The ruins of Vijayanagara, located at present-day UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hampi, including the sixteenth-century Vitthala Temple, whose outer pillars reverberate musically when tapped with the fingers, can be viewed at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne until 26 January 2010.
PLACE-Hampi is the world’s first interactive cultural exhibition, combining 3D stereographic panoramas, high quality sound recordings and custom-built computer software, that merges mythological and archaeological detail to give viewers the very real perception of walking amongst the ruins in India today.
The exhibition premiered in Lille, France and drew maximum capacity crowds for 3 months. It has also been installed for 3 months in 2007 at the Martin Gropius Bau, in Berlin, at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, at Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, Shanghai and, at Science Centre in Singapore. There are a number of other planned installations in Europe. This is its first installation in Australia.
Australian curator and former maritime archaeologist, Sarah Kenderdine, who conceptualised and co-created PLACE-Hampi, says, “Place-Hampi arrives out of the desire to create large-scale immersive and interactive display environments that engage many visitors in the experiential qualities embedded in historical and living landscapes. The complex of technologies we use mobilizes the landscape and allows the participants to engage in new experiences and narratives.”
Kenderdine first experimented with representing landscapes in 3D after being invited to work at Angkor in Cambodia in 2004, to produce a work for The Virtual Room at Melbourne Museum. She was then invited with Prof Jeffrey Shaw to make the work at Hampi, which was commissioned as an art work in celebration of France India Year in 2006.
“Once we were introduced to Hampi, which is an utterly vibrant and extraordinary site with its fusion of pilgrimage community and archaeological and geological setting, we immediately felt that it was a great opportunity to explore our research ideas related to the post-cinematic experience of place,” says Kenderdine.
The team has spent many years on-site at Hampi using Swiss-made Seitz cameras to capture images on location, and complex audio technology to record the every day pilgrim and wild life activity at the ancient city. “Fieldwork always has its tension, there is a lot of expensive equipment, and the days are long and physically challenging,” says Kenderdine. “Travelling on bamboo coracles down the river with all the gear was always nerve-racking. But the delights are always there. Highlights for me have been to see and film the Chariot Festivals and other religious festivals, to be welcomed into the homes of local people who helped us, to be at the river in the early hours of the morning, when the priests are preparing for morning puja, to watch the dawn from Matanga Hill in the mornings, sunset from Hanuman’s birthplace and many other exquisite moments. I like also to live in Hampi village. The rhythms of daily life are very reassuring, intimate. Modern cities are very alienating in comparison.”
And PLACE-HAMPI too aims to be an intimate experience. One visitor commented about the exhibition, ““I myself am part of Place-Hampi and I determine in which part of the artwork I stay. It has something of a stroll through a virtual world and I am my own cameraman”
At the centre of the large cylinder, which is the exhibition, is a motorised platform that allows the viewer to interactively rotate a projected image on screen and navigate a 3D environment of panoramic images of Hampi. A single-user interface allows viewers to control their forward, backward and rotational movements through the virtual scene, as well as the rotation of the image. Motion capture devices and software were used to digitally create the mythological Gods that viewers encounter in the exhibition.
“The motion capture was used to ensure accurate translation of dance performances to the animated figures that appear in Place-Hampi,” explains Kenderdine. “The Indian animation company Paprikaas in Bangalore produced the animations. This is IMAX quality so it was a daunting undertaking. The animations draw on the tradition of “magical realism” as an aesthetic choice for inspiring the artwork of the mythological deities.”
Another major challenge for Kenderdine and her team was to capture some of the living culture of the place. Hampi is no disused ruin stuck in the past—it is still a vibrant centre for pilgrims as it is believed to be the site of Kishkindha, the fabled Monkey Kingdom from the Ramayana. Gods and local deities inhabit the temples and landscape, and festivals and rituals attract thousands of believers.
“Place-Hampi, through its animations, visualises intangible aspects of the landscape, those realms available to pilgrims who visit the site, whose religious beliefs animate that landscape. Place-Hampi, augments the visible elements with the mythological animation. It is a very modest attempt to make explicit this greater landscape,” says Kenderdine.
She has spent many years, bringing archeological sites—on land as well as below the sea—to audiences globally. As a maritime archaeologist Kenderdine built one of the earliest cultural heritage website in the world in 1994. “Using new internet technologies in the late 1990s I was able to broadcast a shipwreck excavation live from the bottom of the ocean. This was thrilling!” Kenderdine recollects. :I went on to produce more large portals including one for ASEAN cultural heritage. Now however my interest is in bringing people back together into the real social spaces of museums and galleries, in large scale immersive works.”
So is virtual travel the future of tourism? “Place-Hampi provides an informed method of virtual travel that is rich with the processes of recording landscape common not only in archaeological practise but also in the artistic representation of place,” she says. Part of Kenderdine’s research interests also lies in the production of acoustic architectures of space in 3D—sound to match the visual production. “The power of acoustic “visualisation” is an emerging field of work within our understanding of space and place,” she says.
Place-Hampi, will show at the Immigration Museum, Melbourne until 26 January 2010.