By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
The Nation Weekend
MORE THAN 10 metres in length, the ink and colour on silk handscroll “Up the River During Qingming” painted by five court artists in 1736 during the Qing dynasty depicts numerous tiny figures rendered with fine and lively brushstrokes representing the lifestyle of common folk. It is one of the treasures belonging to Taipei’s National Palace Museum and its spectacular detail, which took nine years to complete, more than merits close attention.
Today, thanks to an exhibition that shares the name of the painting, Thais can enjoy this work as well as a range of other Chinese art without having to travel to Taiwan. The display has been made possible thanks to a partnership between the National Palace Museum (NPM) and River City Bangkok that brings the art to the city through innovative digital technology.
The reproduction of the masterpiece “Up the River During Qingming” painted by five court artists in 1736 is on display together with the highresolution projection of the work. Some scenes are presented in vivid animated forms.
The reproduction of the painting “Up the River During Qingming” is presented in a glass cabinet and through a gigantic high-resolution projector that seamlessly unfolds the long scroll painting on the wall, inviting spectators to fully immerse themselves in the lives of the people along the banks of the Bian River in the Northern Song capital of Bianjing at the height of Qingming festival.
Some scenes depicted in the painting are also transformed into vividly animated versions, among them a wedding ceremony parade, an open-air performance, the bustling Rainbow Bridge market and boats on the shores of Lake Jinming. The result is a fascinating meeting of traditional and contemporary models of presentation.
A part of the painting “Up the River During Qingming”
“This is the NPM’s first large-scale new media art exhibition in Southeast Asia and the first show on which the NPM has worked with the private sector overseas,” says Linda Cheng, managing director of River City Bangkok.
“The project took about a year to complete and is curated by the NPM team to present ancient Chinese arts in a modern way by transforming the museum’s important works into multimedia installations and integrating education for visitors of all ages.”
Now in its 33rd year, River City Bangkok has long been perceived as a venue for showcasing and auctioning antique works. In 2016, the complex started a major programme of renovations to help it embrace contemporary art and the second floor is now home to the new 1,200-square-metre Galleria that debuts with this major show.
“In order to connect with the urban riverside terrain along the Chao Phraya River in Thailand, the exhibition focuses on the theme of ancient riverside cultures and lifestyles and presents the animated Qing court version of ‘Up the River During Qingming’ as the centrepiece,” Cheng explains.
The NPM has a permanent collection of nearly 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artefacts starting in the Northern Song period and extending through the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.
With a VR headset, a visitor can be immersed in the details of the classic 1295 painting “Autumn Colours on the Qiao and Hua Mountains” by Zhao Mengfu from the Yuan dynasty.
There are also four VR headsets for visitors to don and become virtually immersed in the details of another masterpiece “Autumn Colours on the Qiao and Hua Mountains” painted in 1295 by Zhao Mengfu – a famous writer, painter and calligrapher of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368).
The immersive virtual experience leads visitors to roam around Mengfu’s dry strokes, light ink and delicate blue-green colouring of the mountain scenery in Shandong, the houses of common folks, the ancient Yellow River and the pine trees, as well as well as mingle with deer, all with high-fidelity sound. Promoting the incorporation of calligraphy with painting, Mengfu created this work for his close friend Zhou Mi by depicting the scenery of Mi’s ancestral land.
A visitor with a VR headset tries to virtually trace calligraphy.
Inspired by the famous cursive script masterpiece “Autobiography” by the monk Huaisu in the Tang dynasty (618-907), the virtual reality installation “The Spirit of Autobiography” captures the changing rhythm in Huaisu’s brushwork as the calligraphic text transforms rapidly from dragons and snakes into a storm. A dancer gracefully interprets the speed and strength behind the calligraphy. Finally, a virtual brush allows users to trace the calligraphy process until the lines are exact.
The interactive tabletop showcases 12 priceless works from the collection of Taipei’s National Palace Museum, on which visitors are able to magnify images so they can see the finest details.
Since the NPM’s ancient paintings and calligraphy are fragile and difficult to preserve, the museum has employed new multimedia technologies including multi-resolution and multi-touch so modern viewers can easily enjoy ancient arts. At the exhibition, the interactive tabletop installation showcases 12 priceless works from the collection that visitors are able to magnify or minimise to better view the details.
The reproductions of the 12 works are also on display in an adjacent showcase. Among the masterpieces is “Children at Play in an Autumnal Garden” – a hanging scroll, ink and colours on silk by Su Hanchen in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) – that vividly depicts children playing spinning games in front of a landscape of chrysanthemums and hibiscus in autumn.
Another highlight is “A Palace Concert” – a hanging scroll, ink and colours on silk by anonymous artist in Tang Dynasty –illustrating the women’s quarters at the inner palace during a banquet. Although the painting has no signature, the plump features of the figures along with the painting method used for a multitude of different hairstyles and clothing all accord with the aesthetic fashions of Tang dynasty ladies.
The “Summer Lotus” interactive sensory installation presents a scene of blossoming pond flowers with elements inspired by the painting “Lotuses in the Wind at Taiye” by Feng Tayu of the Song Dynasty.
Inspired by “Lotuses in the Wind at Taiye” – album leaf, ink and colours on silk by Feng Ta-yu in the Song Dynasty – the “Summer Lotus” interactive sensory installation presents a scene of summer lotuses in a pond with charming details depicted by the painter. Stepping on the floor, visitors will feel as if they’re walking on the surface of a pond as every step creates a ripple in the water amid scenes of swimming fish and flying butterflies.
The reproduction of the painting “Lotuses in the Wind at Taiye” by Feng Tayu
The reproduction of “Lotuses in the Wind at Taiye” is also displayed in the next glass cabinet. The artist filled almost two-thirds of the painting with short and tall lotuses growing from the water’s surface. The blank area above represents the sky, where a swallow and a pair of butterflies fly about. The lower area devoted to the water reveals three pairs of water birds shuttling among the plants, the surface filled with duckweed of varying sizes making for a vivid and lively scene.
“Castiglione’s Virtual Flowers”, an augmented reality installation conceived by Professor Jeffrey Shaw, turns Qing court artist Giuseppe Castigli- one’s two still-life masterpieces “Gathering of Auspicious Signs” and “Vase of Flowers” into life-size virtual 3D illusions. Viewers can use a digital tablet to discover the virtual vases and their flowers, which appear on top of two pedestals, in a 360-degree view. Reproductions of the two paintings are also featured.
AR technology is the gateway to 360-degree insights about two masterpieces by Qing court artist Giuseppe Castiglione, “Gathering of Auspicious Signs” and “Vase of Flowers”
Castiglione, who was also known by his Chinese name Lang Shih-ning, was a Jesuit missionary from Italy whose paintings were greatly appreciated by the Qing emperors. He earned a reputation for his intricate composition and compelling realism that fused Chinese and Western techniques.
The reproduction of “Gathering of Auspicious Signs”
His handscroll “Gathering of Auspicious Signs” features an underglazed blue vase with stalks of twin lotus blossoms and pods as well as plants with symbolically auspicious meanings while “Vase of Flowers” depicts a blue vase with a twin stalk of peony blossoms. The two works are very similar in terms of the techniques of colour usage and the shadow, in which even the lustre of the glaze on the porcelain has been observed and intricately rendered.
Inspired by Giuseppe Castiglione’s paintings “A Hundred Horses” and “Ten Fine Hounds”, visitors can colour drawings of the animals and upload their efforts to see the creatures come to life on screen.
Also inspired by another two of his masterpieces “A Hundred Horses” and “Ten Fine Hounds”, the exhibition presents the “Castiglione’s Magical Horses” multimedia installation encouraging visitors to colour the available plain horse and hound drawings. Once finished, visitors can have their coloured drawings uploaded onto a digital screen and wait to see the horses and hounds move around in an immersive illustrated riverbank landscape.
“Marvels within the Sea” is an immersive marine experience in which you can see creatures emerging from the oceans.
A dim room houses “Marvels within the Sea” – the multi-user interactive installation inspired by “Sea Miscellany” and “The Manual of Sea Oddities” by Nie Huang, a biologist and painter in the Qing dynasty. Here visitors are encouraged to sprawl on the beanbags and interact with the exhibit by pointing a torch at the hanging canvas.
This will create an immersive marine experience, in which the spectators can hear the roar of the waves, feel the swirling currents and see creatures emerging from dark and mysterious oceans. The application “Marvels within the Sea” is also available for free download to learn more about each creature.
Three animated films whose characters are inspired by the classic Chinese paintings are also screened with subtitles in Thai, Chinese and English.
“Appreciation of art is balm for the mind and we try to combine entertainment and education through multimedia presentations that are easily accessible for people of all ages. In April, River City Bangkok plans to bring in a multimedia exhibition allowing visitors to explore new angles of works by the world’s famous artists from Kandinsky and Monet to Van Gogh and Klimt in a three-dimensional display synchronised with music,” says Cheng.
ART FOR ALL AGES
“Up the River During Qingming” continues until February 12 at the Galleria on the second floor of the River City Bangkok, next to Si Phraya pier. Boat transfer is accessible from BTS Saphan Taksin.
Tickets costs Bt350 for adult and Bt200 for students with ID cards. Free for children under four years old. They’re available at www.ThaiticketMajor.com and at the door.
To celebrate the Children’s Day today, the under-15s enjoy free access all weekend.
Call (02) 237 0077-8, or visit www.RiverCityBangkok.com.