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Interview: Florie Zheng of HTC VIVE Arts on Producing Cai Guo-Qiang’s First VR Artwork

Interview: Florie Zheng of HTC VIVE Arts on Producing Cai Guo-Qiang’s First VR Artwork

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Interview: Florie Zheng of HTC VIVE Arts on Producing Cai Guo-Qiang’s First VR Artwork

Still for VR work Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City (2020). Image courtesy of Cai Studio.

Following the successful unveil of Cai Guo-Qiang’s first virtual reality artwork at the Palace Museum in Beijing in December 2020, the groundbreaking work Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City has now been brought to Shanghai as part of the inaugural exhibition at the Museum of Art Pudong.

Comprised of a large-scale alabaster model of the Forbidden City, a richly layered gunpower drawing and the VR film, Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City is installed with 4 VR headsets, allowing visitors to embark on a dreamlike journey. In this 8-minute VR artwork, the audience is able to witness the grand fireworks ceremony from alternating perspectives: from within the alabaster model, high above the complex, to traversing the coloured smoke in midair.

We speak with Florie Zheng, Head of Partnerships, China of HTC VIVE Arts, which partnered with artist Cai Guo-Qiang on his first VR work.

Florie Zheng, Head of Partnerships, China, HTC VIVE Arts

Can you tell us more about the production of Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City? 

We offered multifaceted support in the production process for Cai Guo-Qiang’s Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City. This work had been in the planning since 2019, in which the artist wanted to depict an imaginary resplendent daytime fireworks ceremony that took place six hundred years ago. This involved the 360° filming of an actual large-scale daytime fireworks display that the artist choreographed specifically for this artwork and ignited in Liuyang, Hunan province of China, with high-end 3D scanning, modeling, and CG technologies. HTC VIVE Arts is proud to have supported the artist’s exploration of this new medium is his practice, using new technologies to bring to life a vision only possible in the digital realm, igniting a resplendent daytime fireworks ceremony in the Forbidden City.

VIVE Arts’ mission is to enable and preserve cultural heritage for the world, and to democratise digital innovation in the arts.  Can you elaborate on how you see the role of technology in art and cultural heritage preservation? 

VIVE Arts harnesses cutting-edge technology to transform the way culture is experienced, delivering one-of-a-kind projects that can be accessed anywhere in the world. It fosters digital innovation, collaboration with leading artists, museums and cultural organisations to create immersive artworks and exhibits.
 
In this current changing landscape, new technologies have also offered institutions the opportunity to extend their programme into the digital realm, engaging and connecting a wider global community. For our partnership with Le Louvre in 2019, we worked closely with the museum’s team to bring to life the famous Mona Lisa, offering an opportunity for audiences to delve into the story of both Da Vinci and his sitter Lisa del Giocondo at their own pace. We also worked with the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris by providing a VR element that allowed the audience to virtually visit the gardens from which Monet took inspiration, giving a whole new dimension to his paintings. At the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the VR experience of T. Rex brought visitors up close to a scientifically accurate representation of the famous predator.
 
Technology, in whichever form, has recently paved the way to make art and culture more innovative and accessible by bringing historical or fictional scenes to life where the public can immerse themselves in a visceral and interactive journey. VR has also parlayed into a powerful medium for storytelling that can heighten our senses and transcend the traditional exhibition experience by bringing us closer to a historical figure or scenario, which is gradually recognised as an intrinsic part of our museum experience.

Still for VR work Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City (2020). Image courtesy of Cai Studio.

What do you think the future holds for art and technology collaborations?

At HTC VIVE Arts, our aim has always been to foster digital innovation and it has been so inspiring to see the passion and resilience from the arts community and their readiness to adapt and explore new models through online exhibitions and programs. Now more than ever, we are committed to supporting our partners and helping them continue to develop innovative artworks and experiences, engage their communities and share their collections via the latest technology.
 
Because of Covid-19, we have witnessed an accelerated adoption of digital technologies in the cultural sector. The pandemic has shown the importance of developing a program that is not confined to a physical space but that can move fluidly between digital and physical, online and offline, as these boundaries are increasingly blurred across different areas of daily life. This is an exciting trend, to which institutions (and of course audiences) are responding at a stunning speed by programming exhibitions that use technology and developing digital content available to wider audiences in the digital realm.
 
This drastic turn toward the digital would have been inconceivable until recently, and we are confident that the world’s appetite for digital engagement and innovation in arts and culture is only going to remain in the years to come.

How have people responded to virtual reality in your projects?  Has the Chinese or Asian audience been more or less receptive, or differed from the global audience in any way?

The development of 5G, combined with immersive technologies and artificial intelligence, is also completely revolutionising our lifestyle. From institutions that we worked with in London, Paris, New York, Beijing, Singapore to Taipei, the experience and reception of virtual reality has been universal: it gives visitors autonomy and interactivity to embark on a choreographed journey. We were thrilled to know that the unveiling of Cai’s first VR work at the Palace Museum last December has generated such an overwhelming positive response.
 
As prompted by the pandemic, there has certainly been a change in attitudes and perception of the role technology can play in bridging audiences, artists and institutions together, which has piqued the interest of the public worldwide. We are certainly encouraged by these changes and hope to expand our footprints even further in the future.

Still for VR work Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City (2020). Image courtesy of Cai Studio.

Have you observed that virtual reality technology is something that artists are increasingly incorporating more of in their works?

VR can offer audiences a deeply personal, unique experience as they move through an immersive virtual world. VR lends itself as a trailblazing educational resource that adds narrative and performative elements that tactilely engages a wide array of audiences around the world. This is increasingly reflected in artists’ practices as they seek ways to break down the barriers between the artists and the audiences and the remove the constraints in the physical world. In addition to Cai, we have previously worked with Marina Abramovich, Laurie Anderson, Anish Kapoor, Hsin Chien Huang and Liu Kuo-Sung as they enter into the foray.

Can you tell us more about the collaboration process with the artist or museum?  How early in the design or conceptual stage does VIVE Arts typically become involved, and how big a role does technology and its related practical limitations affect the design? Conversely, had there been any technology breakthroughs discovered during a project that enabled a work to be taken further than initially expected?

VIVE Arts supported Cai’s exploration of VR as a new medium in his practice, using new technologies to bring to life a vision only possible in the digital realm. Our collaboration with Cai started in 2019 but normally this development process depends on the artist or team involved as each VR piece is unique and usually take upwards of 6 months.
 
Cai Guo-Qiang has continuously experimented with new technologies and materials to create immersive and participatory artworks. In line with his audacious practice, which pushes the boundaries to create ground-breaking works, Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City has beautifully weaved the past and present together in a majestic transporting experience. We believe that the realisation of this remarkable artwork itself is a breakthrough in creative, artistic and technological arenas already.

Exhibition view of Cai Guo-Qiang: Odyssey and Homecoming at the Museum of Art Pudong, 2021

Photo by Gu Kenryou, image courtesy of Cai Studio

Can you share anything about your upcoming projects, or any experiments in the medium that the team is looking to try?

Following our successful launch of Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City at the Palace Museum in Beijing in December 2020, we brought the project to Shanghai to present as part of the inaugural exhibition of the Museum of Art Pudong in July.
 
We are continuing to partner with, and support, leading institutions, artists and other cultural organisations. Following Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser at the V&A Museum, which opened in May 2021, we are currently preparing to announce several more exciting projects around the world, one of which is with a much-loved contemporary artist!

Museum of Art Pudong, Shanghai, 2021

Photo by Gu Kenryou, image courtesy of Cai Studio

"Cai Guo-Qiang: Odyssey and Homecoming" is now open at the Museum of Art Pudong, Shanghai until March 7, 2022.  For more information and ticket purchase, please visit https://www.museumofartpd.org.cn.


Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.


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