Through the Lens of Dreams is a new art presentation opening on Sunday October 9th at Art Screamer. It is a magnificent full-sim piece that springs into colourful, vibrant, aural life from the imaginations of Madcow Cosmos and Lorin Tone.
And it is quite possibly one of the most delightful art installations I’ve yet visited in Second Life – and equally, one of the hardest to describe. If you take the imaginations of Lewis Carroll and Terry Gilliam and whisk them together with a splash of Oliver Postgate and a dash of Doctor Seuss, then you might come close to understanding how surrealistically wonderful Through the Lens of Dreams is.
It has simply everything: weird and wonderful creatures scurrying around on the ground, weird and wonderful birds perched on lamp posts, shrubs with appealing faces (and which may or may not be as innocent as they appear), grumpy grubs stalking away from their underground homes, gnarled trees with wizened faces, rainbow bridges and bizarre bicycles with gardens for panniers. All this and so much more: houses honking their way through powder-puff and cream pie clouds, gigantic Clanger-like creatures rising into the air to devour not soup, but multi-hued floating flowers; entire city blocks huddled together on carrot-like foundations and held aloft by umbrellas…
Down the Rabbit Hole
Using the exhibit’s teleport SLurl, you arrive floating serenely on a cloud, the sun setting as a glorious ball, the sky overhead darkening with the onset of dusk. It’s best to leave the region environment settings as they are when you arrive, as they are as much a part of the installation as anything else.
From here, the sim is spread out beneath you, surrounded by an azure sea – but how to get down? You could easily fly – flying is encouraged to see all of the exhibit in full. However, I recommend that you see the piece at ground level first – and follow Alice’s example to get there by jumping down the rabbit hole – or in this case, the hole in the cloud; the sabre-toothed bird guarding it is perfectly safe!
Once on the ground, your choice of routes is down to you – there is no set way or fixed order in which to enjoy the exhibits; like the whimsies around you, you’re free to set out as you please and let whatever takes your fancy be your guide. There are some footpaths of rounded stones set into the grass, but again, whether you follow them or not is up to you; as Madcow Cosmos states:
“Walk, fly, hop, or shimmy as to your preference. Click things, poke them, dance naked around them, or sit on them. Feel free to photograph, make machinima, exactly copy my work by painstakingly reproducing it, or loudly decry it as an assault against good taste, you have the artist’s permission!”
So many things combine in this work that it needs time to be experienced; not that giving it time is hard – anyone in touch with their childhood imagination or with a love of the light fantastic (albeit touched with an edge of darkness!) is going to be at home here. Colour, light, shape, shade, sound and scale all play a role in each of the oddities and delights you come across as you wander the glades, hills and vales of Art Screamer – like the giant wooden bikes that lead you over a rainbow bridge, each complete with a pannier bearing a tiny garden.
Take a good look at everything you encounter; some are static, others are enhanced by sounds and music selected, composed and recorded by Lorin Tone. Thus, the installation is very much an aural as well as visual experience. In fact, discovering which elements have sound and what it might be is very much a part of the fun when exploring Through the Lens… – especially when flying among the floating houses, of which more anon.
Creatures and objects of all shapes and sizes are in abundance – some, like the wooden bikes, act a little like guides, directing you to or along a route you might opt to follow as you walk the sim. Depending on the direction you do take, others appear to be marching resolutely the other way, like the little green fellow above, and his friends, whom I encountered mid-way through my journey.
Of Gilliam, Carroll, Kubrick, Oh My!
It is hard not to draw comparisons between the installation and the works of Lewis Carroll (author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) and Terry Gilliam; many of the pieces around the sim resonate strongly where both are concerned. But it would be a mistake to simply write this off as some form of imitation; there is so much more here – and the creators’ own passions are in subtle evidence around the sim.
Lorin Tone, for example, is a huge Stanley Kubrick fan, and there is at least one item (I may have missed others!) that reflects this, as no less a voice than that of HAL 9000 (and that of the actor Douglas Rains) whispers to you at one point in your explorations. I’ll leave it to you to discover where; all I will say is that HAL’s voice is entirely fitting, given where it is heard.
Oh – and don’t miss out on the free gifts that are scattered around – you can even make yourself a mobile part of the exhibit by donning a “ball boy” avatar!
When you’ve wandered the island, it’s time to take to the skies – this is very much an immersive and three-dimensional that failure to take to the air is to miss a good portion of it.
Here you’ll find more to delight and tease, as you fly through flocks of butterflies and around house-laden clouds and witness giant yellow Clanger-like creatures rising into the air in pursuit of pretty flowers which in turn look so much like hot air balloons floating peacefully over the landscape.
I’m not entirely sure how friendly these Clanger-esque beings really are; there is something faintly menacing in their eyes as they form from rising blobs puffed out of the smoke stack of a factory. And there is a faint whiff of malevolence edging the way the leader is slurping-up a flower balloon…
It is here that the darker side of dreams is hinted at: the suggestion that the “Clanger” creatures may not be as cuddly as they first appear; the mysterious pipework visible around the island that leads to the red brick factory which is itself at odds with the brightly hued land in which it sits. It’s as if there is something more disturbing laying just under the surface.
Just like our own comfortable dreams can form a thin blanket over our darker nightmares, so to do elements of the installation hint at darker things lying beneath the vibrant colours and gaiety around us. It brings a certain edge to the piece that dares one to poke at it, as we all sometimes poke at our own fears, real or imagined.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the “Clangers”, the coldness of their eyes notwithstanding. They look so much like the creatures I remember from re-runs of Oliver Postgate’s masterpiece on the BBC, I even found myself hoping that if I touched one, I might hear, “Oh, sod it! The bloody thing’s stuck again!” mischievously whistled back at me!
Also up in the sky you’ll find the floating tower blocks, each held aloft by a striped umbrella and standing on a carrot-like base. Commuting to and from the ground isn’t easy though – the ladders are long and exposed; not that the “ball boy” locals seem to mind, judging by the giggles. Perhaps they bounce if they fall, or is the giggling more manic than playful? You will have to decide that for yourself…
If there is one problem with this exhibit, it is that it is simply too photogenic: it is so easy to take & publish so many pictures, it risks spoiling the impact for others when they visit the installation. But then, pictures only tell a part of the story – whatever you choose the story to be – and relying on them to reveal the sim’s richness would be a mistake. With the depth and breath and scale of the pieces, together with the carefully concocted sounds, this is something that has to be experienced and should be experienced in all its richness; the way it touches the subconscious and memories is likely to be unique for each of us – and I wonder if any two visits will provoke the same reactions.
I think I’ll be popping back to find out!
Through the Lens of Dreams will be open to the public from 12:00 SLT on Sunday 9th October, when there will be a Grand Opening Party, and will run for approximately one month thereafter.
If you take photos of the exhibit yourself, why not join the Art Screamer Flickr Group and upload them there?
About the Artists
Madcow Cosmos describes himself as a “Complete amateur”, who came to SL from a cooking background in order to try his hand at some 3D digital art. He provides the visuals for the piece.
Lorin Tone describes himself as, “A real life noise maker and a tasty beverage”. He provided the sounds and music found through the piece, including an original composition of his own.
With thanks to Chestnut Rau for the opportunity to preview this event, to Madcow and Lorin for creating it, and the folks at Art Screamers for hosting / curating it.