As the lights dim at the Theatre of Digital Art (ToDA) in Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, a magnificent array of yellow sunflowers – with its brilliant contrasts, forms and lines, leap out of a simple earthen pot in joyful bursts across the 6,200-sq-ft, state-of-the-art venue, cascading down walls and gliding along the ceiling and floors.
The room radiates with the vivacity and intensity of these bright, luminescent sunflowers as they fill up the giant digital canvas. The dazzling yellow covers every inch of your body, and soon you begin to feel the vibrant energy and joyous optimism with which prolific Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), painted them in Arles, in the south of France during 1888-89.
The visual spectacle is mesmerising; and as the scenes change, we are transported on a journey across Arles, Saint Rémy and Auvers-sur-Oise, stepping into Van Gogh’s famed bedroom in the Yellow House with its pale violet walls, red-tiled floor, scarlet blanket, and green windows. Pine chairs float all around – its colour ‘the yellow of fresh butter’, enveloping our black bean bags in a mix of warm, happy colours.
We also take in sweeping views of the majestic landscapes of olive gardens and cypresses and immerse ourselves in Fields with Irises at Arles. Here, in the enchanting countryside, we gaze in awe at all that must have satiated the artist’s wandering eyes – we look for details in the golds, his yellow, and Vincent’s glorious sun – all of which set his imagination soar and liberated the dexterity of his brush from the academic conventions of the time.
"I work even at midday, in the sun, without any shade, in the wheat fields – I am happy as a lark," Vincent had written of this period of his life in Arles.
The setting changes and so does the colour palette as black crows flutter menacingly over windswept wheat fields against the backdrop of a stormy, turbulent sky.
It is the sky that haunts us again as they swirl into frenzied strokes of blue, rolling with the clouds and around the stars and golden moon. We find ourselves immersed in the colours of Van Gogh’s magnum opus, Starry Night, depicting the view outside his sanatorium room window at night. We can feel the urgency of each brush stroke, moving faster, and with greater intensity. The emotions of the troubled mind are palpable; the revered artist’s loneliness and his anguish, stay with us long after the visuals have disappeared.
What the Theatre of Digital Art brings to Dubai is the phenomenal experience of literally stepping into the paintings of renowned artists, without the constraints of a frame. With its larger-than-life imagery, clever storytelling and world-class animation, timeless masterpieces are being transformed into an animated display involving light, colour, sound, movement, and rhythm.
"Any form of art can be transformed into a digital format and presented as multi-sensory, multi-media immersive exhibitions using cutting-edge technologies and 360-degree digital projections," explains Anastasiya Santarovich, marketing and sales specialist at ToDA. "The masterpieces at the show are brought to life with the help of 24 laser Epson projectors, 34 audio speakers, and high-definition images featuring a total resolution of 24380x3390 pixels for all screens, in addition to the use of 19 videos per scene."
"What makes ToDA unique is that it combines all three formats of digital art including multimedia exhibitions, contemporary immersive installations, and art in virtual reality to present a compelling new way of embracing art," adds Santarovich.
In the captivating 45-minute show, ‘From Monet to Kandinsky, Revolutionary Art’, ToDA weaves together an unrivalled journey into the artistic universe of nine remarkable masters – led by Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Edvard Munch, Wassily Kandinsky and others, to tell a story of the most important art movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Synchronised to an evocative classical score, the 45-minute show is a fully immersive digital art exhibition that spans Impressionism, Pointillism, post-Impressionism, Cubism, and Expressionism. Illustrated by the works of the masters who were led by an invincible desire to transform art to the next level, we see the rapid development of art during that period and witness the evolution of new suggestive and visual forms that have captured the tremendous upheavals of their time.
The show transcends time and space as we plunge into the verdant, brightly coloured waterscapes of foremost Impressionist painter, Claude Monet (1840-1926) and take a sojourn through his sumptuous gardens in the small Normandy village of Giverny, where we observe the ever-changing effects of light and atmosphere on the pond’s water lilies, weeping willows, and the arched wooden Japanese bridge, that remained a source of his artistic inspiration for almost 30 years.
A cluster of colourful dots pop out on the screen, bouncing off walls and ceilings, as we are introduced to Georges Seurat’s (1859-1891) epic work A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, the first painting to be executed entirely in the Pointillist technique of using ‘the dot’.
Post-Impressionist French painter Paul Cézanne’s (1839–1906) unique style of building form with colour is represented through the dramatic tonal contrasts and thick layers of pigment that characterised his portrait series and the subtly gradated tonal variations in his still-life paintings.
Cezanne’s later works, marked by an avant-garde approach to perspective, is evident in the faceted and geometric structures of his panoramic landscapes that was central to the early development of the innovative artistic genre of Cubism, represented at the show by the distinctive works of Spanish artist Juan Gris (1887-1927).
Through the works of French artist Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), who first introduced vibrant colour to Cubism and co-founded the Orphism art movement, we see how the strong colours and geometric shapes of his Disc and Circular Forms brilliantly convey form, depth, light and even emotion.
Little aquatic creatures now take over the digital theatre, communicating the wonders of a magical realm where the earth, sea, and sky mingle, through Swiss-born German artist Paul Klee’s (1879-1940) romantic and surrealist Fish Magic.
We feel the ‘air turn to blood’ as the expressive and emotionally charged The Scream springs into view, a timeless expression of human fear created by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), which has since been etched in our collective cultural consciousness and continues to influence visual culture to this day. The show ends with the kaleidoscopic colours of Russian painter and art theorist, Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), the pioneer of abstract modern art.
Digital art exhibitions are not the only line-up of programmes on ToDA’s packed calendar of events for the year. To expand their offerings for audiences in the UAE, ToDA is diversifying its programming schedule to also include stand-up comedy performances, live music nights, immersive fitness classes, and art masterclasses for beginners and advanced artists, amongst others, explains Anastasiya Santarovich.
"Look out for the live performance, ‘Being VAN GOGH’ in September, that combines the Dutch master’s artworks with best-in-class technology complemented by stunning music, visual effects and surround sound, presented live by talented artiste, Juan Mario Silva," she adds. "Audiences can also enjoy classical and jazz music performances every Wednesday at our immersive facility or use the space to host private events."
Know before you go
Location: The Theatre of Digital Art, Madinat Jumeirah
Timing: Show begins every hour from 12 noon until 10pm
Ticket rates (For digital art shows): Adults Dh100, Children Dh50; Balcony – Adults Dh150, Child Dh75 (Balcony tickets includes access to VR room experience and beverages). Every ticket entitles you to Dh75 off at select dining outlets at Madinat Jumeirah. Conditions apply.
Upcoming shows: Being VAN GOGH, Klimt and The Impressionists, Klimt & Japan, From Monet to Kandinsky. Revolutionary Art.
Shows change every week; please visit www.toda.ae to view programming details. Or call 04-2774044 to know more.
Don’t miss: The Gifts Shop selling everything from small curios such as notepads, magnets, satchels, puzzles, T-shirts, and face masks to art books and exquisite cups and teapot sets featuring the works of the masters. Prices range from Dh15 upwards.
Must visit: ToDA’s VR Room is the world’s first fully immersive virtual-reality-enhanced experience that transports visitors to the studios of four artists: Edvard Munch, Kazimir Malevich, Ivan Shishkin and Natalia Goncharova.
At ToDA’s Interactive Room, children of all ages will be transported into fantastic realms of story and exploration with a series of activities designed to help expand the imagination and teach scientific concepts. The is a permanent installation and is open to all ToDA ticket holders. Specially designed for children, this room boasts multidimensional spaces with secret passages and portals to magical worlds which allow interaction with the installations in a playful way.