Ascension: rising through very mixed feelings

Update: An alternative viewpoint as to the reason for the music venues has been posted in the comments, which is also worth reading. Ziki Questi has also posted on the installation as well.

Ascension
Ascension

Ascension is a full sim art installation by Mantis Oh (Cari Lekebusch in real life) as a part of the 2013 Artist in Residence series at the Linden Endowment for the Arts.

Mantis Oh is well-know is SL art circles, and his work tends to fuse ancient and futuristic elements into his builds – and this is much in evidence here, as the visitor is invited to explore a tall tower sitting to one side of a region filled with strange plants, hovering buildings and structures (from Mantis Oh’s Hybrid Productions range) and a huge and very futuristic Sphinx, and which features ancient-looking symbols scattered throughout.

It is  – to be clear on this point – a very impressive build and very photogenic. Whether it  qualifies as a full sim art installation as a part of the LEA’s Artist-in-Residence series, however, is a matter of personal interpretation.

Ascension: the root level
Ascension: the root level

The LEA’s blog piece on the installation reads:

 Ascension is a combined art installation and sound experience that encourages the visitor to explore the seven levels of a cubic, tower like structure. Loosely based on the seven chakras (energy centres) of the human body, visitors begin the journey by stepping down twelve steps that each release a musical note underfoot, before entering the base level room which is bathed in deepest crimson red. Music and sound are intrinsic to this build, and you can create your own unique musical compositions by stepping onto the trigger objects on each of the levels. If you explore the sim with friends, together you can create sound patterns in a truly social and fun environment.

So far, so good – and it has to be said that a trip through the tower is an interesting diversion (you’ll need sound and particles, etc., enabled and be prepared to poke and prod at things).  You start at the base level, as the description notes – analogous to the root chakra, and work your way up via teleporters to the uppermost crown (or “spirit” in this case) level. Each level presents a different environment in which you are encouraged to walk on things, touch things and play with things to create sound and light, either on your own or in the company of whoever is with you, be they friend or fellow visitor.

Ascension
Ascension

This is all fine, and very much in keeping with the idea of an art installation. What troubles me is that it isn’t actually something which requires the provisioning of a full region. The tower takes up less than a quarter region area. The rest of the region, while undoubtedly visually stunning and photogenic, came across – and I’m simply being honest here – as being more about using the provided space as a promotional opportunity than as a medium for expressive art.

Alongside the tower there are no fewer than three dance venues in the region – the “Beach Club”, the “Ultra Club” and the “Sphinx Club”. According to the LEA’s blog post on the installation these are “designed to host seven Techno music and DJ events that will take place during the lifetime of the build and well-known Techno DJ’s from real life record label H-Productions will be performing in-world.”

Now there is absolutely no reason why music and art cannot mix, or for music to be used as an art form in and of itself. As such, were these “clubs” to be used as an extension of the main exhibit itself, one could understand their inclusion. However, from the given description in the LEA blog, this appears not to be the case; the implication is that the venues will be used to host techno parties promoting Mantis Oh’s real-life record label, and this leads me to very mixed feelings on the installation.

Ascension
Ascension

It might be argued that the dance venues offer a means of presenting techno as a progressive form of art, and are therefore in keeping with the aims and ideals of the LEA. However – and I’ve wrestled with this exact issue for a considerable time in writing this article – I cannot escape the feeling that such an argument is perhaps hollow. Certainly, given the immersive nature of SL, I would suggest that if the intent is to demonstrate “techno rock as an art form”, then it could perhaps be achieved more immersively and interactively than slipping it a few dance floors and inviting people to come boogie down.

As mentioned, I came away from Ascension with very mixed views. The trip through the tower is an interesting diversion, and as a photographic, set the entire build is impressive. Both of these points can make a visit worthwhile. However, I cannot escape the feeling that the three dance venues are less about any expression of art and more about the promotion of a specific genre of music for the sake of entertainment – and that as such, there are better venues outside of the LEA where this could be achieved.

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4 thoughts on “Ascension: rising through very mixed feelings

  1. I visited this exhibit recently and thought both the garden level on the bottom and the various tower rooms and interiors were a great addition to the LEA series. There’s also a number of unique and creative freebies that are generously made available.

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    1. Yes, I has no issue with the tower installation and found the gardens and quest a distraction. Had the installation followed-through on this approach, I’d perhaps have less in the way of mixed feelings. The presence of the three clubs, however and as mentioned, just doesn’t sit well with me. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong on this when events are actually held; but for now I can only write in terms of the impressions gained in exploring the build.

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  2. I think it’s crucial to remember that LEA provides a platform for many differing forms of ‘art’ hence the pluralisation of ‘arts’ in it program title and there’s no disputing that music and visuals fall firmly into this category.

    This sim was created to open up the way SL (and virtual art in general) is viewed not only by existing SL residents, but to help attract new residents from the real life techno/music scene to take the time to visit SL too; many of who have created SL accounts and logged in because of the RL promotion of this project. Let’s hope they stick around because new blood in the arts scene or in SL overall is a positive thing for us all.

    Any Hybrid branding on sim was purposeful so that any new SL users would immediately recognise it from RL and feel at ‘home’ in a strange new virtual world (I am sure we can all recall being newbies) and nothing to do with any commercialism. Cross promotion of SL creativity into RL never gets fully utilised: it’s still pretty rare to find an SL avatar that is willing to expose his SL work to his RL supporters. Kudos.

    The main tower build has many different facets that can be explored alone or with friends: this was a purposeful act by the creator to encourage a more ‘social’ experience and as a refreshing change perhaps from visiting some of the more typical SL builds you can encounter across the grid.

    As for the club areas on the build, the events that will be taking place are going to be DJ sets performed by some of Europe’s leading techno DJ’s (at least 7 in total)that will also encourage new users to SL and also will invite existing SL residents to experience music that they might not be familiar with.

    Considering the amount of events planned in the relatively short time frame that LEA recipients get to have their sims, it was felt important to create different areas for these events to keep them visually fresh and also to create different areas for new machinima to be produced; another bona fide SL artform in itself.

    Techno has always had a divisive impact since its conception. Good and healthy to see that impact continues albeit in a virtual setting.

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