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.
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.
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.
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.