Auriea and I have had a desire to create pieces depicting typical Christian themes for a long time. Probably because we often visit museums and have had very deep aesthetic experiences with especially late Gothic, renaissance and baroque art. We are not Christians ourselves but some depictions of the Madonna and Child, the Pietà, the Crucifixion, the Visitation, the Annunciation, the Last Judgment and so on, have deeply moved us. In part through the power of beauty to connect with the cosmos but also because of the emotions they inspire: love, empathy, patience, kindness, and so on. These images touched us so much that we have long wanted to use them in some way in our own medium.

Over the years we’ve returned to this desire again and again, but it wasn’t until very recently that finally an idea came to us that we really felt could work. Taking some distance from games probably enabled this. Because the idea is very simple. Not a game at all.



I want to create living virtual sculptures. Mostly depictions of a single human body, posed to fit in a rectangular box: so either standing up or lying down. The idea is to present this body more or less in life size. So your screen would act as a sort of window through which you would always only see part of the body and need to slide horizontally or vertically to see the rest. Eve with a serpent, the body of Christ, Judas hanging, Maria Magdalene covered with hair, a nursing Madonna, etc. Subtle changes in the box demonstrate that this is a real time scene, not a still image. The body, if alive, is breathing, maybe even looking at you, blood is flowing, insects, dust, light. We expect this to be a very intimate experience. In many cases a change will happen over time, sometimes dramatic (a box filling up with the blood of the Lamb) but most often very slowly. In such cases, the experience would have a beginning and an end.

There’s no other interaction than sliding. But we are playing with the idea of using the image from the monitor’s camera (if one is present) to influence light effects in the virtual scene.

The experience would be one of contemplation, of course. And as such the spectator would be required  to spend some time with the piece. During this time they can figure out what the image can mean for them. (We recently discovered that there’s a name for these sorts of images: Andachtsbilder.)

We’re considering different media for production and distribution. Definitely downloadable software running in realtime on your own devices. But also the web, video, physical installations and Virtual Reality.

In a way this is a combination of two previous games: the box from Vanitas filled with the still body of Salome from Fatale. These happen to be our least popular games. But maybe two negatives make a positive. Not that that matters. We're going for intensity of experience here, not mass entertainment.
In a way this is a combination of two previous games: the wooden box from Vanitas filled with the still body of Salome from Fatale. These happen to be our least popular games. But maybe two negatives make a positive. Not that it matters. We’re aiming for intensity of experience here, not mass entertainment.


Aesthetic style

Another long time obsession that I want to address in this project is our desire for an aesthetic style of figuration that exploits the strengths of realtime 3D (while rejecting its weaknesses). This means embracing the synthetic nature of 3D modeling and rejecting photographic realism (and other forms of imitation). In art history we’re especially inspired by the Flemish primitives and Northern Renaissance. So on the edge between symbolic and naturalistic. But polygons and pixels are not paint and panel. We want to find a digital equivalent for the techniques of Van Eyck, van der Weyden, Christus, et al, not imitate the end result.

We have tried to do this in every figurative game we’ve made so far but there’s always been a million other things to do and we were never quite able to nail it, to our great frustration. Since in this project, the depiction of the body is the entire point, we can devote all of our attention to figuring out a form of representation that is true to the medium, and to our contemporary era.

The Salome character in our game Fatale (on the left) is probably the most beautiful character in all of our work. It was designed, modeled and textured by Takayoshi Sato, one of the best game artists around, famous for his work on the early Silent Hill games. The Madonna on the right was painted on a piece of wood by Jean Fouquet in the 15th century. One could argue that Sato’s Salome looks more realistic. But for our current project, Fouquet’s Madonna feels more suitable. Not that we want to imitate paint on panel but the stylization and exaggeration of the form and the appropriateness of the execution to its medium are what we want to find an equivalent for in realtime 3D. Because we believe that this will help contemplation. We wouldn’t dream of ever hoping to reach this goal. But it’s something to aim for. And the contrast is sufficiently severe to serve as a useful reference.



This is quite an elaborate project. Especially since we want each piece to be utterly lavish. There’s no cutting corners here. Every piece needs to be excessive, have an almost decadent feel to it: a very deliberate and detailed presentation that doesn’t do much, that just sits there, waiting for your contemplation. Much like the old altar pieces that often took years to make.

So how do we fund the production of such an ambitious and somewhat crazy project?

I want to try a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Not because it seems like an especially suitable environment to fund digital art (since this is obviously not a game). But because this is the project we are most passionate about and I believe many Kickstarter backers (myself definitely included) support the passion of creators more than they want to possess the objects being created.

But it’s a difficult project to present. A description of it may sound rather dull. And I don’t want to present a rough mock-up or prototype for fear that people might draw the wrong conclusions about the potential of the end result. Kickstarter is about fantasies anyway. It’s about supporting dreams, not buying products. That’s how I see it, a least.

An additional problem that worries me is the subject matter. Christianity is not very popular in our circles. Some atheists can respond extremely aggressively against mentions of religion, especially Christianity. I will try to circumvent this by stressing that I am doing this project being an atheist myself focusing on the humanist aspects of the messages in these scenes, and the social benefits of contemplation and meditation. And I hope that my desire to embrace my own cultural roots, as a Flemish atheist brought up in Catholic schools, can justify my use of these themes (in contrast to, for instance, the Western appropriation of Eastern religions for the purpose of meditation).


I’d love to hear how you feel about this idea!
Do you find it interesting?
Do you think it can work?
Can we get it funded?
Do any questions come up?

5 thoughts on “Kijkdoos

  1. Hi Michaël, taking a short moment to note down the first things that come to my mind when reading your post. Tried to split it in 3 sections, let’s see if it all makes sense…

    – Aspect of time & place : this summer I had the chance to visit the St Moritz church (Moritzkirche) in Augsburg, Germany. Although I didn’t have a lot of time to spend in the church, the imagery (mostly statues) left a very strong impression with me. I had a similar experience in a small church in Iceland (þorgeirskirkja). Both places managed to convey a very strong experience, just because it were those places. It probably wasn’t to do much with the art present there, but both places created a radically differently environment when I entered them. These experiences make me wonder to what extend time and place can play a role in the described concept. Will the ‘content’ of the kijkdoos depend on where I am in the world, what time it is? I could imaging imagery would differ in a very busy/noisy place versus a very intimate environment.

    – Interaction modality : Following on from the above, I kept thinking about whether this would be something you carry with you (like you do with Vanitas) on a mobile device – or is this a more ‘stationary’ desktop thing. If it is a mobile something, I think some interesting physical interactions are possible – i.e. you actually move the device to unveil the image. Whereas the interaction would be through a keyboard, I’m not so sure whether the experience of the ‘kijkdoos’ would be as strong as it could be. Perhaps you need a physical control of some kind to make it work, maybe an overlay to print out and put on top of your trackpad … I’m not sure yet.

    – Single / multi person : When reading your description I kept on wondering if this would be something I wanted to experience by myself or if I would want to share it with others. Again, this comes down to whether content can vary depending on an intimate or a public environment. This could also impact the interaction modalities, I’m thinking of experiencing this using a VR solution like google cardboard or is this a large public display – perhaps it can be both.

    Some first thoughts, not very crystallised I guess – but nevertheless my mind got triggered when reading your post.

    1. Thank you. All of these sound appropriate and inspiring.

      I’m seeing this project as a collection of pieces, some mobile, some stationary, some physical installations, some virtual. Whatever works best for the particular theme.

      1. It would be super interesting to approach this as a collection of pieces, it is starting to feel like a novel approach to the ‘take home experience’ after visiting a church / exhibit.
        Thinking about that, the way that the ‘kijkdoos’ is experienced could be an integral part of the whole project. Same content, different interaction style or surroundings – which could lead to interesting situations.
        I’m still trying to think of how this concept could be brought to a kickstarter-like audience, without it being perceived as a religious (and perhaps political, anno 2015) statement as such.

        1. I have some ideas for non-religious Kijkdoos pieces as well (based on myths and fairy tales eg). But focussing on the religious at first probably makes a stronger statement (which is risky, of course). Maybe I should ask Alain de Botton what he thinks (I’m quite drawn to his ideas about “Religion for Atheists”).

        2. I think it is important to make the political statement, though. If artists don’t do it, who will? And we can hopefully back it up with experiences of beauty that are pleasing to all.

          Dealing with this requires some maturity, of course. But I’m done with treating people as children.

          I guess it’s a bit risky if you want people to support you (on Kickstarter). But I hope that honesty and openness make up for that.

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