The Real Deal: your only guide to Van Gogh Dublin – An Immersive Journey

Elena McCrory gets the inside scoop on this one of a kind art event with Project Director Jillian Wilson

This exhibition uses high intensity flashing lights. As advertised on vangoghdublin.com, it may irritate or even trigger seizures for people with photosensitive epilepsy. Viewer discretion is advised. 

Van Gogh Dublin – An Immersive Journey is not what people are expecting. What has been deemed a travelling, moving or immersive exhibition from various articles and news posts, could not be further from the real essence of this technological show; made clear by the event’s Project Director, Jillian Wilson. If ever you had doubts whether to pay the student fare of €25.94 (on Ticketmaster’s company website, universe.com), I urge you to do exactly that. This high-tech live event is a one time interaction, and one which art students or appreciators should not be willing to miss. 

Wilson dubbs the event a “world premier”, it is so much more than just a display. Theatre of Light in collaboration with Nohlab are using Artificial intelligence, 3D data analysis, data visualisation, and generative neural technology to physically thrust us into Van Gogh’s most famous paintings. Like many people have preconceived, this will not entail bulky projections  on carpets, screening pictures shown in movies or drive-in cinemas. These images will be experienced as part of the building, Wilson notes to “picture the wall as the blank canvas”. Theatre of Light are using a catalogue of over 2,000 of Van gogh’s paintings, drawings, and letters to bring us an experience supported by intense research and an aim to understand the tortured and brilliant impressionist artist. Wilson continues: “we’ve basically been researching for the past three years about what’s on the market, sourcing the best technology, and we’ve partnered with an award winning content studio to create something really unique and really new”. If you imagine a film reel with a projector, this is not it; the minute you enter Shelbourne Hall you are within the paintings.

“Wilson states it is ‘machine learning’, and I believe that is the perfect way to anticipate this.”

Wilson states it is “machine learning”, and I believe that is the perfect way to anticipate this. It is a show like no other, led by technology and digital illusions. The premiership comes into play because alongside Van Gogh’s infamous pieces, art is expected from their creative partners, Nohlab. Nohlab, who have collaborated with the likes of Chanel, Pink Floyd, Nike, Audi, Scriabin Museum, and Atelier des Lumieres in Paris, aim to build bridges between the digital and physical reality through art and design. It will create a unique reimagination. They are producing stand alone pieces for immersion using their own contemporary artists, “inspired by the evolution of art, science, and light”.

“With the archives Theatre of Light has access to, they are putting into this multi-sensory experience, art that Van Gogh might have painted if he were alive today”

The real aim of this project is to get into the mindset and understand Van Gogh, not simply to admire his work as the word “exhibition” might traditionally imply. This is an event that will not only display contemporary artists channelling digital data, but a complete reimagining of Van Gogh’s pieces. With the archives Theatre of Light has access to, they are putting into this multi-sensory experience, art that Van Gogh might have painted if he were alive today -it will be a complete re-imagining of what Gogh could have achieved if he were alive in the 21st century -and this approach has never before been experimented with in an art show. It is the world premiering of this concept, one I am intrigued by. Wilson references that many people have probably already seen images of the touring exhibit online, it reached cities like London, New York and Paris, but what Theatre of Light and Nohlab want to do is to have “a reimagining of that experience”: “Not only are we bringing it to life, but we are also using really innovative technology…we’re actually looking at his life and how he’s been inspired”. Wilson says that “people can look at what he might have done, if he’d been a digital artist in this age.”

From May 15 to August 6, Hall 2 in Shelbourne Hall at the RDS will host the 20,000 foot visual tunnels – no doubt The Starry Night (1889) and Wheatfield with Crows (1890) will make an epic appearance. Limited tickets are available online at https://vangoghdublin.com/ and Hall 2 in the RDS is all at ground level making it an easier access for anyone with mobility necessities. Parking is €7 at the RDS, but luckily only a 20-25 minute walk from Dublin Town.  Opening seven days a week, viewers can also expect the virtual reality experience, a “journey of a light particle” from the beginning of its creation, transitioning to a solid entity to our human eye, as well as a retail shop, cafe and infinity room.

“This interactive event is like no other, it is showcasing the evident highs that art can achieve digitally at an extremely advanced level.”

To capture the essence of this ultimate event, Wilson paints a vivid image: “It’s like you are strolling through the fields of [the] south of France with Van Gogh, or looking out into the window of his bedroom and seeing the mountain and the sky that he sees, or the way that his eyes perceive the stars, or following his hands as he is painting the brushstrokes.” This interactive event is like no other, it is showcasing the evident highs that art can achieve digitally at an extremely advanced level. It is certainly a new kind of art, art of the future. But you know what they say – there’s no time quite like the present (so get booking).