What is Re-create?

Re-create: the process of setting masterpieces in motion and in history. In this special essay Dr. Shin-Ichi Fukuoka, the man behind Re-create, discusses the ideas which led him to develop Re-create as a concept, a process, a technology, and ultimately as a new way to enjoy great art by great artists.


Were I to be asked to name three of the world’s most famous works of art, instantly recognisable to everyone, I think my selection would be along these lines: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Katsushika Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa, and Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer.

Now, should wish to see the originals with your own eyes, you would have to take first a trip to the Louvre in Paris for Mona Lisa, then make your way to the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague for Girl with a Pearl Earring. If you’ve never been to these museum, you should; at least once in your lifetime. It’s different for Hokusai’s Great Wave; this was a print, and high quality versions from the initial print run, thought to number into the several hundreds, can be found in museums and private collections all around the world.

There is something undeniably special in the very deliberate act of going to see an original work of art, of seeking it out where it should be found—in a museum. You can immerse yourself in the presence of the art, hanging in its appointed room, and you can soak up the air and the aromas of the city that is home to the museum. Being there, in the same place as the work of art you have travelled to see, allows you to consider the history of the art work and the background of the museum where it is now housed.

It is without doubt, then, that the act of viewing the real thing has great intrinsic value. But I would argue that the act of viewing the real thing does not automatically lead to an understanding of the real value and beauty of the work.

By trade, I am a biologist; the study of vital phenomena is my life’s work. But in the course of my research, I have come to realise that observing the structure of cells through an electron microscope or analysing gene sequences alone is not enough to provoke a sense of wonder about life. In order to understand the real significance of life, we need to place it in its most natural context—dynamism—and to reinterpret it as a temporal function. The cells that appear to the scientist under the electron microscope are no longer moving. And when that same scientist seeks to analysis a gene sequence, he will filter out not just any aspect of time, but any aspect of the life which might otherwise flow from that same sequence. I believe we should take these vital phenomena and reconsider them in the contexts of movement, of flow, and of time. I call this process a meditation on the dynamic equilibrium of life. And this very dynamic equilibrium has become the core focus of my work as a biologist.

I believe that life also resides in art. Works of art may seem, at first glance, as if they are simply frozen in time. But certain masterpieces contain within them not only a sense of the time that has led up to the moment captured, but also a sense of the future that will begin from that point. It is this very sense of time that can be sensed by the viewer, that compels the art work to them. Every single painting by Vermeer is noticeably dynamic, immortalising crucial moments as if taking a photograph. Take Girl with a Pearl Earring; the young woman turns around, her wavering gaze suddenly cast upon the viewer. An eternity is captured in that moment. And we meet her gaze, trying to unravel the secrets behind that single moment—that immortalised eternity.

I also believe that art is a function of time. At first, the artist is searching—he may not know for what, but for something. Eventually, he chances upon a single ray of light, and begins to chase after it; a process of trial and error then ensues. He seeks new ways of expressing that which he wants to convey; he forges down the path of discovery. What does this resemble if not the iterative process that must precede scientific discovery: the repeated experiments required to verify a hypothesis, the endless attempts to refine hormones found only in infinitesimal quantities. Vermeer never gave up, pursuing the same motifs. In him, I see the earnest mind of a scientist.

However, it is difficult to ascertain the dynamic elements and temporal aspects contained within a great work of art just by looking at that art work in isolation. I believe there are things that only become clear when a work of art is seen in the context of the entire oeuvre of the artist, the overall picture he was trying to paint. Put simply, the art work should be placed within two contexts: that of dynamic space and that of time. It should be set in motion and in history.

With this objective in mind, I want to propose a new way of enjoying works of great art. My proposition is Re-create. By using state-of-the-art imaging technology and computer-controlled printing—what I refer to a “Re-create technology”—Vermeer’s entire oeuvre can be re-created, revealing his original colours, the texture of his original brushstrokes. In 2012, I spearheaded an attempt to do just this; the Vermeer: Realm of Light exhibition was held in Ginza, Tokyo, in 2012. The exhibition presented all 37 of Vermeer’s works, displayed in the order he is believed to have painted them, framed in exact copies of those in which the originals are mounted. It was something like a Vermeer theme park, a place where the visitor could be immersed in the life of the artist. Passing in front of every one of Vermeer’s works, painting to painting, the visitor was able to form a picture of what it was that Vermeer sought to capture in his art. Girl with a Pearl Earring was painted in 1665, when Vermeer was at his peak as an artist. Once this masterpiece has been set in the context of his other works, both those which came before and those which came after, it becomes somehow easier to imagine what was going through Vermeer’s mind when he painted it—why did he paint this picture at this time? The Vermeer: Realm of Light exhibition has subsequently toured Japan; total visitors to date number nearly half a million.

My next challenge was to apply the same Re-create technology to the works of Katsushika Hokusai; the result was the Brilliant Hokusai! exhibition, also first held in Japan. My objective here was the same. Hokusai’s Great Wave is a work of masterful composition, rich with dynamic colours; it commands the attention of all who see it. But this print was no anomaly; it was part of the Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji series, depicting Mount Fuji from varying viewpoints and throughout the four seasons. So there is much to be understood about the Great Wave when it is set in the context of this series. Re-create technology allowed us to produce that renewed context. Hokusai produced Great Wave when he was well into his later years—he would have been around 70 years old. What led him to create this enduring masterpiece at such an age, what led him to that moment? Setting Great Wave in a wider context allows us to reconsider this question, of Hokusai’s life and journey as an artist. The Re-create exhibition enabled the visitor to take a panoramic view of Hokusai’s life as an artist by re-creating the works of a man at the pinnacle of his artistic achievement.

In this way, Re-create exhibitions function to give spatial and temporal context to original art works—to set them in motion and history—and give us opportunity to reconsider and re-imagine these masterpieces in the context of dynamic equilibrium. In this way, Re-create is intended to encourage Vermeer fans all over the world to reawaken their love for his paintings. It aims to bring depth and breadth to our understanding and appreciation of Vermeer.

Re-create is not simply a process or replication or of imitation. Rather, it works to complement the original, to supplement our understanding of it. Re-create is my attempt to devise a new way for people all over the world to appreciate great art.

Dr. Shin-Ichi Fukuoka, June 2014