I am delighted to announce that my VR holographic portrait of Empress Myeongseong (a.k.a. Empress Min) has won the first prize in the art competition of the International Symposium on Display Holography 2023, in Seoul, South Korea. To me, this recognition, voted by symposium participants, signifies the power of art and technology merging together.
I am incredibly thankful for this honour and would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all who supported and appreciated this piece. It is a great joy for me to see the novel medium of VR holography appreciated by the holography community. The development of VR holography as a medium that combines traditional hand-drawing skills with holography and virtual reality art-making, was one of the most important parts of my PhD research.
And although I don't believe in competition when it comes to art, because I think anyone who decides to make art rather than something else is a champion from the get-go, I am still very happy about this achievement.
If you'd like to know more about the project, please read on.
Here I am in the front row (middle), together with the other two laureates - the amazing artists Setsuko Ishii (left) and Maria Isabel Azevedo (right). In the back are the talented brothers Yves (left) and Philippe (right) Gentet who printed all the holograms entered into the competition using their original Chimera holography technique, and Prof. Lee from Kwangwoon University, the head of the team who organised this year's International Symposium on Display Holography.
The story behind the artwork
‘A possible portrait of Empress Min’ (2023) follows up on one of the illustrations I have created for Project Han, a collection of ink drawings depicting some of South Korea’s most prominent historical figures, together with related historical buildings and artefacts.
Empress Min, known as Myeongseong (1851 – 1895), was a significant figure in Korean history during the period leading up to the Japanese occupation. A passionate advocate for her nation's progress, she championed the establishment of schools, newspapers, and hospitals, and extended a warm welcome to Christian missionaries. Assertively challenging Japanese influence, she emerged as a symbol of resistance. However, her defiant stance eventually led to her assassination by the Japanese.
Despite her influential role, very few images of Empress Min exist due to her deliberate decision to maintain a low public profile and avoid having her photograph taken. Many scholars argue that the photographic portrait I utilised as a reference for my creation does not represent Empress Min. Yet I found it fascinating how this ambiguous photo has acquired a kind of symbolic status: anyone who is familiar with Empress Min will think of her when seeing that image, although it might not be of her at all.
VR sculptural drawing holography
My 'possible' portrait of Empress Min is made through the medium of VR sculptural drawing holography - a novel art medium that combines the qualities of traditional drawing with those of holography. It allows you to view the three-dimensionality of content created in virtual reality without having to wear a VR headset, which makes this a social experience rather than a solitary one.
The sculptural drawings are made by hand in virtual reality with Google Tilt Brush and printed as surface relief digital holograms. They are drawn in black-and-white to emulate the aesthetic of traditional ink drawing on paper, my favourite artistic medium, but also to symbolise the transient and spectral character of the past. Each stroke making up the portrait is drawn individually, by hand, in three-dimensional virtual space. Below is a video capture of the finished VR project.
The hologram of Empress Min printed by Yves and Phillippe Gentet using the Chimera technique is full parallax (the depth of the 3D model is perceived as you move left-right and up-down) with a hogel (holopixel) size of 250 microns and measures 30 x 40 cm.
The beauty of full parallax holograms is that the image is very stable and does not distort as you move around to see it from different angles. It is a pretty accurate representation of the VR sculptural drawing.
This short video shows a glimpse of the process, from the original ink drawing to the final hologram.
The holographic rendering of Empress Min serves not only as a portal into a pivotal moment of Korean history, but also as a universal symbol, echoing comparable struggles that resonate across all cultures.
Holography’s ability to give tangible form to absence while at the same time expressing fragility through the disappearance of the holographic image outside the angle of view provided the perfect medium for telling the story of Empress Min. The artwork focuses on a historical subject, which, in addition to making use of holography’s mimetic, representational function, is used as an anchor for storytelling. The chosen subject has an unsettling story behind it, yet this is a story that needs to be kept alive. Just as, when outside of our focus, the holographic image seems to disappear, similarly these stories rely on our gaze and privileged position to continue to live on.
If you wish to learn more about the fascinating medium of holography, I recommend checking out the resources put together by the Holocenter (Center for the Holographic Arts, NY)
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