A visit to the 18th Century in Second Life

Rocca Sorrentina
Rocca Sorrentina

I was drawn to Rocca Sorrentina after seeing it featured in a recent Destination Guide highlights blog post from the Lab. Described as an immersive education experiment operated by Brown University, the region presents an 18th Century period setting, offering visitors the opportunity to interactively learn about the period through art, information note cards, exhibitions, events and even via casual role-play with the island’s residents (although it is emphasised the latter is not a primary function of the region).

The initial landing point is located at altitude. Here visitors can learn about Rocca Sorrentina (a fictional rocky island located in the Bay of Naples), both in terms of its own “history” and the broader terms of both the project and the period in which it is set. A note card giver alongside the landing point offers a wealth of information across multiple note cards, including useful visitor information, rules regarding period role-play and use of the region, and on the various displays to be found here.

Rocca Sorrentina
Rocca Sorrentina

Opening off of the landing area are three exhibition areas. These currently feature in turn, an exhibition of the art of Pietro Fabris, a history of tarot, and a history of the Kingdom of Naples during the late 18th century. All are informative, with the last in particular providing considerable insight into 18th Century life and culture.

Also to be found on the wall of the arrival hall (and in the note cards offered by the information giver) is a map of the island. This is worth noting / studying, as there is a lot to be found once you’ve teleported down to ground level.

RS-11-1_001
Rocca Sorrentina

On teleporting down, visitors find themselves at the island’s busy docks. Ships are alongside, anchored just offshore or heading out under full sail into the Bay of Naples (which connects Rocca Sorrentina with the estate of the Duché de Coeur – which I haven’t actually re-visited for well over four years!). Just off the main island are the smaller Harbour Master’s island and the fortified Lighthouse Island.

Once ashore, there are several routes of exploration: along the quayside to the lower town, or up the ramped path towards the villa, passing the vineyards on one side, and then turning to cross the Great Lawn to the upper town and its church, or by following the ramped path directly up to the villa itself.

Rocca Sorrentina
Rocca Sorrentina

The latter is modelled on the Villa Almerico Capra Valmarana (also known as La Rotonda, Villa Rotonda, Villa Capra or Villa Almerico), near Vicenza in northern Italy. Called the Villa Vesuviana, and designed by CapabilityTodd Elswitt, who was also responsible for building the original Rocca Sorrentina, this grand house perfectly captures the imposing form of La Rotonda and presenting similarly commanding views of its surroundings, whilst its interior decor also draws directly on that from its physical world inspiration.

Below the Villa sit the Cascade water feature and a small amphitheatre, and nestled between them, ruins which appear to date back to the time the island was used by the Byzantine Greeks. Just across from the Cascade, an area of excavation reveals more antiquities have been discovered.

Rocca Sorrentina
Rocca Sorrentina
Rocca Sorrentina
Rocca Sorrentina

When exploring the island, it is worth remembering a couple of points. The first is that while large parts of Rocca Sorrentina are open to the public, there are private apartments to be found here as well, which are available for rent by residents (the rental offices being up at the arrival point). These are indicated by signs outside (Residenza Privata), and visitors are asked to respect the privacy of those renting them.

The second is that while there is no formalised role-play on the island, residents can engage in free-form role-play, and visitors are invited to join in if they so wish. Those who do are asked to indicate as much by dressing in 18th century period costume (there are some free costumes available at the landing point).

Rocca Sorrentina
Rocca Sorrentina

With its public programmes and exhibits focused on the history and ideas of the Age of Enlightenment and the era of the Grand Tour, and presenting unique opportunities to experience the baroque, rococo and neo-classical styles of the period, Rocca Sorrentina makes for a fascinating and educational visit. My only regret is that it has taken me five years to discover it and engage upon my own Grand Tour!

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Chronophobia and mementos mori in Second Life

Split Screen Installation Space: Chronophobia
Split Screen Installation Space: Chronophobia

Chronophobia marks the return of Rebeca Bashly to creating her large-scale art installations in Second Life after an absence of over a year. Long noted and admired for offering work that is thought-provoking and which often challenge our perceptions about a subject, Rebeca continue to do so with this installation, which opened at Dividni Shostakovich’s Split Screen Installation Space in February, very much continues in this tradition.

The term chronophobia refers to the the persistent and often irrational fear of the future or of passing time. This is much in evidence within this installation, which also seems to take as its foundation the form of artistic expression referred to as mementos mori.

Split Screen Installation Space: Chronophobia
Split Screen Installation Space: Chronophobia

From the landing point, three gigantic stone sundials present platforms rising into the heavens (and I use that term intentionally, given the subject matter), our only mean to reach them being to ascend (again, choice of term deliberate) to each. All are in a state of decay, chunks of each of them falling away, with the lowest exhibiting the greatest decay and the highest the least. Each presents a unique skeletal gnomon: a human torso on the first (representing the heart), Pegasus on the second (its presence resonating with the idea of tempus fugit), and a seated couple, man and woman (with unborn child), the woman cradled gently by the man.

The symbolism here, whether in taking the three sundials as a single whole or viewing each in turn, is both powerful and layered. Transcendence, mortality, the passage of time, reminders that we have but a short span of years in which to account for ourselves, are all to be found here. so to are symbols which could be taken to represent a parallel concept to mementos mori: vanitas (the skeletal forms, the decaying sundials, complete with their bubble like trails of crumbling stone, Pegasus as a substitute for the more usual bird’s skeleton).

Split Screen Installation Space: Chronophobia
Split Screen Installation Space: Chronophobia

There is perhaps another message here as well, besides that of our mortality and the need to watch the passage of time if we’re to achieve what we desire. Chronophobia presents a view that the past is what it is. There is no point in looking back to it, because we cannot return to it or change it; we can only move forward and try to reach higher / further, even if, ultimately, time is our master and our curse.

Were I to try to summarise Chronophobia, I’d perhaps use the word “metaphor”, as this truly flows through the installation, making it a wonderfully interpretive piece. It will remain open until the end of April 2016, and a visit is recommended.

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  • Split Screen Installation Space: Chronophobia (Rated: Moderate)