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Image of Two men standing in front of a long rectangular artwork showing stylized figures standing in front of gold swirled tree branches
Dr Frederick Baker (left) and Dr Donal Cooper (right) in front of photos of Klimt's Stoclet Frieze

West Court Gallery hosts VR artwork UK Premiere

The UK premiere of an award-winning virtual reality artwork based on the work of Gustav Klimt has been held at Jesus College.

Commissioned by the Museum for Applied Arts in Vienna to mark the centenary of Klimt’s death - where it was visited by over 30,000 people - Klimt’s Magic Garden is on show at the College’s West Court Gallery for a sold-out three day run from 8-10 March.

Created by Dr Frederick Baker of the Centre for Film Studies and Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, the artwork has transformed Klimt's Stoclet Frieze into an interactive landscape on the theme of Expectation and Fulfillment, winning the Silver Medal for cinematic VR at the European VR festival Amsterdam 2018.

In collaboration with 3D designer Markus Cermak, the work uses Epic Games’ source available software Unreal Engine plus gaming hardware: a Virtual Reality (VR) headset, headphones and handheld pointer. Visitors experience a fully immersive encounter with a digital world which is both film, architecture and fine art, accompanied by a soundtrack from Fitzwilliam College alum George Taylor. A facsimile of the original artwork has also been installed in the gallery, giving visitors the chance to experience both pieces in the same space.

Talking about his artwork, Dr Baker explained: “Everything that the viewer sees is from the original Klimt artwork. Each element was scanned and cut up before being put back together to form the garden. Adding depth and movement, plus a soundtrack, creates the final piece.

“When it was installed in the MAK in Vienna, Klimt’s Magic Garden was shown side by side with the original artwork, demonstrating that digital art and paintings can live side by side. VR is not a competition to art, but an enhancement. It’s the new artform of the 21st Century.

“Every visitor will have their own unique experience as they make their own journey. Like in any garden, some visitors look at the flowers, some run around and some will stroll through the paths. You could come back again and again and see something new each time.”

History of Art students from Jesus College will be on hand throughout the exhibition to help people put on the equipment and understand how it works. Dr Baker adds: “This is slow VR, not fast-paced gaming style VR which many people are more familiar with. The exhibit is planned for the first-time user to have a good experience and enjoy the artwork at their own pace.”

Outlining why he has chosen Cambridge for this UK premiere, Dr Baker said: “I’ve brought the artwork here to share with my colleagues who I have worked with for over ten years. I wanted to share my work and the possibilities of this kind of technology with the academic community, and hope that the experience will inspire new projects. With every new technology there is scepticism, and for VR it can be hard to understand it until you’ve tried it. I hope that the next three days will help to demystify it.”

The installation of Klimt’s Magic Garden has been made possible by Epic Games, which is kindly supplying the hardware to run the artwork over the period of the run. Ben Lumsden from the Unreal Engine team said: “While our main business is making video games, the most famous of which is Fortnite, our technology also has wider applications from non-games media and entertainment to architecture and car design, marketing and more. Our Unreal Engine technology is source available, so open for use by anyone.”

Dr Donal Cooper, Curator of Works of Art at Jesus College, added: “I’m very proud that Jesus College is hosting the UK premiere of Klimt’s Magic Garden. This event has proved incredibly popular, with all three days selling out almost immediately.

“That a collaboration between filmmakers and a gaming software company has created such a wonderful new piece is thrilling to see. It fully deserves the huge success that it garnered during its Vienna run and I am sure will be as well-received here.

It’s very exciting to be able to use our West Court Gallery for VR. It’s just the right size and offers a new area for us to expand into in the visual arts. I’m also very grateful to the MAK in Vienna for sending amazing photos of the original frieze to display, giving visitors the chance to see the artwork which the VR experience is based on.”

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