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Miguel Chevalier's psychedelic digital universe takes audience participation to next level

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A visitor moves her arm in front of the generative and interactive virtual-reality installation,
A visitor moves her arm in front of the generative and interactive virtual-reality installation, "Complex Meshes" (2023), produced by French artist Miguel Chevalier at his solo exhibition, "Digital Beauty 2023," at the Ara Art Center in central Seoul, Jan. 17. Chevalier has been using digital technology as a central means of artistic expression for the last four decades. Newsis

By Park Han-sol

The kaleidoscopic digital carpet twists and turns according to the viewer's footsteps. The virtual "action painting" swirls forcefully whenever a spectator takes a stroll in front of it.

For French artist Miguel Chevalier, it is the viewers' physical interaction with the digital work that brings his psychedelic universe to life.

Heralded as a pioneer of computer-generated virtual art since the late 1970s, when such an artistic practice was still in its infancy, he has transformed facades and ceilings of galleries and historic architecture ― like the Grand Palais and Saint-Eustache Church in Paris ― with projections on a monumental scale.

This time, the artist's immersive digital kingdom has arrived at the Ara Art Center in central Seoul as part of his first solo exhibition in the Korean capital. "Digital Beauty 2023" comes a year after his show on Jeju Island, "Digital Abysses," drew over 320,000 visitors throughout its year-long run.

Visitors pose in front of Miguel Chevalier's interactive media installation,
Visitors pose in front of Miguel Chevalier's interactive media installation, "Machine Vision" (2023), at the Ara Art Center in central Seoul, Jan. 17. Newsis

Spanning the walls and floors of the five-story building are nine of Chevalier's interactive virtual-reality installations in addition to a five-armed drawing robot and 3D-printed sculptures.

"Liquid Pixels," on view, is the French creator's virtual ode to the pioneers of gestural abstraction in the 1950s ― Jackson Pollock, Sam Francis and Pierre Soulages. But of course, his version of the action painting is born through the spectator's real-time choreography.

The interactive painting is in perpetual motion, with its colors ready to flow and gush forth in all directions when the viewer enters the "canvas." "Their body is what becomes a digital paintbrush," according to the artist.

Other projected installations like "Complex Meshes," "The Origin of the World," "Digital Moires" and "Fractal Arborescences" similarly feature eye-popping colors and patterns drifting across an imaginary landscape that are all activated by audience participation.

"The Eyes of the Machine" and "Machine Vision" further utilize this element of viewer participation to pose a question on the new types of digital images produced by today's surveillance cameras with facial recognition systems.

Once an individual stands in front of the electronic screen with a camera installed above, their virtual silhouette is deconstructed in real-time into thousands of multihued polygons until it becomes an almost unrecognizable self-portrait.

French digital and virtual artist Miguel Chevalier / Courtesy of Ara Art Center
French digital and virtual artist Miguel Chevalier / Courtesy of Ara Art Center

"Normally, when you are in a museum, you are passive as you stand in front of the painting, photography or video that is fixed. Here, you can (physically) interact with the piece. You become an actor who can actually modify the work," he told The Korea Times.

"This (element of) interaction is then something that gives another opportunity for you to understand the piece."

Explaining how trailblazers like Man Ray and Nam June Paik established the technology of photography and video, respectively, as a credible medium for creative expression in the 20th century, the artist viewed his digital art in a similar light.

Computer-generated digital tools can be wielded in the realm of fine art as they can bring to life the new notion of audiovisual immersion and space adaptability, he noted. "I am sure that it will be a (defining) part of the art of the 21st century."

"Digital Beauty 2023" runs through Feb. 11, 2024, at the Ara Art Center.

Visitors walk around Miguel Chevalier's interactive media installation,
Visitors walk around Miguel Chevalier's interactive media installation, "Magic Carpets" (2023), at his solo exhibition, "Digital Beauty 2023," Jan. 17. Courtesy of Ara Art Center
Park Han-sol hansolp@koreatimes.co.kr


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