Review: ‘Van Gogh Alive — The Experience’

‘Van Gogh Alive’ is a ‘multimedia exhibition experience’ that offers a fresh take on the Dutch master’s work. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2018
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Review: ‘Van Gogh Alive — The Experience’

DUBAI: Is this the future of touring blockbuster art exhibitions? That’s the question that springs to mind strolling through the perplexing “multimedia exhibition experience” of “Van Gogh Alive” — which runs until April 23 at Dubai Design District, presenting precisely zero original works by the Dutch master often touted as the greatest painter of all time.
Instead, viewers inhabit an immersive space — walls, floor and ceiling alike dizzyingly splashed with swirling, cropped images of Van Gogh’s works, clumsily phased together like an early Windows screensaver. In total, 3,000 different images flicker from 40 projectors, revolving in a half-hour suite of biographical chapters, set to patronizing mood muzak and punctuated with tortured quotes drawn from the great artist’s letters.
The most haunting moments morph Van Gogh’s harrowed self-portraits eerily into one another — the same deadened, listless eyes glaring out at the viewer from all angles.
The tech has been on tour since 2011, with stops already clocked in 35 cities on four continents, and in places it feels tired.
When I caught “Van Gogh Alive” in Lisbon last summer, silhouetted figures practiced artful tai-chi poses in front of the churning mass of pictures. I presume they were paid to do so, but remain uncertain, as any reaction to this bewildering “experience” was welcome: Hardened gallery goers paced the space with a studied scowl, while families sprawled out on beanbags and at least three paying guests appeared to be taking a nap.
There is, of course, a wider argument to be had about art and appropriation. Fragmenting and gutting Van Gogh’s work and intent in this manner instinctively feels sacrilegious: Should those famous sunflowers really rustle in the digital breeze? Should that windmill actually be seen to turn?
Yet watching kids frolic merrily in front of those iconic images underlines how accessible “Van Gogh Alive” makes his art, while the narrative arc offers audiences either a welcome refresher on, or an introduction to, Van Gogh’s extraordinary talent.


Iran film for Oscars stirs debate on home front

“No Date, No Signature,” won best director at Venice last year. (AFP)
Updated 54 min 38 sec ago
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Iran film for Oscars stirs debate on home front

  • The Farabi Cinema Foundation tasked with selecting Iran’s contestant for the best foreign-language film category has announced its choice of “No Date, No Signature,” which won best director and best actor at the 2017 Venice Film Festival

TEHRAN: The Iranian film for next year’s Oscars has stirred controversy at home both over the choice of a downbeat movie and for taking part in the Hollywood spectacle at a time of tense Tehran-Washington ties.

The Farabi Cinema Foundation tasked with selecting Iran’s contestant for the best foreign-language film category has announced its choice of “No Date, No Signature,” which won best director and best actor at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.

Vahid Jalilvand’s film, which has scooped a host of other awards aboard, tells the tale of two men tormented by guilt over the death of a boy in a road accident, set against a background of social injustice.

“Every year the same debate surfaces over whether or not to submit a film” for the contest in Hollywood, Farabi said last Friday while naming its choice.

The US decision to pull out of the nuclear accord with the Islamic republic and to reimpose sanctions this year has “led certain parties to propose a boycott of the Oscars,” it said, referring to Iran’s conservative camp.

Defending its participation, the foundation said that members of the Academy which organizes the event were among leading critics of “the populist government of (President Donald) Trump and of its policies tainted with racism and unilateralism.” 

The choice of “No Date, No Signature” was vindicated by its success abroad and “the efforts of its distributor” to bring the movie to screens in the US, Farabi said.

But the ultra-conservative press was unimpressed.

“Like the strategy used by Trump in interviews and tweets to depict Iran as a nation abandoned by hope and mired in poverty and misery, ‘No Date, No Signature’, a most bitter and dark film, has been chosen for the Oscars,” Javan newspaper said in a commentary.

It said the foundation had squandered “a golden opportunity” to enlighten the outside world on the values of Iran by nominating another movie, “Damascus Time,” on its battle against jihadists in Syria.

Director Ebrahim Hatamikia’s film, funded by the Revolutionary Guards, the country’s ideological army, has been a hit at the Tehran box office.

After three films were shortlisted from a 110-strong field, “the decisive factor that made ‘No Date, No Signature’ the best choice was its professional and effective foreign distributor which the others did not have,” said Houshang Golmakani, a critic with “Film Magazine,” a monthly on Iranian movies he co-founded.

The subject matter makes it “a caustic film” as regards its portrayal of life in Iran, he told AFP. “But art is not a matter of touting for your country.”

In 2017, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar for best foreign movie with “The Salesman,” but he boycotted the awards ceremony in Los Angeles in protest at Trump’s controversial policies on immigration.