2012 Hong Kong, China
Collaborator: Jeffrey Shaw, Cédric Maridet (sound)
Hardware: Huib Nelissen
Software: Leith Chan
Production: ALiVE/ACIM, School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong
Pure Land immerses visitors in the quintessential heritage of Dunhuang's Buddhist grotto temples, which constitute an art treasury abounding with murals, statues and architectural monuments. This UNESCO World Heritage SITE, also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, is located at Dunhuang, a small town in northwestern China and an oasis in the Gobi desert that once served as a major stop along the ancient Silk Road gateway to and from China. Pure Land brings to life the story painted in a single composition on the north wall of Cave 220, known as Bhaisajyaguru's Eastern Paradise. The detailed mural depicts the paradise of the Eastern Pure Land of the Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru.
Pure Land takes place in AVIE (2006)—a large 360-degree, panoramic, stereoscopic projection theatre, which offers a true-to-life experience of being inside a cave temple and viewing its magnificent Buddhist wall paintings at 1:1 scale. Using the high-resolution photography and laser-scanned models specially provided by the Dunhuang Academy, Pure Land constitutes an immersive virtual facsimile that reframes and reconstitutes the extraordinary wealth of paintings and sculptures found in the caves at Dunhuang.
The datasets of Cave 220, with its richly narrative murals, become the subject for innovation in heritage interpretation by enhancing the cave’s architectural and photographic representations with animation, 3-D modelling, pictorial recolouring, digital enlargement and a rich sound design. This augmented-reality interaction design includes a virtual torch that simulates the real-world experience of visiting these caves, where the viewer handles a small LED flashlight to illuminate the painting. Another powerful feature is the virtual magnifying glass, that lets the viewer zoom in and view the paintings in ultra-high resolution through a 3-D lens that can be enlarged to full-screen height. Specific objects in the painting, such a row of incense burners and the musical instruments being played by two groups of musicians, are reconstructed as 3-D models that float out of the screen And in one instance, live performers from the Beijing Dance Academy emerge from the mural to bring to 3-D life the famous Dunhuang cave-dance scenes, depicting a genre of classical Chinese dance that is influenced by the cultures of India and the Middle East, featured in many of its paintings.
Pure Land’s virtual, 1:1 scale 3-D visualisation of the cave, in conjunction with its multi-layered, multimedia augmented-reality features, constitutes an immersive embodied visual experience that brings new life to the aesthetic, narrative and spiritual drama of these exceptional cave paintings and sculptures. It provides conceptual, technological and operational paradigms for the future of digital preservation, cultural heritage interpretation and an embodied museography.