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An afternoon with Van Gogh

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent van Gogh

Yesterday, my niece and I, accompanied by her baby son Stanley, went into the city to view the current Lume exhibition of Van Gogh's life and works. This is not your standard museum exhibition, it's what they call an immersive experience, involving all the senses - though I have to say I did not detect the smells, and we didn't indulge in the tastes in the café - so for me just sight and sound I guess. The sound - various pieces of music from Vinvcent's contemporaries was used magnificently and perfectly in synch with the movement that was confected from the images. Touch - well I could have touched the walls and the floor, but they would not have added to the experience, other than to see that the light on the wall or the floor would also show on my hands.

"Still can't comprehend what I just experienced. One of the coolest things you'll ever be part of." Visitor review

Indeed. Perhaps a mild exaggeration, but not much. The picture above is one I took of one of the fruit still lifes that made up one of the sections of the show. On the right is the original which is in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Of course going to the Lume show is not the same as seeing the original - as you can see the digital representation is somewhat distorted - indeed the picture is multiplied and overlaid. Moreover there is movement. I cannot quite remember where or what the movement was in this particular representation - most likely it was on the floor. I know that at one point the movement on the floor made it seem - if you were sitting on one of those black benches - that you were sitting in a boat and floating down a river. And at another point the movement made me feel quite disoriented - but I think that was the intention.

No it's not at all the same as going to the museum. Only when you see the original can you see the real colours of a painting for example, and the real texture, but the aim of this particular company's (Grande Experiences) and it's founder Bruce Peterson - a Melburnian - is to introduce people to an artist and to captivate them so much that they will explore more. There is a short video on the website in which Bruce Peterson explains the company and its aims. They are:

"dedicated to the art of storytelling and the creation of transformative journeys of discovery ... Both playful and profound, exhilarating and liberating, THE LUME is an invitation to see art in a new light." Lume website

When one enters the exhibition one is given a short introduction to the concept and to Van Gogh in a small anteroom that includes a mock up of Van Gogh's bedroom in which you can sit and pose for a photo if you are so inclined. But isn't it amazing how like a painting they have made it? This is not a photograph of a painting, it is of a 3D actual bedroom. Then you get a series of panels explaining the stages of Van Gogh's life. That done - quite a lot of writing for kids I guess, but you don't have to linger after all - you enter that grand space, where there is music, movement and huge digital representations of the art.

The concept apparently came to Bruce Peterson after a few experiences with his children and art galleries - when, after just a short time they wanted to leave. And I can remember my own children doing just that. The reason they gave was that there was no movement. Well here there is movement. Sometimes the pictures are animated. A train chugs through a drawn landscape, crows fly, rain falls, petals flutter to the ground and the stars swirl. All that movement that is expressed in Van Gogh's paintings is expressed in real form. The children love it. Little Stanley was intrigued, toddlers ran around gleefully and tried to catch the falling blossoms, and this young girl almost began a very hesitant dance. I should have taken a video but did not think of it.

There is even a small room set aside for you, in which to make your own drawings. I can imagine a school excursion would be encouraging this, and even yesterday, when it was not terribly busy, here were two young people inspired to have a go.

Another small room placed below one of the outer high walls, was circular and contained a screen with 'real' films of the things that the paintings in the main hall were showing - for example the night sky in Southern France, or the almond blossoms.

And at frequent intervals Vincent's own words appeared on screens here and there. The film - for film it was I suppose - followed the trajectory of his life - his beginnings in Holland - dark and gloomy, Paris with it's discovery of colour and Japanese art. And here we were treated to a display of some of those influences alongside the art that Vincent himself produced in response to those influences. Then we moved to Arles and those stars, Saint Rémy and the fields and orchards, the people he painted and the madness closing in until his last years in Auvers-sur-Oise when the words take over in a constant stream and the self-portraits dominate.

I'm sure you could criticise all this as populist, but to me it was a pretty momentous and mind-blowing event. If you have small children take them. I cannot believe that they would not be entranced. Teenagers maybe not - who knows how the mind of a teenager works - even if one was one once. The young adults that were there though seemed to be really captivated. And if any of this makes one want to see more Van Gogh somehow, then surely it's a good thing.

The link with food is tenuous I know - I took photos of some of those fruit still lifes because of the blog, but in I was too involved in watching to take photos of it all, and no picture overstayed its welcome. Once in, you can stay as long as you like. We were there for one and a half hours, seeing some of it twice, because babies need to be fed and have nappies changed and some of it was missed. I could happily have watched the whole thing again. Here are just two more photos that I took. The dance video was a supplementary thing from the Digital Arts Program that the company sponsors, and the one on the left shows the balcony above the main arena which gives you a different view.

Such a sad life. The portraits, I think are particularly magnificent - although then you see the stars, and the sunflowers, the poppies, a pair of shoes, and some apples, and you change your mind - again - and again.

I urge you to go and see it. It is showing all over the world. It ends in April in London.

I'll end with some more of Vincent's words.

“For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”

“It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to, the feeling for the things themselves, for reality is more important than the feeling for pictures.”


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