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Immersion : Into the black, Virtual reality and mediation

EPFL+ECAL Lab (Tommaso Colombo, Joëlle Aeschlimann, Marius Aeberli, Delphine Ribes, Nicolas Le Moigne, Nicolas Henchoz) and Yves Kalberer

As an introduction to Noir, c’est noir ?, EPFL+ECAL Lab invites the public to engage with the content of the exhibition in an interactive and immersive experience. It uses now ever more present virtual reality headsets, whose technical performance is for the most part – with notable exceptions in gaming – still looking for appropriate content. The installation explores how interactive virtual immersion via 3D computer graphics can expand the understanding and appreciation of an exhibition. The design of the device is also central: virtual reality glasses mounted on a fixed pedestal recall the familiar stationary binoculars for tourists.

As part of a comprehensive study into the uses of virtual reality, Into the Black offers a unique and sensory way of engaging with curatorial content.

Matter : The « chromatic versatility » of black

EPFL+ECAL Lab (Joëlle Aeschlimann, Tommaso Colombo, Delphine Ribes, Nicolas Henchoz)
Signal Processing Laboratory LTS5 (Jean-Philippe Thiran)
Gamaya (Luca Baldassarre, Manuel Cubero-Castan, Ellen Czaika, Vlad Lapadatescu, Dragos Constantin)
Egli Studio (Yann Mathys, Thibault Dussex)
Atelier Héritier, Geneva (Pierre-Antoine Héritier, conservateur-restaurateur)

The library of thirty-two black pigments prepared by the conservator-restorer Pierre-Antoine Héritier offers a glimpse into the extraordinary diversity of the types of pigments that can enter into a painting’s composition. Organic, mineral or synthetic in origin, each one has subtle variations in tone and shading. The perception of black changes according to their properties (including the refractive index, coverage, morphology), their particle size (blackness is even lesser when the pigment is more finely ground) and their smooth or structured appearance (determined by the binder and the mode of application).

The experience created by EPFL+ECAL Lab seeks to reveal the "chromatic versatility of the single pigment paintings“1 of Pierre Soulages. This project, supported by the Signal Processing Laboratory LTS5 and the startup Gamaya, makes use of a hyperspectral camera – a piece of equipment typically used in aerial photography for agriculture, to examine the condition of fields and crops – that is able to simultaneously capture different colors comprising the light spectrum.
While the human eye perceives visible light as white, the hyperspectral camera separately captures the flow of visible light reflected by an Outrenoir, color by color. EPFL+ECAL Lab then translates the collected data into an interactive installation that exhibits a “hyperspectral map“ of the painting in question. This visual representation corresponds to a constantly evolving digital surface that evokes not only the interaction between the light and the work, variations in energy depending on the color of light, but also the changes that occur as soon as the visitor moves, or with changes in ambient lighting.
In featuring an innovative perception of the different colors of light that animate an Outrenoir, this installation creates a striking and evocative contrast that enables the public to approach the work entirely without artifice.

1 Pierre ENCREVÉ, "Le noir et l’outrenoir", in Suzanne Pagé (dir.), Soulages, Noir Lumière (exh. cat., Paris, Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, April 11 - June 23, 1996), p. 37.

Light : Bringing an Outrenoir to light

Signal Processing Laboratory LTS2 (Maximilien Cuony, Fabien Willemin, Johan Paratte, Pierre Vandergheynst)
Studio Fragment.in (Marc Dubois, Laura Perrenoud, Simon de Diesbach)

Constantly renewing our perception of an Outrenoir according to variations in ambient light – natural or artificial – and our positioning relative to the painting is the project that unites the Signal Processing Laboratory LTS2 with the Fragment.in design studio, coming out of the Lausanne University of Art and Design (ECAL).

The project team has created a specifically developed installation that allows for a novel perception of the paintings, turning the viewer into an actor in the creation of the artwork. Through a system that is able to detect our position and movements in front of the painting, it is possible to adjust the lighting of an Outrenoir and thus to experiment physically with our relationship to the artwork. The canvas is surrounded by an animated light installation that offers, under the same hanging conditions, several types of lighting (frontal illumination, oblique or directional) in a succession of programmed modes, both scripted and interactive.

The experience particularly shows differences in the treatment of the pictorial layer of the exhibited painting. The opposition between striations and flat areas engages light in a particular play between vibration and absorption. The monumental size of the painting encourages movement in a place where artificial lighting is no longer a static given but a variable that enriches the perception of the work.

Structure : Ultra-high definition acquisition and interactive visualization of an Outrenoir

Audiovisual Communications Laboratoy LCAV (Martin Vetterli)
ARTMYN (Loïc Baboulaz, Julien Lalande, Alexandre Catsicas, Matthieu Rudelle)

Photography, including in the digital age, has up to now never managed to accurately render the material reality of an Outrenoir. By establishing only a single point of view, it crushes the light reflected by the black pictorial surface.

Now however, the startup ARTMYN, which arose out of the Audiovisual Communications Laboratory LCAV, can reproduce artworks with unprecedented accuracy. Through a clean capture structure (a hemisphere studded with close to 60 light sources connected to a camera), ARTMYN not only photographs the work, but also generates a reconstruction of it in which perspective can be explored through an interactive visualization in 5D. In addition to the three known dimensions, it is indeed possible to digitally alter the emission angle of the light1 that illuminates the painting.
The reproduction achieved – a kind of topography of the painting – offers the viewer, by using a touch-screen, the ability to visualize the surface of the painting from different angles and to explore the play of light in even the smallest details of the pictorial layer.

This technology thus makes it possible to exceed the traditional boundaries of photographic reproduction regarding acquisition accuracy, while also paving the way for new opportunities in mediation and conservation.

Optics : Caustics or mastering light

Computer Graphics and Geometry Laboratory LGG (Mark Pauly)
Rayform (Mark Pauly, Yuliy Schwartzburg, Romain Testuz)

Caustics refer to the envelope of light rays undergoing a reflection or refraction on a surface or a curve, for instance light patterns that emerge when light passes through a glass of water or on the bottom of a pool lit by the sun. Growing out of Mark Pauly’s Computer Graphics and Geometry Lab LGG, the startup Rayform is dedicated entirely to the application of computing technologies for controlling caustics. Indeed, a shared fascination with the behavior of light in interaction with surface conditions connects Pierre Soulages with these EPFL researchers.

LGG and Rayform have managed to control the random patterns produced by light by using a series of computer algorithms developed at EPFL. The startup calculates and produces complex shaped surfaces which deflect the light passing through them to project highly detailed images.

Mark Pauly and his colleagues propose an installation comprised of four caustic surfaces (high-precision sculpted plexiglass plates), illustrating the close relationship maintained between the Outrenoirs and light. These transparent “tableaus“ reveal their content when a visitor shines a pocket flashlight through them.

  • The first device reveals a digital scan of an Outrenoir carried out by the startup ARTMYN. The painting is represented here as if a part of its materiality had been extracted from it, leaving only a luminescent evocation of the artwork.
  • The second is paradoxical – the illumination of a transparent square produces a black circle – questioning the duality of the presence/absence of light in our perception of the world.
  • The third represents a sketch by the painter and man of science Leonardo da Vinci, who was one of the pioneers in the exploration of the relationship between light and matter. The drawing illustrates the reflection of light on a concave mirror (Codex Arundel MS 263, 1478-1518, British Library, London, folio 86 verso).
  • The last device, auto-illuminated and rotating, indicates the importance of visual perspective in the perception of an Outrenoir.

The light coming from the painting towards the viewer creates a space in front of the canvas, and the viewer exists in this space.
There is an immediacy of vision for each point of view ; if one changes that viewpoint, the first vision disappears – erased – for the appearance of another.
The painting is present in that instant when it is seen.

Pierre Soulages

Interview of Pierre Soulages by Pierre Encrevé, « Les éclats du noir », Beaux-Arts Magazine, special edition, Paris, March 1996, in Éric de Chassey et Sylvie Ramond (ed.), Soulages XXIe siècle (exh. cat., Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, October 12, 2012 − January 28, 2013, Rome, French Academy in Rome − Villa Médicis, February 18 − May 19, 2013), Paris, Hazan, 2012, p. 159.