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Dunhuang caves in virtual reality

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Immerse in the otherworldly art of Dunhuang

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 12:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 2:28pm

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Be transported to the world-famous grottoes in a new digital exhibition at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.

Unlike some other cultural relics, grotto art cannot travel. But technology has now enabled us to get up close and personal with these faraway treasures without ever having to step into a cave. The Hong Kong Jockey Club Series: Digital Dunhuang — Tales of Heaven and Earth, now being held at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, presents one such rare opportunity for the public in Hong Kong to experience Dunhuang in intimate ways.

Jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Dunhuang Academy, Tales of Heaven and Earth is a continuation of the hugely popular Dunhuang – Untold Tales, Untold Riches exhibition in 2014, and explores yet more facets of the fascinating Dunhuang Caves, dubbed the "Encyclopaedia of the Middle Ages”.

“The term comes from the fact that Dunhuang was very strategically situated on the Silk Road and a place where east met west. It was very much an international metropolis like Hong Kong today so the grottoes, which were completed in a span of over 1,000 years, offer a comprehensive archive of the ways of life and religious beliefs of the different peoples that crossed paths in Dunhuang over a millennia,” explained Fion Lin, Assistant Curator of Hong Kong Heritage Museum (Performing Art).

This newly curated exhibition highlights the achievements of the digitisation project of the Dunhuang Academy, together with a presentation of unearthed artefacts and the grotto art of Dunhuang. The latest multimedia technology allows visitors to study the murals up close, which is otherwise impossible even if one is physically present in the caves.

The religious and earthly realms of Dunhuang culture are the focus of the exhibition. Apart from the rich depiction of Buddhist art, the murals and artefacts chosen also contain representations of Indian and Greek deities that date back to the Western Wei Dynasty (A.D.535-556), as well as the way people dressed, lived and spent their leisure time.

Digitisation of Dunhuang grottoes

Technology plays an ever more important role in cultural heritage conservation. The exhibition is made possible by the Dunhuang Digitisation Project by the Dunhuang Academy, a pioneer that has made great strides in the digitisation and 3D scanning of the Dunhuang relics, not to mention its accomplishments in promoting the cultural heritage of Dunhuang through internet and multimedia programmes.

“The project started in the 1990s and represents a monumental effort in cultural preservation by collaborating with domestic and foreign scientific research institutions. Studies have shown that in Mogao Cave alone, both temperature and carbon dioxide concentration level can be raised with 15 tourists inside for ten minutes. Coupled with the desert climate, the murals are going to eventually fade. So a balance has to be struck between sharing the relics and preserving them,” said Lin.

Digitisation of the caves poses many challenges such as poor lighting and uneven surfaces. On average, 40,000 images have to be taken to cover 300 square metres, in addition to a great amount of post production to piece the images together. What the exhibition presents here is the result of years of meticulous work done with as much precision as passion.

Digital Dunhuang — Tales of Heaven and Earth brings to Hong Kong 100 exhibits including the replica cave of Mogao Cave 285, virtual reality caves, a digitised monumental mural of Mogao Cave 61, Mount Wutai, several artefacts and archive that have never before left Dunhuang, interactive multimedia installations, animations and other audio-visual programmes to offer an immersive experience that allows visitors to learn about the history and art of the Dunhuang Caves in a fun way.

During the exhibition period, a mini display on Dunhuang music culture and thematic talks are also being held at the Museum for public participation.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club Series: Digital Dunhuang — Tales of Heaven and Earth

Hong Kong Heritage Museum

1/F Thematic Galleries 3, 4, 5 & Function Place

Now until October 22, 2018

Tel: 2180 8188

Website: hk.heritage.museum