Monday on the NewsHour: A Digital Visit to the Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan

BY Kelly Chen and Grace Lamb-Atkinson  July 11, 2011 at 3:32 PM EST

Digital artist Jason Salavon has designed a way to let U.S. museum-goers experience the feeling of being in an ancient Chinese Buddhist temple without actually visiting one. In fact, he himself has never been.

“While I’ve never had the chance to see these caves,” said Salavon, “I feel a real intimate relationship with them. And I feel like for somebody who’s never actually been to a place, I couldn’t know a place better.”

Located in a remote area of northern China, the Xiangtangshan caves once contained shrines to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, with figures, statues and carvings built during the Northern Qi dynasty in late 500 BC. Over the years, however, the caves were repeatedly looted and many of the pieces were lost or ended up in different private collections across the world.

In 2004 the team from the University of Chicago (with cooperation from another team from Peking University), used advanced imaging technology to photograph and scan the caves, along with over 100 artifacts that were believed to be from Xiangtangshan. The scans captured details that allowed researchers to match the pieces with the cave, and allowed them to digitally recreate the original structure.

Monday on the NewsHour, we visit “Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan,” an exhibit currently at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution.

Salavon, a University of Chicago faculty member, was responsible for creating the “digital cave,” the centerpiece of the exhibit. He narrates a slide show of images and video from the making of the project: