Harvard CAMLab


Immersive Theater | Multimedia Art Book 

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A Buddhist temple is far more than a spatial enclosure. In medieval Asia, it was deemed a total representation of the cosmos, a symbolic complex of the body, a living organism, a utopia, and, after all, a microcosm sufficient unto itself. At the crossroads of humanistic research and media technology, CAMLab features a series of such cases to unveil the deeper logic of image-making and space-programming in Chinese art and architecture.


Nestled into the western foothills of the Taihang range, Kaihua Monastery (c.1073/1092-96) sits on the southern flank of the Sheli Mountain in the Gaoping Municipal of Shanxi Province. Nowadays, only one building from this 11th-century complex is preserved: its main Buddha hall titled “The Treasure Hall of the Great Hero [Mahāvīra]” (Daxiongbaodian 大雄寶殿). With rich illustrations in the interior, this Buddha Hall was embellished into a virtual theater. It stages a visual chronotope and engages the viewer in a temporal-cum-spatial journey. By unpacking the artistic and religious program of such a journey, CAMLab invites its audience to virtually go through a transformative process, which entails using an array of semiotic and sensorial means to transcend the body.


The Water-Land Ritual (水陸法會) is performed for the universal salvation of all sentient beings from hells. As a visual aid to the ritual, Water-Land Paintings (水陸畫) were often painted on hanging scrolls or as murals in Buddhist halls. The Water-Land Paintings at the waist hall of Qinglong Monastery in Jishan County, Shanxi Province, dated to the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), are the earliest surviving examples in mural form. These paintings have a rigorous composition and a lively style, making them a rare example to observe the form of Water-Land paintings in the early time. CAMLab guides the audience to read the rich illustrations along the unfolding of a multisensory ritual.


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