The Anthropic Principle in Second Life

“I want to give the feeling that you’re an explorer, only having the tale of one man, written in a little book, to guide you,” Gem Preiz says of his latest installation The Anthropic Principle, which Caitlyn and I have the privilege of exploring ahead of the official opening on Thursday, April 20th. And truth be told, hat’s exactly the feeling he has created.

As one might expect given the focus of Gems work, fractal art plays a role within the installation,  and visitors do undertake a journey through various spaces to view them. But the familiar journey and the art itself are only a part of things. The Anthropic principle is a piece which binds together many parts: storytelling, a contemplation on religions, extra-solar life, the nature of human origins and philosophy, in a world which has a highly effective, TRON-like feel to it.

In particular, and as the title suggests, it draws upon the anthropic principle, a philosophical consideration that observations of the Universe must be compatible with the conscious and sapient life that observes it. In particular, the installation draws upon the weak anthropic principle as Brandon Carter, an Australian theoretical physicist, first employed the term in its contemporary form.

If this sounds terribly dry – don’t be fooled. Gem utilises the anthropic principle as a foundation upon which to build a story, a story visitors use as a guide to their travels through a series of cityscapes. Broad in scope, the story encompasses the recent discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system (which you can read about in this blog here, here and here), and well as touching upon one of his previous exhibitions, Wrecks (which you can read about here), to present an installation which is both fascinating to explore and which gets the grey matter working!

A journey starts with some simple instructions: on arrival, set your viewer to midnight, make sure you have Preferences > Graphics > Advanced lighting Model checked and particles turned up (you don’t need to set draw distance to 400m, the spaces are all relative enclosed, and half that distance works fine). Then, grab the story from one of the cubes on the floor (English and French versions available), enable the audio stream, have a read (recommended) and – when you’re ready – head for the Stonehenge-like structure where a teleport awaits.

This will carry you to the first destination – a city on one of the distant worlds of TRAPPIST-1. You’ll learn about the first journey to this world through the worlds of an original explorer, whose tale is related through the words of the story’s protagonist. In doing so, you’ll also find clues to the route you should take through this maze of buildings and subterranean vaults, a place built be a civilisation remarkably similar to our own, and with similar broad religious beliefs, prompting questions on origins.

The story guides visitors through these places, each rendered in that TRON-like style, bright lines of colour – orange, yellow, white, blue, red – although the way is not always obvious. Within these realms are galleries (sometime one, sometimes more than one – look for the deep blue lines on floors and in entrances to rooms) where hang Gem’s magnificent fractal art pieces, all of them an integral part of the unfolding story.

From the city through to Hell and thence back to the city and onwards to Paradise, visitors are gently exposed to Gem’s take on the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP), an interesting and thought-provoking idea that not only will a universe capable of supporting give rise to living beings capable of observing and reflecting upon it, but that those lifeforms, wherever they are spawned in our universe will pass along an almost identical evolutionary path, up to an including forms philosophies and religious ideals, architecture and more, which all stand as a reflection of our own civilisation through the centuries.

This really is a journey worth taking rather than describing. Not for the ideas that Gem gently puts forward, but because  whether or not you’re in the mood for philosophical conjuring, the various environments are really worth seeing, and the fractal art within them is, as ever, mind-blowing; each piece a story in and of itself.

And when you do visit, do make sure you have the accompanying sound stream playing.  The selections of Hans Zimmer’s music are remarkably apt, and Gem has clearly chosen the pieces with care: time and again both Caitlyn and I were struck by the perfect fit of music with our own rising expectations as we ascended ramps or descended stairs towards the waiting light of new rooms…

All told, a fascinating exhibition and another selection of stunning fractal art. When you have completed a visit and found your way back to the landing point, you can touch the poster there to visit No Frontiers, another of Gem’s installations (which you can also read about here), which is running concurrently with The Anthropic Principle through until the end of June.

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