Escapism at its finest: the van Gogh immersive experience

Written by Laura May Bailey

There’s good news for art fans in Leicester, and at the moment any positive news about the Arts is sorely needed!

It was announced at the end of October that the much acclaimed van Gogh immersive experience at All Saints’ Church will continue until February 2021. The exhibition opened in February this year and was planned to last until November; however, due to its closure between March and August because of the country wide lockdown, the exhibition will continue for another four months.

The inside of All Saints’ Church has been utterly transformed to provide a series of immersive experiences centred on Vincent van Gogh’s art. I visited a few weeks ago, and it remains one of the best art experiences I’ve had, not only in Leicester but in the UK as a whole.

While you might associate van Gogh with museums in Amsterdam or the south of France, this exhibition is an incredible celebration of his art right on our doorstep.

The experience begins with a brief and informative history of van Gogh’s life: a sad tale with a tragic end as he committed suicide aged just 37. From there we see an impressive digital blend of his floral paintings projected onto a vase.

Van Gogh is well known for his sunflowers, but this feature recognises his eye for painting other flowers as well as the vivid colours he used.  After watching a short film about how the artist saw the world around him there is the opportunity to take the perfect social media picture, as you are transported into one of van Gogh’s paintings.

The life-size recreation of his bedroom forced me to do a double take as the accuracy is uncanny.

Image by Laura May Bailey

On to the main event: from the church’s starry ceiling to the textures projected onto the floor, it truly lives up to its immersive name. So many elements of van Gogh’s paintings are brought to life using ingenious animation and digital techniques, including his harbourside scenes and fields of corn, his famous ‘Starry Night’ and even still lives of crabs.

Stirring music projected around the room, in synchronisation with the artwork dancing across the walls and pillars, united the attendees in an evocative experience. There were beautiful scenes unfolding in every direction, allowing you to understand and appreciate the depth of van Gogh’s art as never before.

I was not alone in finding this an emotional experience:

“It reminded me that in every drop of sadness, art can be your boat and safely drive you back to shore,” said Sokaina Jamraki, who also visited the exhibition recently.

Odelia Cheung was equally enthusiastic, saying “[T]his immersive experience changes how I view the arts. Painting does not have to be confined within a frame but can actually be brought to life!”

If you can tear yourself away from the 35-minute-long projection of art in the main body of the church, there is still more to come. The Virtual Reality tour of van Gogh’s world costs an extra £3 but is worth every penny as you are transported away from Leicester, and modern-day England, into the beautifully recreated realm of his paintings.

The van Gogh experience will remain closed until the 3rd of December when regulations are due to be lifted, so when this happens, I cannot recommend this immersive experience highly enough. It is an hour or two of escapism when many of us really need to forget about the real world. You can find more information about tickets, opening hours, and Covid-19 restrictions here.

Laura May Bailey is a master’s student of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. As well as having a passion for museums, she is also interested in traveling, history, and literature. You can find her on Instagram here: @laura_may_bee.

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