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Van Gogh Alive – the experience, Birmingham Hippodrome

Reviewer: John Kennedy

‘I would rather die of passion than boredom.’ Just one of the many selected quotes from Van Gogh’s poignant reflections. Indeed, his ruthless lucidity and candour belies the stereotypical image of the manic, radical DIY ear cosmetician.

Utilising high-wall-mounted/suspended canvas-effect hi-reflective surfaces, together with mosaic-like fluid floor projections, Van Gogh Alive comes absolutely alive with a dynamic pallet of audio-visual splendour – an effervescent, energetic imaginarium enough to distance the COVID spectre for a joyous hour or so: the Hippodrome’s safety contingents are beyond praise. They keep you safe in this arabesque of polychromatic, brush-stroked, timeless phantoms.

This a multi-surface, 3D giddy gallery of sensory immersions. Australian conceptual creators, Grande Exhibitions, call it SENSORY4ä Sunflowers, cornfield raging crows, provincial postmen, doctors and absinthe-soaked bar-flies all feature in this biographical journey to the stars – from super-nova genius to black-hole despair and suicide.

Beginning with his early Netherlands forays into ‘clogs and clods’ observational ruralism and tonal introspection, there’s a momentary lapse of gravitas when his astonishing grasp and gasp anachronistic skeleton puffing on a fag pops up. His move to Paris on the cusp of Post-Impressionism is his epiphanic moment. A once sombre pallet spills over with a rainbow ballet, pick ’n mix cornucopia of frantic, blossoming bouquets of fruit-bowls and flowers. There’s a delicious transition to his lesser known ‘Japanese period’ where, to a Sugar-Plum Fairy pirouette sound-track, startling images of ornamental gardens and subtly animated rain-squalls and snow-effect, wind-swept blossoms explode.

This animation motif is used with economic sensibility and is therefore a more rewarding effect. A witty transition has Van Gogh’s move to the south of France energised by a bustling steam-train, panoramically scuttling around the exhibition space.

His time in Arles is both productive but increasingly troubled by his sociopathic tendencies brought on by his manias, lack of artistic and commercial recognition, together with his only mate, Gauguin, pulling all the best-looking girls. Too late for Van Gogh’s unrequited love of art and nature – he only sold one painting in his lifetime.

Vigorous, vital and life-affirmingly visceral, this is an experience akin to being coshed by infinite bouquets of LSD peppered butterfly wings – a stupefying celebration of justified self-indulgence where COVID-psyche wounds are momentarily massaged in a shimmering whirlpool of incandescent, molten amber.

Brush-stoke ectoplasmic phantoms of immediate, intimate recognition are suspended in a digital ether. A multi-trapeze ballet of effervescent vapours, where spectral vapours shimmer in digital motes of haunting transcendence.

The dazzling enchantment ends far too soon but the magic lingers in a timeless, sensory soul-hug when what seemed corporeal, all to soon sadly melts and one is left seduced by this kaleidoscope of confederate, conspiratorial projected wonders. Be prepared for the sumptuous star-gazing dénouement that is only sombrely eclipsed by a crow-scattering shotgun shock. Be sure to visit the pre-performance gallery, the hall of sunflower mirrors and definitely splash-out on the magnificent souvenir brochure.

Runs until 31 December 2020

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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