My dear Readers,
I am writing to you from the foyer of the Lighthouse Artspace. It is an unassuming space, several meters below ground level on the corner of 5th Street and Indian School, which is in Scottsdale, Arizona. The occasion of which is the ribbon cutting ceremony of the traveling exhibit titled Immersive Van Gogh.
The lobby itself is bright and cheerful, and is adorned with Van Gogh’s signature sunflowers, hanging from the ceiling like huge light globes. Beyond the lobby lies the first part of the installation, which is a wall of events of personal history: a timeline of Van Gogh’s most famous works. From there, we pass through an archway into a room filled with portions of letters written by him, translated into English from their original Dutch and French.
Famously, Vincent wrote many personal letters, primarily to his brother Theo, his sister and his mother. They number into the thousands, although only about 900 have been preserved for posterity. In deference to this unique aspect, I am writing this journal in letter form, hoping that the personalized style may pay homage to someone who was as nuanced with the written word as he was with the paintbrush.
Moving from the room of letters, we approach a darkened corridor then turn down a lighted tunnel. As we step through the tunnel, the effect is something between a surreal time machine and a star-filled sky. How strange that I often look up at the nighttime sky and feel myself teleported through both space and time. So it is, dear readers, as we step through this portal.
Curtains part. We pass into a large room filled with gigantic projections of those signature sunflowers. The walls and floor are covered with them. We round a corner into an even larger room, the main hall. It is the same motif: a placeholder, as it were, for a marvelous show of lights and colors that is about to commence.
The presentation begins with a gradual fading of the yellow tapestry and a steady rise of the sound of classical music. At once, we are transformed into another world where we are placed not only atop the canvas, but also inside the mind of Vincent Van Gogh. We see forms take shape with meandering lines of dark, sketchy colors, as if being envisioned and executed at that very moment. Kaleidoscopes of springtime hues appear as buds on branches thawing from their winter sleep.
Scene after scene appear in transitions of flickering, swirling, dappled lights and colors. Creeping amoeba-like forms suggest watercolors (Van Gogh painted nearly 150 of them) spreading across heavy drawing paper. They consume one scene while revealing another. Charcoal sketches take shape as if drawn from behind the page. We are observers from the inside of Van Gogh’s sketchbook. Every stroke of his pencil and his brush are magnified many times over, until even the path of a single bristle could be traced. We become part of both the process and the art.
As the tapestry changes before our eyes, the music fades out and then back in, first classical, then electronic, now a tender love song. My companion is moved to tears, though it is not immediately apparent, as she stands mesmerized by the constantly moving display. The patterns reflect in her eyes and on her face. Projected from every direction, even a plain white blouse on a patron caught up in dance — yes, people are dancing — becomes an integral component of the show.
In fact, each of us comes to play a part in a slow procession around the exhibit. Though the hall is a large rectangle, more or less, we minuet around the room in singles, pairs and groups, finding new or better vantage points as the scenes change. The slow movement of the observers has a meditative quality. My companion moves off on her own, and I stay behind. We each find our own favorite spot for a time before we reunite. Her eyes are glistening and she smiles.
Vincent said “If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” We are here, surrounded by the beauty of nature captured over one hundred years ago by the brush of Vincent Van Gogh. How lucky we are to be able to enjoy and immerse ourselves in this experience. Please do find time to attend this show. My description of it pales in comparison to being here in person. It is beautiful. And it is everywhere.
À Dieu, I will write soon again.
Postscript: Please see my previous article, “Behind The Scenes At Immersive Van Gogh”, for some interesting background information about this show.
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