Total immersion

Updated 2018-01-30 09:50:01

Visitors watch VR artworks at Faurschou Foundation gallery in Beijing where a series of VR art exhibitions are held, including the ongoing show of oil painter Yu Hong's hand-painted VR work.

One of China's finest oil painters has made her first foray into virtual-reality art, a digital debut that has proved to be as painstaking as it was rewarding. Deng Zhangyu reports.

The darkness is broken by a sharp light. All of a sudden, a newborn baby is brought into the world, kicking and screaming. The doctor holds the baby in her arms, walking toward a set of scales.

Everyone in the delivery room-the mother lying on the bed, the doctors in attendance and the infant herself-can be viewed from every angle, just as in the real world. However, these are not actual three-dimensional characters-they have been meticulously painted in oil, and yet can only be viewed in virtual reality.

This is the first scene in artist Yu Hong's virtual-reality work She's Already Gone, which is being exhibited at Beijing's Faurschou Foundation gallery, in what is reportedly the first hand-painted virtual reality work in the world. In it, the Beijing-based artist paints four scenes depicting the four stages of life, from birth to burial.

"Virtual reality allows viewers to immerse themselves in an imaginary world, something that literature, film and traditional painting have been trying to achieve for a long time," says Yu, 52, at her studio in Beijing.

With imagery, sound and music, the eight-minute VR artwork provides the viewer with an immersive experience that bears witness to the four phases of a woman's life, set in different eras of time: a newborn baby in the 1990s; a girl looking out of her bedroom window in the 1970s; a woman from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) unfolding the cloth that had bound her feet since childhood; and a priestess singing at a funeral ritual in the Neolithic era, nearly 5,000 years ago.

Viewers can walk into each of the individually created rooms and view the work from whatever angle they choose.

It took Yu almost a year to finish the work. She had to plan and paint countless details to create each character, from their faces and skin down to locks of their hair. She had to complete more than 60 individual oil paintings to finish the artwork.

The delivery room in Yu's VR work She's Already Gone.

The bedroom where Yu spent her childhood in her work's second scene.

Working closely with a virtual-reality art company based in Denmark, she was in constant touch with the tech team in Copenhagen, emailing them on a daily basis. As she painted, she scanned the images and sent them to the team to "put clothes on the naked virtual figures.

"I did my best to push the boundaries of my imagination. It's difficult to transform oil paintings into three-dimensional works," Yu says of her yearlong collaboration with Khora Contemporary, the Danish team specializing in virtual-reality art.

At the opening ceremony on Jan 6, many of Yu's artist friends came to experience the work, and they seemed impressed. Oil painter Su Xinping says he could feel the pain when he watched the woman from the Ming Dynasty remove the strips of cloth binding her feet. He also expressed an interest in making a VR artwork.

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