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Sarah Kenderdine. Preservation and Interpretation: Digital Representations of the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang

This article introduces two seminal digital installations focused on the cave-temples at Dunhuang, Gansu province, in Northwest China. Pure Land: Inside the Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang and Pure Land: Augmented Reality Edition integrate high-resolution digital archaeological datasets (photography and 3D architectural models) with immersive, interactive display systems. These works allow visitors to interact with augmented 3D digital visualizations of Dunhuang’s Cave 220. The multi-layered enhancements made to the underlying digital facsimiles of this cave can be interactively explored, analysed and understood as 3D visual experiences that bring new life to the aesthetic, narrative and spiritual drama of its mural paintings and sculptures. Pure Land was first exhibited to the public at Gallery 360, City University of Hong Kong, in 2011 to critical acclaim and subsequent worldwide attention.

Legend has it that the Mogao cave-temple site was first named and inhabited by the monk Le Zun, a traveller from distant western regions, who paused at the foot of Mt Sanwei. Amazed by the sunset emanating the rays of a thousand Buddha images from the glorious mountain before him, he settled down there and excavated a cave at the opposing Mt Mingsha. Hence the stage was set for the Mogao grottoes, which would continue to be constructed over the following centuries. Also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas (Qianfodong), the complex served as a gateway to and from China on the ancient Silk Road, and a focus for trade between East and West Asia and and India from the 4th century CE until the 14th century. The cave-temples not only mark the spread of Buddhism from India to China, but also provide an enduring record of the interplay across cultures of macro-social forces – globalization.
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