Virtual Reality as an Environment and Movement Documenting Tool in Conservation Practice for Mechanical Kinetic Artwork

Yu-Hsien Chen and Tzu-Chuan Lin
Electronic Media Review, Volume Six: 2019-2020


Virtual Reality (VR) is a digital technology that provides users with an immersive experience through visual and audio aspects. VR has been widely adopted in various industries and research fields, including cultural heritage conservation. This project aims to explore the possibility of VR’s role in conserving artwork with strong environment and movement characteristics by collecting technical and visual details of the original work and recreating it in VR. In contrast to taking 3D images or videos at a single spot in real space, VR directly builds an artwork element by element, allowing users to move in the virtual space both in vertical and horizontal directions, providing a more interactive experience. The issues explored during the project include the following: How real can virtual reality be? Are we pursuing reality? In what case is VR a useful tool and in what case is it not? What should be introduced in VR that best approaches the authenticity of the artwork? This case study picks the artwork The Ending of Historical Light, by Taiwanese artist Tao Ya-Lun (b. 1966), created in 2009. This artwork was also represented as the opening of the Taipei Digital Art Center (DAC) in 2009, which is an important moment in Taiwan’s digital art history. The artwork consists of three rotating laser light machines, two smoke generators, and background sound, all of which occupied the entire first floor of DAC. This project started with two main challenges. First, the conservator had no experience with the original artwork, which is often the case in conservation practice. Second, there was only one laser light machine and a few exhibition installation documents left at DAC from the artist. In addition, the audio file had disappeared.

The artist was invited to join the project, and several formal and informal artist interviews were held. The first interview—before recreation of the artwork—provides the fundamental understanding of the relationship between artist intent and the media and technique he chose in deciding how to introduce the artwork by VR. The second interview brought out more technical details of dimensions and patterns that are necessary for the recreation. The last interview was done after the artist experimented with VR, and includes comments on final adjustments and the end result. The practical processing of VR also produces conflicts between the VR experience versus the real-world experience that forces us to change a part of the real-world dimension in order to make it more real in VR. There are additional problems regarding the preservation of VR elements. Our preliminary conclusion is that, in conservation, VR is a strong tool for providing 360-degree documentation that aids the human body in overcoming a lack of sensory perception, while the artist finds it intriguing as an extended creation from a similar concept but totally different body experience. This project was supported by Taiwan Digital Art Foundation as the first case study series of the Save Media Art project and was exhibited in “Concept Museum of Arts,, Taipei.”

Keywords: Virtual reality, kinetic art, space documentation


Yu-Hsien Chen
Project Director
Taiwan Digital Art Foundation

Tzu-Chuan Lin
International Affairs Manager
Taiwan Digital Art Foundation