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A Modern Exhibition on an Ancient Treasure Opens on International Museum Day
Life along the Bian River at the Pure Brightness Festival High-Tech Interactive Art Exhibition welcomes its first audience
By Li Fangfang | Web Exclusive

The 4D Fulldome Cinema, where audiences take a boat along the Bian River. In front of them the water rushes by, framed by the branches of willows (COURTESY PHOTO)

More photos please click here

This year, May 18 marks the 42nd International Museum Day and the launch of a high-tech interactive art exhibition based on the ancient Chinese painting Life Along the Bian River at the Pure Brightness Festival (Qingming Shang He Tu) at the Archery Pavilion (Jianting) in the Palace Museum, made possible via a partnership between the museum and Phoenix Satellite Television. 

The theme chosen for this year’s International Museum Day is "Hyperconnected Museums: New approaches, new publics." The Palace Museum’s exhibition is offering audiences a novel and immersive experience which is highly consistent with this theme. It is an innovative exploration of a masterpiece created by the painter Zhang Zeduan during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) and currently curated by the museum.  

Visitors can make reservations on the Palace Museum’s official website to experience the exhibition free of charge following an initial trial period. 

New Methods, New Audience 

In the 21st century, museums need to integrate themselves into an increasingly connected world, reaching audiences via new methods of exhibition and expression. The national treasure Life Along the Bian River at the Pure Brightness Festival is one of the most significant of all the 1.86 million items in the Palace Museum’s collection, and is probably the best known work of ancient Chinese art worldwide. The painting, an artistic embodiment of prosperous urban life during the Northern Song, is renowned for its faithful depiction of boats, bridges, shops and scenery. 

The unique methods adopted in the exhibition bring this historical work to life by connecting the past with the present, aiming to empower this ancient piece with a modern twist that can make it more appealing for a wider audience who wish to understand Chinese culture. 

Visitors will be able to perceive the vividness of traditional Chinese culture through a rich interactive experience that is made possible by state of the art visual tools such as 8K Ultra HD digital interactive technology and 4D motion imaging. 

The exhibition itself, covering around 1,600 square meters of the Archery Pavilion within the walls of the Forbidden City, is divided into four parts: a digital edition of the original artwork, the Sun Yangdian Interactive Theatre Space, the Hong Qiao Fulldome cinema and a Song Dynasty cultural area, giving full priority to immersion and interactivity. Audiences will find themselves entering into the painting and experiencing life in the capital city of Bianjing while taking a boat across the Bian River. 

The project is a collaboration between Phoenix Link and Phoenix Digital Technology together with the Palace Museum, and is the first of its kind anywhere in the world. Over the past two years, experts from across the fields of art culture have worked together to provide audiences with a true-to-life experience of China’s dynastic period and enable them to feel closer to traditional culture by stimulating their interest in cultural relics.  

In the 22 years since the establishment of Phoenix Satellite Television, the broadcaster has inherited and displayed Chinese culture, promoting cultural confidence, said Liu Changle, Chairman and CEO of Phoenix TV, on May 18.  

"This exhibition serves people’s need for more diversified forms of entertainment, and thus integration of culture, art and technology can enhance young people’s enthusiasm for Chinese civilization. Once its run in Beijing comes to an end, the exhibition will go on tour to other countries around the world. We hope this technology-inspired display can promote the artwork as a symbol of Chinese culture to the international community. That’s what Phoenix TV and the Palace Museum understand the meaning of cultural communication to be." 

Curator of the Palace Museum Shan Jixiang expressed his joy that the project has come to fruition. He says that while the fusion of culture and technology is a common topic in the world today, this exhibition is nonetheless seminal in successfully realizing such integration. The installation not only retains the original aesthetic value of the work, but also allows the audience to walk into one of China’s cultural relics and experience the culture firsthand. 

"'The hyperconnected museum' pushes the limits of our imagination. The museum originated as an important vehicle for enriching people’s cultural life, a place of cultural exchange. In our global and interconnected world, the modern museum must embrace change and innovation, reaching a wider audience by looking for new methods and technology through which it can display and curate. We need to adopt more vivid and flexible ways of conveying classical art and culture to younger generations and spread a sense of cultural confidence within them," Shan said 

A Golden Era for Chinese Civilisation 

It is rare in China’s artistic tradition to see a piece which so meticulously depicts the life of a Northern Song city. From broad and sweeping suburban scenery to the finest details of the city’s urban structures, all can be found in the work to give it a peerless depth and cultural texture. Tea houses, bars and restaurants along the bustling Bian River collude with the engagement of human actors to present a prosperous and dynamic era of Chinese history.  

In 960AD Bianjing was home to more than one million people, making it the most populous city in the world. Its economy, technology and culture, too, stood at the forefront of global development at the time, making this masterpiece all the more valuable as it not only depicts the fabric of contemporary everyday life in immense detail, but in doing so it captures the essence of a golden era for Chinese civilization. 

In the first part of the exhibition, the digital edition of the original artwork makes it possible to get up close to China’s ancient history and art. Audiences can see the exquisite design of boats and buildings, as well as the facial expressions on the faces of characters throughout the scene.   

The Sun Yangdian Interactive Theatre Space offers visitors the chance to experience how the people of the Northern Song people lived their daily life in a 360 immersive space. Moving, lifelike scenes are visible through the windows and behind shades, the sound of music audible as the songs of Bianjing’s inhabitants float across the air. 

Afterwards the audience can take a boat on the Bian River in a 4D fulldome cinema. In front of them the water rushes by, framed by the branches of willows. 

This unique exploration of one of China’s national treasures and the shareable form of the installation allows museums to break the barriers of time and space, letting audiences feel and enjoy a city in the distant past. For foreign visitors, such an experience transcends language, culture and historical context, allowing them to directly access the wonders of Chinese civilization. 

During the course of the exhibition, Phoenix Satellite Television and the Palace Museum will hold a series public education and international exchange activities related to culture, art, architecture and education during the Song Dynasty. Audiences can access interactive features for those activities via the exhibition’s official website and the U-Salt app, and contribute their own content and advice which will be used to improve the exhibition and its cultural products. The idea that everyone can have a say in the planning of an exhibition is an exciting new concept, one which can enable people across the globe to be both participant and ambassador to Chinese culture. An exciting new age of the hyperconnected museum has arrived. 

Copyedited by Laurence Coulton 

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