The Art Hour (Het Kunstuur) is a new ground-breaking and interactive gallery concept developed by art collectors and entrepreneurs Hans & Joost Bourlon. In the former Holy Ghost Chapel in the historical heart of Mechelen (Belgium), they make art more appealing to a wider audience and anyone who may not visit conventional galleries. Thirty-two paintings from sixteen 19th century Belgian painters are displayed across three gallery spaces, presented with a relevant story by well- known Flemish personalities.
Creative lighting design and media specialist Painting with Light was invited to manage and design the technical systems and control for lighting, video, audio and humidity control for this intricate and unique project. Concept designer Wouter Verhulst of King Concept wanted to work with a company known for technical and creative ingenuity, lateral thinking and with the resources, skills and flair to make an art gallery come alive in a stimulating theatrical way.
The Painting with Light team drew from its vast knowledge of creating entertaining ‘visual experiences’ across multiple disciplines – theatre, live shows, attractions and themed environments, visitor centres, etc. All of these influenced the delivery of a dynamic technical solution for The Art Hour in Mechelen.
Ultimate art attraction
In the first two rooms, each painting is introduced, and its story told by the designated personality, who appears as a life-size projected video on the gallery wall right beside the painting, projected by Panasonic devices. Rooms 1 and 2 are divided by an electric curtain which tracks aside at the appropriate moment. The third room, situated in the old chapel itself, is a darker, more intimate club-like space, where visitors hear but don’t see the narrator while experiencing an immersive light show produced to compliment the art. This altered setting allows a complete change of perspective.
The mood shifts from a cool, contemporary art space to a darker, more colourful, funky vibe creating a totally different context for imbibing the art. It’s a nice playful surprise element that pops out at the end of an already interesting journey.
Luc Peumans, CEO of Painting with Light, comments: “This project represents another milestone in the 20 year history of Painting with Light. In that time we have developed our know-how about how to combine creative and technical services for the ‘entertainment experience’, and for this specific project, our client had some extra challenges – the concept of visitors spending maximum one hour in the museum and focussing their attention on one painting at a time together with timing, lighting, audio and guest flow.
Total show control for hassle-free experience
The first phase of the design process saw the whole museum virtually created in WYSIWYG and presented as a VR experience to the project’s initiators. The Painting with Light team delivered the full technical design including the projection system, creative lighting, audio track and control, plus specification, procurement and commissioning of all equipment and its implementation.
The lighting intensity is adjusted to the time of the day following an external light sensor. Visitors arrive in the reception zone, are equipped with their headsets and audio players and wait for their allotted timeslot of one hour. During the gallery’s opening hours, tours commence every 20 minutes. A countdown in the entrance hall indicates when the next ‘show’ is going to start and when the time arrives, the entrance door opens automatically, and the experience can start. Everything is steered from a central control room. Visitors can enjoy the show without worrying about which artwork to view or where they are situated in the tour. It’s a totally hassle-free and immersive experience!
The paintings are mounted on black walls and lit from behind with RGB LED strips which change colours to generate an ambient light adjusted to each work’s specific colour palette. Painting with Light was responsible for focusing the lights and ensuring that the framing and highlighting were adjusted precisely to visitor’s viewing angles and that reflections were minimised. The decor in the first two rooms includes custom black textile wall cladding provided by partner Showtex. To improve the overall atmosphere and give viewers a sense of orientation, linear lighting was implemented at the bottom of these walls.
Peumans concludes: “Thanks to the talents of our multidisciplinary team and our spirit of pushing the boundaries, Painting with Light could deliver total show control for this unique experience. Our project manager Céline challenged herself to provide The Art Hour with full AV show control including automatic light settings, video projections and visitor guidance plus the correct humidity factors to protect the paintings. I’m very proud of all these achievements.”