Bryn Oh: Jane and Eloise in Second Life

Bryn Oh: Jane and Eloise

Jane and Eloise, the latest installation by Bryn Oh officially opens on Saturday, December 8th. As with much of Bryn’s art, this is an immersive installation that carries both a story and a level of interaction – although the latter is perhaps more of a focus than may have been the case with prior pieces.

I wanted to play with the idea of what art can be in the virtual space … In a museum or theatre we stand back and look at a painting or sculpture, we don’t touch them nor interact usually, while in the theatre the movie tells us a story and we sit and listen. We follow the camera where it leads us and should we wish to open a door or look under a bed.. well that is not part of the experience … With this work I wanted to have a short narrative within an artistic environment focusing on colour, line and form but also creating a gamification of the artwork itself.

– Bryn Oh on Jane and Eloise

Bryn Oh: Jane and Eloise

The narrative is that of two sisters – Jane and Eloise – who go fishing on Lake Superior. Theirs is not a happy tale, as they are caught by the changing weather, their boat capsizing on them. Sadly, Jane drowns, witnessed by Eloise, whose life is almost lost as well. Afterwards, Eloise is left tortured by guilt that she survived and nightmares – and the major part of the installation encourages visitors to share in those nightmares and to experience her confusion and distress first-hand.

The first element of the installation is a beach setting – the shoreline of Lake Superior, with changing tents set out on the sand and bathing wagons up to their axles in the water. If you have not previously accepted the Bryn Oh experience (or have revoked it since your last visit), you should accept it when prompted – as it is essential to your participation in the installation.

Travel along the breach and you’ll come to a small vignette depicting the final part of the fishing trip: Eloise, alive, washed up on the shore, the waterlogged canoe drifting just off-shore and Jane, laying just before the waves. Beyond this vignette, out on the horizon, the main part of the installation awaits: the brooding bulk of the maze.

Bryn Oh: Jane and Eloise

The maze is a symbolic recreation of the nightmares that get embedded within our mind after a traumatic experience. It is the mind of Eloise … With a traditional artwork you can then step back and say observe and contemplate [with] this work,  you enter the mind of Eloise and navigate a fairly scary maze trying to find the exit.

– Bryn Oh on Jane and Eloise

Providing you have accepted the experience, arrival at the entrance to the maze should equip you with a miner’s style lamp with head strap. A sign board on the wall near the entrance provides additional information on how best to enjoy it – in short, if you can’t use the recommended windlight (Firestorm should automatically switch to it), make sure you flick your viewer to at least midnight, enable projectors by turning on ALM and remove any face / body lights you are wearing. In difference to the instructions, you don’t need to have shadows enabled to obtain the projected light from the head lamp – but if you can run with them enabled, it adds considerably to the depth of the experience, allowing you to see it exactly as Bryn intended.

Within the maze, are corridors – patrolled by the demons of Eloise’s subconscious – and safe rooms. The idea is to make your way through the corridors, avoiding the monsters with the aid of the safe rooms. It’s a place best experienced in first-person Mouselook, and running may be required at times! In addition, some of the walls of the corridors include paintings, and elements of Bryn’s art can also be found in some corridors and in the safe rooms.

Bryn Oh: Jane and Eloise – exploring the maze with Bryn

Along the way you might find what I call mouse holes. The mouse holes are thin doorways that only a single avatar can squeeze through into another hallway, if a monster is coming you can slip through and they can not follow, but if you are with friends then there might be some frantic pushing and screaming as the monster approaches 🙂 The maze can be scary and cause some anxiety, in tests I have watched people who find mouse holes and linger by them afraid to go further out into the maze.

– Bryn Oh on Jane and Eloise

Bryn invited me to try the maze with her, and I have to confess, it is addictive. If the monsters do get you, you’re teleported back to the start – and they are quite capable of sneaking up behind you! I also recommend having local sounds on; this both allows you to hear the monsters and adds further depth to the piece.

Bryn Oh: Jane and Eloise

This is also a fascinating piece from a technical standpoint as well – and those from the Lab who read this review, I hop you’ll take note of what Bryn has to say vis-a-vis Pathfinding! Essentially, to prevent cheating, the maze rebuilds itself every hour, and as it includes creatures roaming it, it presented special challenges, as Bryn notes:

This work required that a whole new set of scripting was built because other forms would not work with it. For example, pathfinding is a great way to have a monster navigate a maze, except when a maze randomly rebuilds itself. In pathfinding the monster would need to know where each wall is, and then it could move through them.. when you make a new maze every hour the pathfinding creature can’t see those new walls. So a new type of movement had to be created where the creatures would “see” the maze as they move while also looking for people to chase.

– Bryn Oh on Jane and Eloise

All told the development of the maze took some 3 months, and the results are incredible – particularly if you happen to catch the maze rebuilding itself, as I did while exploring with Bryn.

Jane and Eloise has all the classic ingredients from Bryn: narrative, a beautiful use of light and shadow, colour and contrast, interaction and engagement, and despite the sadness of the narrative – offers a game element that when played with others or on your own can get to be addictive.

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