Harvard CAMLab


A Buddhist temple was 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 Buddhist 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 of 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 both narrative and decorative 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 audiences to virtually go through a transformative process, which entails using an array of semiotic and sensorial means to transcend the body.

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