Artistic Directors: Mario Iacampo and Orphée Cataldo
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
‘What would life be like if we had no courage to attempt anything’, a suitable epithet for Mario Iacampo and Orphée Cataldo’s exhibition taken from the words of Vincent Van Gogh himself. It may not hold a single painting by the artist and everything you see is a deliberate reproduction of sorts but Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience opening at Old Stable Yard in London is a daring experiment in animation and augmented reality.
And it is ultimately a successful one, although with five separate areas of the exhibition, the audience will have to wait to experience the full immersive effect. With an advised running time of 60-75 minutes, the exhibition begins with a fairly traditional examination of Van Gogh’s life and artistic inspiration alongside some canvas prints of his most famous works including the Sunflower Series and his paintings from Arles featuring landscapes and people.
In this overview section covering a couple of rooms, this is the place to see Van Gogh’s timeline, understand his repetitious interest in the same subject at various times and in different states, see a recreation of his often-painted bedroom and note how Japanese styles influenced his work. Much of this is recounted on dense signboards, which, in some of the narrow and crowded spaces, can cause the exhibition logs jams that no one missed when social distancing was necessary.
But the fourth room and fifth rooms are what you have been waiting for (unless you want to colour in a Van Gogh’s self-portrait in room three). The first contains a 10-minute virtual reality session involving individual headsets, a fully animated recreation of Arles where Van Gogh created some of his most famous works, the settings for which are the purpose of this guided tour.
Leaving his bedroom and gliding over the landscape, you are taken through the abundant countryside, alongside fields full of hay, wildflowers and dozing farmhands to the woods, then onwards towards the town with its small houses and cafes before ending on the river front. Narrated by Jeremy Irons as the artist, a bright summery day turns to a clear night on the journey, capturing the brilliant yellows and rich blues of Van Gogh’s palette, pausing at salient moments as a canvas appears drawing attention to the augmented view and the artist’s memorable depiction of it.
Continuing the theme, the final room contains 30-minute animated loop combining Van Gogh’s most famous works in an abstract video projected simultaneously onto the four surrounding walls to create the immersive effect the exhibition title boasts. The film contains eight to ten subsections each focusing on a different thematic area including rural scenes, self-portraits, Japanese paintings and eventually Van Gogh’s more famous works including the sunflower series and a couple of starry nights.
Some of these sections last a little too long, including images of Van Gogh placed in the doorway and windows of an ancient stone building as well as a montage of urban scenes, but later segments take on a magical effect as the paintings actually move. Cherry blossom falls from the trees, clouds roll and furl around spinning stars, ships bob on the water and sunflower spotlights dance across the carpet. Complete with Van Gogh deckchairs and rugs, this becomes a relaxing space to absorb Gilles Colinet, Tom Cuylits and Johan Callewaert’s impressive graphics.
This immersive exhibition arrives in London to much acclaim following similar openings across Europe and while the early sections offer nothing new, the eventual animation is completely unique. Van Gogh was a daring artist and in envisaging new ways to engage with his pieces, Iacampo and Cataldo have been inspired not just by the prolific and influential work of a great artist but by his courage to imagine these great paintings a little differently.
Runs until 6 February 2022