Despite receiving an e-mail invitation, I regret I was unable to attend the official opening of David “DC” Spensley’s towering – in a literal sense – art retrospective on September 22nd, 2018. However, as soon as time allowed, I did take the opportunity to jump over and immerse myself within it.
Known in-world as Dancoyote Antonelli, DC is one of the pioneers of visual arts in virtual worlds, working independently and in collaboration with other early pioneers to create 3D art that were considered ground-breaking at the time. In the United States, his work has been referenced in mainstream press, including The New York Times, Reuters, Step by Step Design, and Fibreculture Journal.
In 2006, DC also founded the world’s first virtual, aerial dance company – the ZEROG SkyDancers. On seeing the troupe perform, former Linden Lab alumni John “Pathfinder” Lester compared their work as genre-expanding as the Cirque Du Soleil. More recently, in 2014, DC and the ZEROG Skydancers again pushed the boundaries of performance art and dance, with Avant Garden. This mixed reality performance featured dancer Kathleen Moore performing on stage at the Little Boxes Theatre in San Francisco, a rear protection screen allowing her to interact with the troupe as they performed within Second Life.
For this retrospective, DC presents many elements of his work (and notable elements by other artists) in which is likely to be the tallest structure yet built within Second Life: rising 4,000 metres from its water level base, the Tower of Light. The art is presented on a total of 40 levels extending from the tower, with a number being interactive either by touch (control panels and media boards) or physical avatar collision. Information plinths are placed on each level to deliver contextual notes and insights on each of the elements being presented, making this an informative, as well as visual installation.
Movement between the levels is achieved via a teleport HUD available from the landing point, or by sitting on a tour cushion,. The latter also allows for direct transfer to a desired level within the two (by means of a smooth vertical ascent rather than a TP), or can take riders on a “grand tour”, visiting each of the levels in turn. All three option are valid means of travel, delivering the visitor to each level alongside its associated information plinth, although I enjoyed the “grand tour” the most.
In a considered touch, the “tour cushions” will not simply poof should a visitor stand at any given level. Instead, they remain rezzed for long enough to get up, inspect the art, try any supplied controls or watching any associated video (if trying them / watching while seated proves inconvenient) before sitting once more in order to resume a journey to other levels.
Exploring the Tower of light is also both an exploration of DC’s thinking and his approach to art and of something of the history of visual arts in SL as a whole – although it should be noted this is not a chronological journey through DC’s art. Rather it is a thematic voyage, enfolding within it his concept of “hyperformalism”, exploring the nature of “native” art produced within a virtual world.
Rather, the historical aspect is born out of the majority of these pieces either being created before the advent of true mesh capabilities in Second Life, or which eschew the use of mesh in keeping with the aim of hyperformalism. Thus, these are primitive art, a term I use in reflection of their construction, not as a suggestion of any lack of sophistication they might otherwise contain; rather the reverse in fact: the nature of primitives actually requires these pieces to be sophisticated in design and scripting (and examples of all the scripts can be found in the relevant information note cards provided by DC).
It is also the information cards that offer insight into DC’s thinking and ideas around hyperformalism, with some also acting as a glimpse of part of the platform’s history. Of those who, like me, have been active in SL for the last decade, some of the names mentioned are liable to set memories tumbling: Qarl Fizz, Dekka Raymaker (who only returned to SL in August 2017 after a 6-year hiatus), and Nomasha Syaka to name but three (Nomasha’s sculpted horse was a decorative mainstay in many of my early SL homes, and is still to be found within the Library section of inventory).
When visiting, I would suggest allowing sufficient time to visit all 40 levels within the Tower, rather than breaking a tour up over two or more visits, as this offers the fullest potential to appreciate both the art and the concepts involved in DC’s work. And as a purely subjective opinion, I would suggest using the viewer’s default midnight setting when travelling through the installation. This removes the distraction of the surrounding clouds, and more particularly adds a tangible depth to the colours within the Tower and the art it presents, giving a greater sense of presence whilst touring.
- DC Spensley Retrospective (LEA 27, rated: Moderate)