The paintings of the great proto-Surrealist, Giorgio de Chirico, are begging for inhabitants. The empty colonnades, towers and train stations that make up his art invite the viewer to wander, alone, through their strange sun-caked scenes.  

Gigoia Studios has offered viewers the chance to do exactly this with SURREALISTa, an interactive version of eight different paintings by Giorgio de Chirico. Amongst the artworks are interpretations of the haunting Enigma of the Hour and The Nostalgia of the Infinite ­­– which has inspired everything from work by Salvador Dalí to the design of 2001 videogame Ico.

Giorgio de Chirico was the founder of the metaphysical art movement, which largely grew around the social and cultural changes brought about by World War I. It took a very different direction to the contemporaneous Futurist movement, showing a strong nostalgia for classical Italian art and design. While de Chirico eventually moved away from the metaphysical style, his work had an enormous influence on the Surrealist movement.

There have been a handful of recent projects that have invited the viewer to drift through artworks, from a VR version of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights to Salvador Dalí’s Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s “Angelus”. The Surrealist or proto-Surrealist aesthetic of these works lends them to VR, where the emphasis is very much on environment and spectacle.

SURREALISTa fits this mold, but while it’s an enjoyable way to see de Chirico’s work from a new perspective it nevertheless left me wanting to return to the original paintings. Being able to map the melancholy landscapes by walking through them somewhat undermines the uncertainty of time and place that comes from glimpsing distant figures in, say, The Melancholy of Departure, or hinting at unseen structures in The Red Tower.

If anything, SURREALISTa made me consider how much of de Chirico’s design has already translated into gaming. Hinting at narratives through architecture is one of the main ways games convey meaning, and while it may not be a direct influence, the way this is used in games as varied as Bloodborne and Firewatch has much in common with the mysterious, dream-like environments made by de Chirico.

You can download Gigoia Studios’ tribute to Giorgio de Chirico for PC, Linux, and Mac here.

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