3D artist London Junkers is a 3D artist unafraid to offer art and thoughts on a broad canvas (so to speak) that encompasses subjects as diverse as the horrors of war (see: Picasso in 3D – Guernica at LEA) to the likes of the history of aviation (see: To Slip the Surly Bonds of Earth…). Currently within Second Life he has two installations that stand as celebrations of American literature, one of which recently opened, and the other of which is likely to be approaching the end of its run, and so might be vanishing in the very near future.
The latter of these two installations is Marking the Twain, a celebration of the life of Samuel L. Clemens, the typesetter turned Mississippi riverboat pilot turned journalist who would become one of America’s most famous writers using the pen-name he appropriated from his days days as a riverboat pilot and under which he is lauded as “the greatest humourist the United States has produced”, Mark Twain.
This is an installation that is both elegantly simple in approach whilst also wrapping within it some very rich imagery, comprising four major parts. The first is at the entrance, where London has penned a story that might have between written by Clemens himself, a telling of the most popular tale of how he came by his pen-name from the practice of tossing a weight on the end of line to measure (mark) the depth of water beneath a riverboat to ensure it did not become less than the two fathoms (the “twain” – equivalent to 12ft) laden boats tended to require to avoid running aground.
Whether this is true or not is hard to tell – Clemens himself claimed he appropriated the name from Captain Isaiah Sellers the “most respected, esteemed, and revered” riverboat captain on the Mississippi, following the latter’s death in 1863, and who had used it to sign reports on the river’s general condition. But howsoever Clemens came by the name, London’s story is a worthy read.
Beyond the plinths carrying the neatly penned story, a stern wheeled steamer of the kind Clemens would have piloted up and down the great Mississippi River rises from the river’s waters on a powerful blast of air whilst a giant pen dribbles into into the river to form letters that drift on the water beneath the boat’s flat bottom. Together, both flying boat and the dribbling pen and its letters offer metaphors for the two major halves (in his own eyes) of Clemens’ life: his time as a fully qualified riverboat pilot, a career he had dreamed of since his boyhood in Missouri, and his most famous years as the writer Mark Twain.
On the deck of the boat – and able to be reached by ramp offered as a swirling tail of the wail that has lifted it into the air – is the tall, stout figure of Clemens himself. He stands, staring into the face of the wind as it carries his boat aloft, in the white suit and homburg hat that became his trademark dress in later life, whilst clutched between teeth and lips hangs a clay pipe rather than the cigar we might usually associate with him.
Thus the figure, whilst not a metaphor, is offered as a composite to further mark these two sides of his life: the suit marking him as the well-established humourist and writer, Mark Twain, the clay pipe harking to his time as riverboat pilot Clemens.
The final part element of the installation can be found in two parts that directly reference Twain the writer.
The first part is perhaps the easiest to understand. On the bank of the river, and seemingly oblivious to the boat’s airborne passage, sits a boy – “Huck Sawyer” – quietly fishing. He is by name and nature a conglomerate representation of the two major characters from Twain’s most famous works of fiction. Less obvious, perhaps, is the frog that sits alongside the figure of Clemens/Twain on the deck of the boat. Looking a tad dapper in his top hat and bow tie, he has three three small round pellets before him and while he might look to be merely a piece of decoration, he is not.
For both frog and the pellets reference Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog, a humorous story Twain first saw published to a good deal of acclaim in the New York Saturday Post in November 1865. Less than a month later (possibly to greater acclaim) it appeared under the title The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by The Californian (Calaveras being a county in California). Most significantly of all, perhaps, is the story of the frog became the anchor for Twain’s first full-length book, published in 1867. As such, the presence of the frog and the pellets neatly round-out this celebration of Twain’s life.
Again an installation of elegant in its simplicity, this installation takes as its title and encompasses within it the story Stone told journalist Elizabeth Gilbert as to her inspiration as poet, and which Gilbert in turn related thus during a TED talk in 2009, not long before Stone passed away:
As [Stone] was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barrelling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming . . . ’cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, “run like hell” to the house as she would be chased by this poem.
Thus, The Thunderous Train of Air offers a scene set within a open field sitting beneath a sunlit sky, the rural piece of which has been shattered by the drive of wind and the arrival of a great steam train, tracks and all, charging through the crop, driving the young figure of Ruth Stone before it as she desperately chases pens and writing book as they are carried in the wind before her, so she might capture the words as they reach her and set them down indelibly in ink.
The proximity of the train to the running figure perfectly encapsulates Stone’s acknowledgement that when the inspiration came, she would sometimes succeed in her race for home and pens and paper, and capture the words of the poem, whilst other times would see the inspiration “barrel through [her] and continue on across the landscape looking for another poet”.
Nor is the train alone as a representation of creativity. To one side of the installation a tornado-like tower of air turns, a single book at its base,. It carries with it the image of the whirlwind rush, even when home safe, and with pen in hand and paper on table, to get the words down in the order they desire, before their memory fades entirely.
Close to this tornado sits a small stage and a microphone, perhaps metaphors for her time as a teacher and the fact that her poetry has one of the most unique voices of the modern age, combining as it does imagery from the natural sciences with a broader non-scientific intellectualism in a complex, and at times philosophical, dynamic.
And be sure to touch the book at the base of the tornado’s funnel, it offers a poem by London, a beautifully written homage to Stone and her poetry.
Both Marking the Twain and The Thunderous Train of Air are presented as monochrome pieces that adds depth to their reflections on the two writers and their writing. They are also installations that should preferably be seen under their intended environment settings and with both Advanced Lighting Model (Preferences → Graphics → check Advanced Lighting Model) and local sounds enabled for the greatest sense of immersion.