer as they lift the curtain and enter Zone 3, an area they will no doubt appreciate most easily. “Olive Trees” and “Yellow Sky” are the first paintings to emerge, the air around the sun rippling as if from its intense heat. Shifting flecks of cool green paint depict foliage rustling in the breeze. It appears that whoever turned works of art understands Van Gogh well—the animation is natural in that its style fits well with that of the original works. Even the soundtrack plays its part well. Tranquil, yet not at all redundant, it changes with each cluster of Van Gogh landscapes and captures the essence of the landscapes through a different medium. The exhibition is arranged in an orderly way overall, with excerpts from the artist’s letters to Theo heralding the beginning of each new cluster.
Among the animated paintings of Zone 3, there are some that especially stand out: “A Wheatfield with Cypresses,” and all three paintings within the final cluster—“Terrace of a Café at Night” and the two “Starry Nights,” one over the Rhone and the other with its iconic swirl of wind across the top. They are examples of media art done right. The sound of the breeze, the trail of leaves that blows across the screen, and the gentle and pensive notes of the piano all help the viewer truly feel the sense of comfort Van Gogh took from nature. Loneliness is still present in these works, but the beauty captured within them makes solitude seem a fragile, beautiful thing in its own right.
Unlike the other zones, Zone 4 is more of a showcase of media art; “Bedroom in Arles,” one of Van Gogh’s most famed compositions, is used as a template upon which works of contemporary artists are painted. There is the bed and clothes rack, table and chairs, the slim window, and the picture frames, but all are a blank white. Rather familiar patterns bloom over this canvas. Mondrian’s squares, cans of Campbell’s soup, and Paik Nam Joon’s television sets are just a few of the images one can see. By painting the modern over the original, Zone 4 effectively breaks the frame that surrounds the works of a deceased artist. No longer is “Bedroom in Arles” a distant and unapproachable work; within this room, the painting is an open resource for different ideas to be painted upon. It is media art that makes it possible for one to experiment with works of art in this way.
This breaking of barriers is carried over to Zone 8, where the audience can actually partake in Gogh’s world with the help of coloring pages, crayons and a scanner. It seems a fitting way to draw the exhibition to a close. It has been all about trying to bring the emotion within a painting to the fore using technology, about trying to decipher the messages Van Gogh left in his works. Now it is the viewers’ turn to communicate back. Whatever impression or idea they got from the moving, living art, they can express it by coloring one shape— a motif in Van Gogh’s work, such as a star in “Terrace of a Café at Night” or something different altogether, like a whale. The shape will be projected onto a work of Van Gogh, further breaking down the barrier between the artist and the audience.
Art is neither static nor taciturn. Artists pour their feelings into their paintings; the audience may simply admire the techniques of the painter or the beauty of the subject matter, yet the emotions present in the works is something well worth catching onto as well. It is not always easy to feel what the artist felt; thankfully for the viewers, media art is here to help them step into the heart of the painter. Van Gogh: Light, Color and Soul is a success in this regard. Hopefully, Van Gogh will not be the only artist whose works media art breathes life into.