In 1881, Swiss painter Edouard Castres painted a panoramatic 360° picture of a military event that had made his home country an active player in the Franco-Prussian war. Almost 87.000 French servicemen of the French Bourbaki Army, defeated and discouraged, were allowed to cross the border to Switzerland, were they were decommissioned and detained in what became famous as one of the first operations of the International Red Cross.
In order to most effectively captivate and immerse the audience, Castres put sculptural elements on a so-called faux terrain in the foreground of his 112 m painting: live-size figures in uniforms huddle up to a fake fire, local civilians approach to attend them, guns and knapsacks lie about in the artificial snow. Like other panorama painters, Castres aimed at blurring, or even dissolving, the borders between reality and image. In effect, he created what we now like to call a ‘Virtual Reality’. Hence, it is perfectly in line with local tradition that the Bourbaki Museum in Lucerne investigates contemporary practices of immersive imagery.
In cooperation with the research group ‘Visual Narrative’ at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, the Bourbaki Museum will show various digital forms of panoramas and virtual reality applications, thus making visible the relationship between the nineteenth-century panorama painting and digital panoramic displays. However, the connecting theme is not exclusively based on technological references. Most of the exhibits refer to unsettling contemporary events such as crisis and conflicts which, if nothing else, are stirred up by and accompanied with the help of new media technologies.