«Showmen used bevelled mirrors, mercury pearls, brass, copper, gold and silver plating as well as fine arts such as labyrinth like sculptures carved panels to amaze the crowds and put them in a dream-like altered state of consciousness. The new digital era and new lighting techniques have provided me with new tools to showcase the objects with lighting and video projection and therefore captivate through illusion. Yet I also use pictorial items found in nature where often an image can hide another. »
– Jean Paul Favand
Video projection to showcase the objects
Jean Paul Favand wasn’t fully satisfied by the precision of traditional lighting technologies to highlight his objects and quickly turned to video-projection. The testing of this new technology enabled him to precisely lit the objects and guide the visitors’ eye in his object-staging approach. Within the Théâtre du Merveilleux – similarly to 18th century cabinets of curiosities – Jean Paul Favand brought together Naturalia – natural curiosities – and Artificialia – man-made curiosities. The use of the video-projection also gave birth to a new form of curiosities: Virtualia – a new way to understand the objects using the digital to enhance the curiosities.
Unlike the concept of “digital art” as a form of contemporary art based on immateriality, Jean Paul Favand uses the 21st century digital technologies to focus on the object. The videoprojection offers the possibility to cut out the object, change its colour and provoke the impression of motion as a tribute to magic lanterns and pre-cinematic technologies.
« At a time when the digital is ruling more and more aspects of our lives, I am delighted to keep the liberty to use it as mean to reveal the existing. My demarche fits within two principles: humanize the digital and offer to the sight, my intervention being limited to my perspective and the way I stage objects to respect their material authenticity »
The illusions of the Théâtre du Merveilleux
In the 19th century, the “Théâtre du Merveilleux” referred to a form of shows using the industrial revolution’s special effects to amaze the crowds.
The Théâtre du Merveilleux created within the Pavillons de Bercy is a 1800sqm cabinet of curiosities dedicated to illusions. It pays homage to Roberston, a famous magician who used to project magic lantern images on smoke screen creating the first chimera of moving images. Today the visual illusions are recreated by 12 video-projectors and 1200 light sources. The projections on the three dimensional surfaces of the Naturalias and Artificialias create interplays of light and shadows bringing the objects to life. Petrified woods and wax characters are used as a medium for three dimensional virtual creations and a 10m long organ can be transformed into an Indian palace or Captain Nemo’s Nautilus. The modern digital technologies also offer the possibility to combine the optical effect with sound orchestration. In a unique arrangement of sound and lights in the Théâtre du Merveilleux, a 1925 ballroom organ, composed of 12 instruments can suddenly play a waltz with a 40m long wall carillon.
The association of tradition and modern transforms the objects into acting parts of the display creating a new form of interaction with the visitors. This unique display was created at a time when the digital was still being confused with television. It brings back to life illusions worthy of the magical extravaganza of the 19th century.
The virtual astrological game
For Jean Paul Favand the digital is but a tool to reveal the object, the real. Offering to the sight or invite the spectator to see the objects from a new perspective.
For the unicorn astrological game, pieces of petrified wood coming from all over the world (Philippines, French Guiana, Namibia…) are brought to life by three video-projectors. The unicorn astrological game was designed for the Théâtre du Merveilleux in 2003 after a 1920’s lottery table. The winners are presented with a short animation about their zodiac sign projected on the 8 by 11m scenography of petrified woods, offering a poetic illustration of their main symbolic features.
In 2003, softwares enabling to assemble the images of several video –projectors were rare and complex; creating these digital projections were at the time a real challenge. The dream came true after a year of attempts thanks to Jacques Remus who created a special computer program based on a software developed by the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
The 4D projection show “Venice the Serene”
The Salons Venitiens’ magical show “Venice the Serene” 4d was created in 2012 reminiscing the phantasmagorias and mechanical shows.
It is a 4 dimensional show bringing back to life ancient artefacts through modern illusion techniques. 14 months were necessary in order to create this extravaganza bringing together graphic designers, IT engineers, light specialists, mechanics and musicians.
In front of a Venitian panorama from the 1880’s, six automaton boats from a 19th century mechanical theatre sail thanks to modern digitally-controlled engines. In order to replace the former Magic Lantern technique, 11 video-projectors and numerous light sources immerge the visitors into a 500sqm image. The room is entirely transformed into a dream-like Venice, the buhr stone walls turn into the façade of a Venetian Palace with its fountains and torches by projecting the images on the room’s architectural components.
The immersion is total thanks to a 12 channels directional sound system to perform the show’s soundtrack.
This show fits within the logical sequence of digital creations within the Pavillons de Bercy and emerges from the augmented reality shows of the Théâtre du Merveilleux.
With Venice the Serene, Jean Paul Favand has created a 5 minutes out of time, imaginary voyage.
A think tank
By projecting large images on objects and architectural structures, Jean Paul Favand has through the years, developed his own video-mapping technique without being aware of it. He was a pioneer in the use of the digital, turning the Pavillons de Bercy into an innovation lab and think tank.
Still today, a part of the premises is dedicated to the research of new staging techniques and technologies.
Jean Paul Favand also uses this digital approach on a personal point of view by creating his own digitally enhanced artworks. His work was featured in several off-site exhibitions, for instance at the Centre des Arts of Enghien-les-Bains in 2013 or at the Laval Virtual show in 2018
Published on 09.01.17