Phenomenal Women at Itakos in Second Life

Itakos Project: Phenomenal Women

Now open in the White Hall of Itakos Gallery, curated by Akim Alonzo, is Phenomenal Women, a joint exhibition by Cecilia Nansen and Maloe Vansant. The focus of the exhibition is to “interpret a poem about women” using Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman.

Born Marguerite Annie Johnson in 1928, Maya (a nickname bestowed on her in childhood by her older brother, Bailey  Jr., being derived from “Mya sister”) Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences – which were far from easy. Born into a stormy relationship between her parents which ended when she was three, Maya and her brother were dispatched by her father to live with her paternal grandparents for four years before he abruptly sent the children back to their mother. Whilst there, Maya was raped by her mother’s boyfriend; he served just one day in prison for the assault, but after being released, was brutally murdered. This left Maya mute for five years, believing that by speaking out against him, she had caused his death, possibly at the hands of family members.

Itakos Project: Phenomenal Women – Maloe Vansant

From these harsh beginnings, Maya Angelou grew through multiple careers, including cast member of the opera Porgy and Bess, coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonisation of Africa, to become a celebrated actress, writer, director and leading member of the American civil rights movement, working with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

As a poet and writer, Maya often wrote on the themes of love, painful loss, music, discrimination and racism, and struggle. With Phenomenal Woman, written in 1978 when she was 50, she offers a piece describing the allure she has as a woman of middle-age, and what makes her irresistible to the opposite sex despite the fact that she does not fit into society’s definition of what makes a woman beautiful. It’s a subtle, engaging poem taking an unconventional subject and presenting it in an unconventional rhyming scheme and structure that both add to the poem’s allure just as there is much that is unconventional about her captivating appeal as a woman.

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size.

Phenomenal Women opening

Itakos Project: Phenomenal Women – Cecilia Nansen

With their images in Phenomenal Women, Cecilia and Maloe offer a selection of views of women that are fascinating on  a number of levels. Firstly, they have very different styles. Maloe’s work tends to embrace darker colours and tones and a tendency away from an overt use of artificial lighting; Cecilia, meanwhile, tends towards brighter colours and tones and a broader use of highlights.

At the same time, both compliment one another through their use of camera angle, framing and cropping. In this, both artists demonstrate enormous skill in framing a story or message through a single frame.  Whilst visible in all of the pieces presented in this exhibition, this “complimentary contrast” is perhaps most clearly visible in the pieces Phenomenal Two – 2 (Maloe) and Phenominal-in-leather  (Cecilia), located on the upper mezzanine floor of the gallery hall.

As studies of femininity and feminine appeal, the 19 images are rich in the motifs that tend to make women attractive in the eyes of men and other women: body shape, application of make-up, cast of expression, curve of breast, use of clothing. Again, this makes for a powerful series, some of which almost ooze sensuality, whilst other use more directed aspect of nudity to convey the message.

Itakos Project: Phenomenal Women – Maloe Vansant

How well one might feel they offer an interpretation of Phenomenal Woman is perhaps more open to question. While it might be more a commentary on the limiting means of how the female form is oft represented in SL more than any “failing” on the part of the artists, these are images that do present bodies and faces that sit almost in opposition to the opening lines of the poem, whilst it might be argued that the inclusion of a fair amount of semi-nudity in several of the pieces is in opposition to the more mysterious elements of appeal voiced by the poem, which stay away from the more obvious elements of female sensuality:

It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.

– Phenomenal Woman

(that said, nudity is not necessarily misplaced in the broader content of Maya Angelou’s life: one of her careers in her younger says was that of a sex worker.)

Itakos Project: Phenomenal Women – Cecilia Nansen

Thus, Phenomenal Woman is a complex exhibit, one almost of two individual parts: images and poem; yet both are connected through the complex intertwining of ideas, message and viewpoint.

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Space Sunday: rockets, landers, FRBs and the Moon

The Long March 5B booster heads towards orbit, carrying China’s next generation crew capsule on its first (uncrewed) flight, Tuesday, May 5th. Credit: China TV

China has successfully completed an uncrewed test-flight of its next generation of space vehicles that will support future crewed operations in Earth orbit and be a part of missions to the Moon – and possibly beyond.

The new craft – which resembles the Apollo command and service module (CSM) combination used by NASA in the 1960s and early 1970s (or, if you prefer, Boeing’s current CST-100 Starliner capsule and service module) – was launched atop a Long March 5B rocket, China’s most powerful launch vehicle, on Tuesday May 5th. From the launch pad at the Wenchang launch site on the southern island of Hainan, the vehicle took 8 minutes to rise to its initial orbital separation altitude, where it successfully entered orbit. A second payload – that of a cargo return capsule also undergoing tests – also successfully separated from the booster.

A significant difference between the new crew capsule and China’s Soyuz-derived Shenzhou is in the use of three, rather than one, parachutes, during descent to landing. Credit: CASC

While the crew capsule test vehicle would remain in space for several days, allowing it to complete a series of automated tests, the cargo capsule – designed to return equipment and experiments from China’s upcoming space station – had been due to return to Earth on Wednesday, May 6th. Unlike the crewed vehicle, the cargo unit is designed to use an “inflatable” heat shield during re-entry.

Called a “ballute” (a portmanteau of balloon and parachute), this approach to inflatable systems was initially developed in the last 1950s as a parachute-like braking device optimised for use at high altitudes and supersonic velocities. In the 1960’s, ballutes were included as part of the astronaut escape system in NASA’s Gemini missions. More recently, a number of organisations and countries have been looking at there use as re-entry systems as they are lighter and potentially less complex than conventional re-entry systems.

The capsule on the ground, the white thermal protection of the hull scorched after re-entry, the airbags used to soften the impact of land deflated. The open compartment to the right is one of the airbag containers. Credit: Xinhua

In this instance, it appears the ballute may have failed. Following re-entry, the China National Space Agency (CNSA) announced the cargo vehicle has suffered an “anomaly” that was being investigated – with no further information forthcoming.

The crew capsule, however, completed its mission entirely successfully, performing a number of orbital manoeuvres, testing the deployment of the vital solar panels and carrying out a series of communications tests.

The extended orbit of the vehicle carried it some 8,000 km altitude – greater than that of the Orion uncrewed flight test in 2018. This meant it would be able to make an atmospheric entry at speeds matching a return from the Moon – putting the heat shield to its ultimate test.

Ths initial de-orbit burn took place on Friday, May 8th, at 5:21 UTC, after which the capsule separated from its service module. Following a successful atmospheric entry, the vehicle deployed three main parachutes to make the descent over the planned Dongfeng desert landing area. Shortly before landing, self-inflating airbags were deployed to soften the impact, which occurred at 5:49 UTC. In all, the vehicle spent more than 2 days and 19 hours in orbit.

When crewed flight commence, the vehicle will be capable of carrying a combination of crew and cargo, with a minimum of 3 crew (and up to 500 kg of cargo, if required) required for a launch and operation of the vehicle, with a maximum of 6 (or 7 according to some Chinese sources) crew. The core of the capsule is designed to be used over a maximum of ten flights, with the heat shield being completely replaced after each flight, with the side thermal protection system also being refurbished.

The success of the flight, together with that of the Long March 5B – making its first launch – has been reported as now opening the door to a slate of 11 missions revolving around space station construction, with CNSA indicating they plan to complete space station construction by the end of 2022.

However, one side-effect of this flight is that the 20-tonne core stage of rocket also reached orbital velocity. It is expected to make an uncontrolled re-entry into the atmosphere on Monday, May 11th, the largest man-man object to date to do so. Any elements surviving re-entry should splash down in the Indian ocean.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: rockets, landers, FRBs and the Moon”

Gardens, flyers, letters, nuns and smugglers in Second Life

It’s time to highlight another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s home, unless otherwise indicated. Note that the schedule below may be subject to change during the week, please refer to the Seanchai Library website for the latest information through the week.

Sunday, May 10th: 18:30: The Secret Garden

Caledonia Skytower continues this classic of children’s literature by Frances Hodgson Burnett, first published in 1911, at the Golden Horseshoe in Magicland Park.

Orphaned after losing her parents in a cholera epidemic, young Mary Lennox returns to England from India, entering the care of her uncle Archibald Craven, whom she has never met.

Up until this point, Mary’s childhood had not been happy; her parents were selfish and self-seeking, regarding her as a burden over which they were not obliged to hold much responsibility. Not overly healthy herself, she is as a result a temperamental, stubborn and unmistakably rude child – and her arrival at Misselthwaite Manor and the relative gloom of Yorkshire’s weather does little to improve her mein.

Her disposition also isn’t helped by her uncle, who is strict and uncompromising, leading to Mary despising him. But her uncle’s story is itself filled with tragedy, particularly the loss of his wife. As she learns more about her uncle’s past, so Mary learns about a walled garden Mrs. Craven once kept, separated from the rest of the grounds and which, since her passing has been kept locked by Mary’s uncle, the door leading to it kept locked, the key to it buried somewhere.

Finding the missing key and the now hidden door, Mary enters the garden, and her passage into it starts her on a journey of friendship and discovery, one that leads her to the thing she never really knew: family.

Monday, May 11th 19:00: Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Gyro Muggins reads Richard Bach’s 1977 novel.

Donald William Shimoda styles himself a latter-day messiah. He quit his job as a mechanic to offer people the miracle of flying through the cloud-washed air between the cornfields of Illinois and blue infinity of the skies overhead. But the people want the thrill of the the flight more than they want to understand the miracle of flight or the truth of Donald’s words.

Donald first comes to the attention of fellow barnstormer and disillusioned writer Richard when the latter witnesses Shimoda dealing with a grandfather / granddaughter pair who arrive at the the makeshift farm airstrip where both men are due to fly their biplanes. Normally, it is the younger people who are keen to fly with the barnstormers, but here it is the grandfather who wants to soar in Shimoda’s biplane whilst the granddaughter is terrified by the idea.

Richard watches as Shimoda talks to the granddaughter, gently uncovering the cause of her fear, calming her to the point where she is ready to fly. Drawing close to the older man, Richard becomes friends with him, and together the two men become brother aviators, Shimoda teaching Richard to become – reluctantly – a messiah and miracle-worker in his own right.

Tuesday, May 12th,

12:00 Noon: Russell Eponym, Live in the Glen

Music, poetry, and stories in a popular weekly session at Ceiluradh Glen.

19:00: For Esmé—with Love and Squalor

Willow Moonfire reads what was perhaps J.D. Salinger’s most popular short stories, originally published in 1950. Such was the public response to it, Salinger received more letters from readers than for any of his other published works – including The Catcher in the Rye.

An invitation to a wedding in England is received by a US ex-serviceman, but he is unable to to attend due to a prior commitment. Instead, he opts to write to the bride concerned, someone he had met years earlier whilst stationed in England ahead of the D-Day Normandy landings.

In his letter he relates two stories: the first of their meeting, he as a lonely US serviceman, she as a young orphan, her mother having passed away and her father – whose heavy wrist-watch she wore – killed in the British north African campaign. Whilst young, the girl shows remarkable maturity, confessing to the serviceman that the loss of her parents had left her her cold and without empathy.

In the second story, the serviceman relates a further part of his story, one darker as it relates the outcome of his experiences in Europe up to and after VE-Day. But it is a dark story with a bright ending, one for which his wishes to thank her because, while far away, the compassion she thought she lacked came to his aid.

Wednesday, May 13th, 19:00: A Nun in the Closet

What do two Benedictine nuns, a secretive man-on-the-run, a Tibetan monk, three hippies, members of the Mafia and children of migrant workers have in common? Why, A Nun in the Closet, of course.

When a cloistered monastic community of nuns inherit an old house with 150 acres in up-state New York courtesy of a mysterious benefactor, they are at a loss as to what to do. Sister John and Sister Hyacinthe are therefore dispatched to give the property the once-over and report back. A simple enough assignment, except neither Sister is entirely prepared to deal with all that they find.

From hippies on the lawn to suitcase stuffed with money sitting at the bottom of a well, disguised cocaine and a wounded man who has hidden himself in a closet to avoid Mafia hitmen, not to mention strange apparitions in the night, It might have been better had Sister John and Sister Hyacinthe remained cloistered in the abbey.

But it is amazing what two nuns can achieve armed only with their faith and boundless energy – up to and including a shocking revelation or two about ghosts, gangsters – and murder.

Join Caledonia Skytower as she reads Dorothy Gilman’s 1986 mystery.

Thursday, May 14th 19:00: Han Solo: A Star Wars Story

Young Han Solo finds adventure when he joins forces with a gang of galactic smugglers and a 190-year-old Wookie named Chewbacca. Indebted to the gangster Dryden Vos, the crew devises a daring plan to travel to the mining planet Kessel to steal a batch of valuable coaxium. In need of a fast ship, Solo meets Lando Calrissian, the suave owner of the perfect vessel for the dangerous mission: the Millennium Falcon.

With Shandon Loring and Caledonia Skytower. Also in Kitely –