Created by Jeffrey Shaw and Bernd Lintermann.
The world of cinema is being radically transformed by the new digital recording and visualisation technologies, and one of its salient features is the creation of highly immersive audiovisual experiences. The intention here, as in all forms of art, is to create for the viewer a heightened sense of physical and emotional engagement in the work. In Jeffrey Shaw’s media art practice over the last thirty years he has explored various types of immersive strategies. One milestone was Heavens Gate (1987), where a projection on the ceiling and a large mirror on the floor created a state of vertiginous suspension between the real and reflected image planes. The digital trompe l’oeil of its video content revealed the awesome contemporary view from space down onto the planet Earth, inverting the ecstatic Baroque gaze upwards to the heavens.
The Cupola project, that Jeffrey Shaw created together with Bernd Lintermann for Lille Cultural Capital 2004, continues this artistic research into the experiential qualities of immersive pictorial and auditive cinematic spaces. Projection is undertaken inside a suspended semi-spherical projection screen, in which the viewers are invited to stand in or lie under to look up at the imagery. The thematic focus of this work was the ceiling architecture of buildings in the city of Lille, ranging from churches, to municipal sites, factories, shops and houses, and showing an appreciation of their formal beauty, everyday ordinariness and decaying structure. Over 200 images present a variety of architectonic structures of various scales and identities, both historical and contemporary.
The spatial conjunction and merging of ceiling structures inside the Cupola dome creates a new aesthetic and spatial experience of these often-familiar sites. They are extracted from their original contexts and are now relocated as a narrative experience that explores their spatial, formal and pictorially associative qualities. There is also an implicit symbolic dimension evoked as culturally the architecture of a ceiling often constitutes a correspondence with cosmological principles. A dome usually represents the vault of heaven, while other structural geometries including the choice of materials and colors, also embody meaning related to natural and spiritual dimensions.
The opportunity to make a new version of this project for the Kyoto Saga University of Arts – Look up Kyoto – was therefore especially welcomed by the authors, as the architecture of the city is so rich in traditional, religious and natural associations, as well as possessing an exceptional formal elegance. The spectacle of the varied Kyoto ceilings melding together within the vault of the Cupola dome is offered as a meditative experience where the representational sequence of spatial and formal conjunctions constitutes an evolving narrative of psychological and cosmological associations. The classical dualities of above and below, form and content and material and immaterial substance are given synchronous expression within an architectonic epiphany, in which aesthetic formations unfold in an emergent repertory of ideographic and symbolic allusions. The exhibition also enabled the artists to develop a new igloo-like projection theater, allowing the visitor to lie on the floor and become enveloped in the artwork’s immersive virtuality.