Wei-Cheng LIN 林偉正
The University of Chicago 芝加哥大學

Exhibiting Chinese Art in Virtual Reality

It has become a trend in art museums around world to add digital components to their exhibitions - from smartphone apps, interactive platforms, digital models, to the full-fledged virtual reality. Chinese art exhibition is no exception. These digital implements serve informational and/or didactic purposes, enhancing visitors' viewing experience and improving their interest in and understanding of the exhibition. In some cases, they are employed simply as new technological gimmick to evoke some sort of "digital sensation." While these digital components are mostly part of the exhibitionary and installation strategy designed to bring more and younger visitors into the museum, as the digital technology develops, they concurrently also create "new" images of the artwork that bring about different visions, perceptions, experiences, and understandings of it. In other words, the new "digitality" in the art exhibition is more than a curatorial issue or challenge, but also has some important art historical implications. Virtual reality, which provides the best all-around visual simulation, also solicits most questions in this regard - in particular, when exhibiting Chinese art in virtual reality.

Some have argued that the idea and practice of "virtual reality," as we understand it today, were already developed in the Western convention of perspective representations. It produces a viewer-centered vision that is able to simulate his or her spatial relationships with the surroundings in a measurable and empirically verifiable manner as if he or she were in that simulated space. They further argue that it is then awkward trying to reconstruct or simulate the experience with Chinese traditional artworks virtually as China lacked such a visual convention. While these arguments hold some truth, this paper shall demonstrate that virtual reality also has a history in China, only in different terms. To this end, this presentation will start with a reconsideration of the digital image of Chinese art produced through 3D technology not as a representation, but a recreation. It will then situate the digital image, specifically that of virtual reality, in a broader Chinese art historical context to see ways in which the new digital image could be part of the old tradition. The presentation will end with some reflections upon the current practice of using the digital technology in Chinese art exhibition to suggest how the new digital imagining technology has changed not only the way we exhibit Chinese art, but also the way we appreciate and understand it.