A giant dried out lake, a parched and barren lakebed with hulks of old rusted ships, now resting on the dried cracked mud. A once desert island with decayed warehouse buildings which now holds a gallery. The surrounding landscape slowly being occupied by gypsies, carnies and tradespeople.
So reads the introduction to Dryland, a new installation by Anita Witt on her sim at Mado.
The look and feel of the build is inspired by the dried-out Aral Sea, lying between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which is regarded as one of the planet’s worst man-made ecological disasters. At one time the sea covered an area of 68,000 square kilometres (26,300 sq miles) and provided rich fishing grounds. Today it covers less that 10% of that area and is heavily polluted, after Soviet irrigation projects diverted the major rivers serving the inland sea in the 1960s.
Dryland is home to a range of exhibits and offers a hugely engaging and thought-provoking visit. To mark the opening of the installation, Anita invited four of SL top photographers – Melusina Parkin, Ziki Questi, Marlen Slazar and William Weaver – to present their images of her work in creating the landscape. As one might expect, Anita also exhibits her own work here as well.
Also within the region one can find Pallina60 Loon’s Whoops a Baby, an interactive artwork which takes fertility as its theme, and which first appeared at Burn2 2012. Tarek Atoui’s Un-Drum can also be experienced within the region, while a teleport offers visitors to view another of Anita’s previous installations, The Weaver Project.
Opened in September 2012, and running through until November 2012, The Weaver Project featured six of William Weaver’s unique photographic builds, which were made available to invited SL photographers as the themes to produce portfolios of images. In all, 120 pictures were produced featuring the six builds; while the latter have since been taken down, The Weaver Project – Final Exhibition, all 120 images are presented for a final time for visitors to enjoy.
Dryland is a beautifully minimalistic installation which brilliantly captures the magnificent – and heartbreaking – desolation of the Aral Sea, which was once home to over 1500 islands scattered across its waters. There is a windlight preset for the region which offers plenty of scope for photography, although the region also offers lots of options for experimentation. Photography itself is welcomed, and there is an open invitation for people to submit their work to the Dryland Flickr group.
On arrival, a notecard will be offered, which provides a comprehensive overview of the exhibitions on offer and the artists behind them; taking and reading a copy is more than worthwhile. After you have, however, whither you wander is entirely up to you – the exhibitions at ground level are scattered over the region to encourage exploration, and there are many little touches and details which make careful exploration worthwhile.
Part of the theme with Dryland – unlike the Aral Sea – is that it is becoming the home of travellers, traders and carnies. Why such people would choose to congregate here is open to the imagination – perhaps the lone body of water has made for a meeting point / resting place for those toiling across this unnamed desert, and the nearby rusting hulks of long-abandoned ships offered an ideal focal-point for people to gather on reaching the watering hole. Whatever the reason, the trailers and tents invite exploration – as do the hulks themselves, while the ruined bulk of what might have once been a government installation stands above the parched plain with almost proud indifference to its decrepit state…
As readers here know, I love evocative regions; those that seem to offer whispers of a tale to me are very attractive. Dryland does this at every turn, despite everything being “hidden in plain sight”. It’s a great piece of art in itself, and truly immersive environment for photography and, potentially, machinima (check with Anita first on the latter, however), and the concept of having art displayed as art within the piece and forming a part of the overall theme, is an inspired addition to the piece. Exploring Whoops a Baby and the cargo containers and tents around Un-Drum, one can almost imagine the carnies and traders sitting and standing in the shadows, waiting the opportunity to draw you in deeper…
Dryland makes an immersive and engaging visit; one in which it is well worth investing time to explore and appreciate – and, in the case of Whoops a Baby, be a part of.