Erik Mondrian: master of fine arts in and beyond Second Life

A still from Empty, the 9th video in Erik Mondrian’s [MFA] Thesis video series, filmed in Second Life
Erik Mondrian is a writer, artist, and scholar who makes work about place, belonging, love, longing, and madness. He holds an MA in Mass Communication & Media Studies from San Diego State University, focusing on virtual worlds as new media, and is close to graduating with Interschool Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Voice Arts & Creative Writing and supplemental concentration in Integrated Media from California Institute of the Arts.

He is also a Second Life resident, and someone I’ve come to know, albeit indirectly through social media, and I’ve  been enriched by our acquaintance.

For his thesis work at CalArt, Erik has produced a series of eleven videos to illustrate his writing, and filmed within Second Life. Each of the first ten videos offers and examination of an aspect of life or identity, or of emotions or feelings, personal reflections or desires; each narrated by Erik, words and images combining into a series of stunningly moving and deeply eloquent visual poems (even those presented as prose) which are quite breathtaking in their breadth and meaning.

Making: the first video in Erik’s Thesis series

As companions to Erik’s words, these are films which are fabulously unique and perfect in reflecting and amplifying his words; each marvellously frames his thoughts and the emotions of each piece without ever intruding or distracting. Through them, Erik displays that not only is he a master of words, but he is also deeply visually creative; the composition, framing and presentation of each video is utterly captivating.

Since my MFA at CalArts is three-pronged, I wanted (with the support & encouragement of my mentor on the Creative Writing side, Jon Wagner) to do a thesis project that blended all three of my areas of study in some way [written word, voice and media] … The project also came about in part because of my years spent in virtual worlds of all kinds [and] the experiences I’ve had there and the people I’ve met …  I’ve been “on-line” for close to 25 years, and almost as long in virtual spaces from IRC and MUDs through to worlds like The Palace, Active Worlds, and of course, almost fourteen years in SL.

– Erik in discussing his thesis video series

What I personally find engaging in these films is the rich, allusive timbre evident in Erik’s writing. Together with his sheer lyricism, he produces wordscapes that are beautifully attractive. Through a crafted choice of words, he encourages, suggests, points – but never blatantly leads or cajoles. He sets out path of thought, complete with potential branches or turns, where allusion and suggestion lies as much within each word as within every passage. He invites us listen and allow our imagination to take whichever route it may choose through prose and verse. Thus, while there may well be a destination Erik has set for our journey, how we reach it is entirely left in our hands – or rather our thoughts and our mind’s eye.

Escape: the second video in Erik’s Thesis series (and her favourite)

These are also unmistakably deeply personal pieces. By his own admission, Erik is reserved, quiet, introverted. Yet he has the gift of observation and the power of expression, These combine to resonate within each of us and find fertile ground within our thoughts. Thus, while personal to him, the ideas, feelings, emotions, questions, desires, ideas and images he creates are equally personal to those who listen and watch. And this is something that he is himself aware of, as he appears to note through the eleventh video in the series, which stands as both a conclusion and an artist’s statement.

Place without belonging. Longing without love. A special kind of madness that comes from hiding in plain sight, seen but not yet recognised, heard but not yet understood. I move through time and space, observing all, saying far too little. What do you make of this? The lives you live, the memories, the moments—where do they go? Who do you find there? I’ve tried to make that journey here, tried to reconcile my circuitous wandering, outwardly aimless, with a destination that remains forever a step ahead, an optical illusion that pulls away even as it draws me forward.

– From video 11: Artist Statement

It is through this final piece that Erik is most revealing about himself and by extension, each of us. As such, and while billed as an “artist’s statement”, it is integral to the whole series and should be watched and absorbed as a part of the whole.

I could wax further on the subject, but really, the best way to appreciate these films is to see and savour them. So instead, I’ll close with a quote from my fellow Second Life writer and traveller, Ricco Saenz

These videos are brilliant, powerful and thought-provoking. They create an intriguing atmosphere – and udoubtedly deserve to be called art.

– Ricco Saenz, January 11th, 2019

You can see all of the videos back-to-back in their intended order via Erik’s Thesis playlist. And be sure to read the accompanying notes for SLurl to the SL locations featured in each.

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