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Ready to Gogh: When the Starry Night is brought to life at Atelier des Lumières

In early Spring 2019, Paris was so grey and sullen, while my eyes were red from lack of sleep.  Though the sun hid behind the sea of  clouds, the air was otherwise filled with passion and bright rays of enthusiasm. I hopped on the train to Voltaire station, walking for 10 minutes and stepping into the unique exhibition where the Starry Night couldn’t get any brighter and everything was larger than life.

They said that having a day in Paris is never enough for art enthusiasts; you wish you could multiply your time into participating in all of the events over the city.  But my job isn’t designed to let me stay long. Perhaps a day should be more than enough to visit the Van Gogh exhibition, I briefly told one of my coworkers about my layover plan in the city of love. But which one? he asked, initiating the discussion over each other’s plan. Vincent van Gogh wasn’t recognised in his lifetime but his reputation has grown steadily since then.  Even though various venues in Paris own the rights to show his works in both original and adaptive, nothing can compare to the latest digital media exhibition at Atelier des Lumières. The gallery’s first success from last year’s immersive multimedia exhibition of Gustav Klimt drew the global attention. 2019 is Van Gogh’s turn, I added. We came to the conclusion that leisure is still hard to categorise and I said good day. When the conversation ended on a classy note, something foreshadows the kind of day it would be.

Van Gogh Starry Night (La nuit étoilée) is the multi-sensory digital media exhibition that turns the whole space into Vincent van Gogh wonderland. Over 2,000 of his paintings are projected onto the foundry’s monumental walls, allowing visitors to immerse themselves into the famous paintings including the Sunflower (1887), the Cafe Terrace at Night (1888) and the Bedroom in Arles (1888). The creators, Gianfranco Iannuzzi, Renato Gatto,  and Massimiliano Siccardi tell us the intense story of Van Gogh’s life through his paintings, accented with the music collaboration of Luca Longobardi.  The storyline traces Van Gogh’s life, divided into different stages such as his stays in Paris, Arles, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and Auvers-sur-Oise (his final resting place).

The mesmerising display of moving images, light and sound plunges you into the world that the masterpieces of Vincent van Gogh are alive and touchable. The cry for understanding in his darkness is reflected through the variety of contemporary music.  I couldn’t help but feeling that I was actually in the cinema, accompanied with the matched soundtrack. So beautiful, it hurts, I thought as the brushstrokes on the golden hue of the field in The Wheatfield with Crows (1890) were repeatedly and sharply painted all over the hall, emphasising his dark premonition in the last moments of his life. Once each image faded away, every piece of me silently moaned, craving for more and excited to see what would appear next onto the foundry’s walls.

The exhibition consists of three different programs: 1). Van Gogh Starry Night (Long Program), 2). Dreamed Japan (Images of the floating world) and 3). Verse (Contemporary work). The remarkable Dreamed Japan emphasises the profound effect Van Gogh had from Japanese paints, the use of yellow and blue in particular. I sat on the floor absorbing all the creativities floating on every imaginable surface in the venue. The melody from the song “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” was echoing along the floating cherry blossom and the maple leaves, I was wondering whether Christmas came early this year.

Rules to appreciate art are delusional at Atelier des Lumières. You are welcomed to walk, sit, or even lie on the floor as the paintings utterly transform the whole room to be multi-sensory experiences. The hall is divided into several areas, yet every space is the canvas that you’re allowed to be the part of it. It’s fun to see how authors evoke our imaginations by expanding, swapping, or repeating the details before appearing the whole pictures. The only room that left me with the least excitement was the oval shape room in the middle of the hall, where, however, it should be considered as the most informative one.  While other areas are projected with the cinema-like graphics of van Gogh’s paintings, this room provides the references of names and years of such pictures. It is the only room that embodies the original representations of visual arts in the museum, keeping audiences engaged.

The power of digital media in the art world brings the art display to another level, making people approach art more easily. It seems perfectly fit for 21st century audiences, however some may wonder whether the digital media distorts the art appreciation in authenticity of paintings or not?

I agree that the charm of the classic way of painting appreciation we are familiar with may be gone. But to see the original works isn’t my purpose, it is to embrace the new perspective of appreciating my favorite paintings. In Starry Night exhibition, the creators use digital technology to elaborate Vincent’s significant painting characteristics, such as the richness of his palette, the bold brushstrokes, and the use of impasto (a technique used in painting, creating the thick layers on the surface). The details which we might have or haven’t noticed on the canvas before are now highlighted according to what the artists want to narrate. Also, you may find diverse points-of-view toward your favorite paintings in digital arts. It can be said that artists use the former artist’s works as the channel to deliver their own messages. The exhibition salutes Van Gogh by wrapping all of his works into one exhibition, however the real art is how they compile these 2,000 pieces into a story and what messages they are trying to send.

Stepping outside, I shredded my tears and wondered a taste of  lifelong rejection would be like. Perhaps, it was what this musical and visual experiences of Van Gogh implied, perhaps I was sensitive. Leaving the gallery, I was listening to a song “Vincent” by Don Mclean, who wrote this song in honor of Vincent van Gogh. I realised that words couldn’t describe what I felt about this experience better than the lyrics – Now I understand what you tried to say to me, and how you suffered for your sanity, and how you tried to set them free. They would not listen, they did not know how… Perhaps they’ll listen now.  And I think now people are listening, Vincent.

Facts for Van Gogh Starry Night at Atelier des Lumières

-You can reach the Atelier des Lumières by metro: No. 9 (Voltaire, Saint-Ambroise), No.3  (Rue Saint-Maur) and No.2 (Père Lachaise) or by bus: 46, 56, 61 and 69.

-The Van Gogh, Starry Night will be held at Atelier des Lumières from From 22 February to 31 December 2019. To avoid queuing at the ticket office, booking in advance is suggested. The online booking is provided at the official website, and audiences need to select the time of visiting in order to maintain the numbers of visitors not to be too crowded. Tickets are now sold out in many days, so please get prepared.

-The rate of tickets is varied. But in order to purchase tickets at reduced rate for students, disability card-holders, unemployed and Education Pass holders,, the presentation of written proof, e.g., ID card, passport, is strictly required.

-The venue will open only when spaces are sufficient enough. With approximately an hour of every program (Starry Night is 35 minutes and the other two programs are 15 each), lingering around for two cycles would be more than enough to absorb whole the musical and visual experiences.

-For those who may like to get an appetite for the visual impressionism event, there’s a similar exhibition “From Monet to Kandinsky” which will be held at Rivercity Bangkok from 26 April to 31 July, 2019. Tickets are now available; please visit their official FB page Rivercitybangkok for more inquiries.

Text and Photos by Apitchada Sompama