An Artistic Duet in Second Life

The 22 Art Space: Duet

Currently open at the 22 Art Space in Bellisseria, operated and curated by Ricco Saenz and Randy Firebrand, is a shared exhibition of images by two Second Life photographers – Dutch Ireman and Evie – that is built around the theme of Duet, or pairing. Although as Randy and Ricco explain in the exhibition’s introductory notes, the theme was actually suggested by the art offered by the artists, rather – as is more usually the case – the theme informing the art that is offered:

The concept … was born more or less by chance. At first [we] selected four pictures of each artist’s established production and suggested that Evie and Dutch complete the sets of images in a way that would make some sense to them. The results came with a positive surprise: even if each photographer … provided the gallery with photos that could be arranged in sets of two. In other words, the concept for the exhibition just emerged from that: there were duets – both of pictures and of ways to think of those photographs.

Thus, through the rooms at 22 Art Space, are hung eight images by Dutch and eight by Evie, each artist offering them as complementary pairs (4 pairs from Evie, four from Dutch). The images in each pair are able to stand as both an individual pieces in their own right and as one half of a broader story. Take, for example, Dutch’s Connecting and Connected, located on the upper floor of the gallery. Each offers a statement on human connectedness that can be appreciated in its own right; but they also stand together as a pair of images that give a wholeness to that theme of connectedness and connection.

The 22 Art Space: Duet

Given that each artist was given free reign over how they took the four images initially selected by Ricco and Randy and added to them to offer a selection for the exhibition, that both Evie and Dutch both independently arrived at the idea of pairing off their images (rather than simply adding and additional four, either randomly or based along a single collective theme) is genuinely intriguing. It also speaks to an interesting harmony between their individual approaches to the the exhibition that further this idea of  duet: their individual voices as photographers coming together in unison in how they present their pieces as individual pairings.

And just as a duet can comprise contrasting harmonies and  / or voices working together through the combined singing of different lyrics or one offering the melody, the other a descant around it, so too does Duet. Evie, for example, presents images that largely have darker backdrops and /or deeper colours, forming, one might say, a “descant” to the “melody” of Dutch’s work, with its bolder, vibrant mix of colours and backdrop, with both harmonising their their respective use of tone, angles and lighting.

The 22 Art Space: Duet

Completed by various items placed around the gallery that help underpin the idea of duets and pairings – a rug with the yin-yang pattern, a pair of shoes, tennis rackets and balls –  Duets is a small, engaging exhibition that run through until December 11th.

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Visiting Dracula’s Whitby in Second Life

Whitby: Birth of Dracula, October 2021

Tucked into the mouth of the river Esk on Yorkshire’s rugged coast is the town of Whitby. It’s a place that many from outside of Great Britain might not have heard of, yet it is a place steeped in history and literature. It was, for example, the place from which Captain James Cook learned the ropes (literally and figuratively) as a merchant navy seaman. In fact, the ship on which he completed his first great voyage to the Pacific Ocean (1768-1771), HMS Endeavour, was originally a Whitby “Cat” collier (called the Earl of Pembroke). It is a town overlooked by the ruins of a once great Abbey that, in 664, hosted a synod called by King Oswiu of Northumbria, in order to set fast the rule that his kingdom would calculate Easter and observe the monastic tonsure according to the customs of Rome.

In terms of writing and literature, Whitby was the home to the first known Anglo Saxon monk, Cædmon, who resided at the Abbey during the abbacy of St Hilda (657–680). It was also visited by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, whilst the likes of Elizabeth Gaskell, Lewis Carroll and G.P. Taylor all used it within works of fiction and short stories. And most famously of all, in terms of literature, it was in part the inspiration of, and setting for, Bram Stroker’s masterpiece of Gothic fiction (although arguably, it is far more than that): Dracula.

Whitby: Birth of Dracula, October 2021

All of which acts as a long way of introducing the latest public build by Hera (zee9): Whitby: Birth of Dracula, opened as a part of the Halloween season in Second Life, and which is reached via her “Neverland X” landing point, sharing the space with the teleport to Drune Gotham, which I wrote about in September 2021. Now, given I am a huge fan of Hera’s work (and oft wish my photographs could do it real justice), when I say this is yet another superb build, some might opt to see my words as fangirl fussing. However, as one explores Whitby: Birth of Dracula, slowing peeling open its layers of composition, then it becomes obvious that it really has been cleverly brought into being.

The first thing to note about the setting is that it is not intended as a representation of Whitby past or present. Nor is it entirely the Whitby glimpsed through the pages of Stoker’s novel. Rather, it is a rich melding of elements, from the actual locations that feature in the story and are present in Whitby to this day, to representations of the things that are said to have influenced his ideas for the story and elements of Victorian life with which he would have been familiar, through to interpretations as to how Stoker might have imagined scenes from his story as he walked through Whitby’s streets, attempting to thresh out the tale he’d been working on since well before taking a family holiday to the town.

Whitby: Birth of Dracula, October 2021

Thus it is that visitors arriving in the setting (DO make sure you have your viewer set to Use Shared Environment via World → Environment) find themselves on the east bank of the river Esk, a stylised version of Whitby’s waterfront hugging the feet of the coastal hills behind. Caught in a brooding night, these streets offer clever little points of interest for those who walk them. There is the bookshop, for example, displaying a large volume on Vlad the Impaler, a touch that evokes both the idea (now regarded by scholars as mistaken), that the character of Dracula was inspired by the infamous the Wallachian prince, and the reality that Stroker first came across the name “Dracula” whilst perusing Whitby’s library. Across the street sits a tavern – pubs being very common in Whitby, it being a sailor’s town – that both suggests a place with Stoker himself might have partaken the odd tipple and a place where, within the novel, rumours of night terrors might be softly spoken by frightened townsfolk.

Further along the streets visitor will come across the place of business of Madame Blavatsky, offering both funeral services and occult / spiritual services. It offers a clever linking of many of the underpinning themes within Stoker’s novel on matters of religion, life, death, and afterlife with the life and work of Madame Helen Blavatsky. Whist Stoker may not have met her, her thinking did much to elevate matters of the occult, spiritualism and life and death amongst Victorians, which may also have influenced his writing.

Whitby: Birth of Dracula, October 2021

Then there are the famous Whitby steps. While the ones within this setting may not count 199, they do wind up to the headland where sits Hera’s interpretation of both St. Mary’s Church and the ruins of the Abbey that formed such a backdrop to Stoker’s tale. The church, carefully aligned east-to-west, as one would expect, is furnished within and sits with gravestones without. The real St. Mary’s offered further inspiration for Stoker; whilst walking through the graveyard, he came upon a headstone bearing the name “Swales”, which in turn became the name of Dracula’s first victim, after he came ashore at Whitby thanks to the ship he was travelling board ran aground close to the town’s East Cliffs.

The wrecking of Dracula’s ship within the novel actually draws upon a piece of local legend from Stoker’s time: the beaching of the Russian vessel Dmitri. Within Whitby: birth of Dracula, Hera directly references Dracula’s arrival, a sailing vessel lying aground just off the headland, bloody bodies of her crew on her decks, victims of his insatiable appetite, and her precious (to Dracula, at least) cargo still in her hold.

Whitby: Birth of Dracula, October 2021

Up on the headland is a further building, representing the manor house said to have been erected in the 1500s part part using stone from the ruins of the Abbey (which fell to the Danes in a series of raids along the coast between 867-870). Here, the building is offered as a combination of potential settings from the book. The hearse and gargoyles to the front suggest it is the place of shelter for Dracula, as do some of the pictures on the walls inside. However, the interior with its large, uncurtained conservatory, mirrored washrooms and comfortable bedrooms, perhaps also suggest it to be the house in which Mrs. Westenra, her daughter Lucy and Lucy’s friend Mina stay whilst holidaying in Whitby; whilst the placement of certain items on tables and within carry cases suggest it might also represent the living quarters for Dr. John Seward at his asylum, the place from which he, Harker and others used to execute their hunting of the vampire under the guidance of Professor Abraham Van Helsing.

To the rear of this house is a garden that extends out to a crypt. This offers further echoes of Dracula, although the glass coffin within the tomb itself is perhaps suggestive of the resting place for fair Lucy, after her being turned, but before her final fate befell her after death. Or, perhaps, it is presented as a place for Mina, once her fate is sealed (unless Dracula is first killed).

Whitby: Birth of Dracula, October 2021

And therein lies the magic of Whitby: birth of Dracula. Just is the novel has no singular protagonist, but is instead presented as an epistolary novel, speaking with multiple voices, so does Hera’s setting speak in many voices, each whispering a different interpretation of the places we come across whilst visiting, with some telling the story in their own words and those telling a broader tale of Stoker’s relationship with the town. Different they may be, but together they nevertheless offer the harmony of a setting that perfectly encapsulates the atmospheric essence of Stoker’s novel whilst living our imaginations free to call forth all of the characters within its pages – and even Stoker himself as he vacated in the quiet town of Whitby in the 1980s.

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Ordinary People in Second Life

Vibes: Melusina Parkin – Ordinary People

Melusina Parkin is, as I’ve oft noted, one of the foremost photographer-artists in Second Life. Her work is always rich in content, style and interpretation, always offering the most unique views of our virtual world through composition, angle and focus, here exhibitions carefully crafted around a given theme. This is once again the case with her latest exhibition Ordinary People, which has just opened across all three exhibition halls at Vibes Gallery, curated by Eviana Robbiani, presenting three dozen images captured from across Second Life that brings the uniqueness of candid photography to the platform in both images and subjects. As such, this is, among all of Melusina’s unique exhibitions, one of the most captivating.

Candid photography is the technique of capturing an image of one or more persons without creating the appearance they have been specifically posed; whether or not the subject(s) in the photograph are aware of or consent to the image being captured is entirely secondary to the image itself (although if they are entirely unaware of the photograph having been taken, it might be referred to as “secret photography”). Candid images can be taken indoors or out, and in the latter regard share a strong overlap with street photography (which may not be focused on streets, despite its name, but can often feature people in natural situations within street settings).

Vibes: Melusina Parkin – Ordinary People

In truth, and in regards to secret and street photography, Ordinary People contains a mix of both within its overall theme of candid photography, offering images of people going about their lives, seemingly oblivious to the presence to the camera. However, these is more to be found here; for these are not images from the physical world, be have been captured entirely within Second Life, and their subjects are not avatars but what we might refer to as static NPCs – non-player characters.

Like avatars, they are made of pixels; like statues and mannequins, they don’t talk nor move. They could be seen as objects, as a part of décor, but at a closer look they are revealed to have expression, and their still poses show activity… 

– Melusina Parkin

NPCs occupy a unique place in Second Life. they are neither avatar nor statute, as Melusina notes; and while they are not “alive” in the manner in which we occupy our avatars, nor are the entirely devoid of life; again, as Melu points out, they carry facial expressions that given them a certain depth of life, and their presence within a region or setting, whilst frozen and in the manner of décor, actually brings life to the environment in which they are found.

Vibes: Melusina Parkin – Ordinary People

Thus, the images in this exhibition are very uniquely layered in their composition and presentation. Within two of the gallery halls, the images are presented in black-and-white, and in the third, they are offered in warm colours. The former carry within them the sensation of everyday life: people coming and going from work, out and about sight-seeing, and so on. The latter suggest calmer, warmer moments: taking the time to read the paper, a walk through a garden with a loved one, sitting on a bench and (perhaps) feeding the birds: their colour giving the impression of calm and easy-going conversation.

Then there is Melu’s always considered use of angle, focus and cropping, which here leads to a rich sense of life waiting to be found in many of the images – such as those featuring crowds crossing the street, or the suggestion of activities going on just outside of a frame in which we only see the legs or hands of the subjects, rather than their entire bodies. On top of this comes the care that clearly went into creating each image, from the selection (or creation) of the location through the selection of the characters and their placement, the lighting and the shot itself – all of which gives each of the pieces event more life.

Vibes: Melusina Parkin – Ordinary People

And this sense of life continues within the gallery halls themselves, where many of the characters featured in the pictures have returned to witness the results of Melu’s work. All of which makes for a truly engaging exhibition.

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Elysium’s summer fields in Second Life

Elysium, October 2021 – click any image for full size
Enjoy the luscious fields, magic forests, bridges over the abyss, horses, cows, and rabbits; take a pause in our tropical greenhouse or relax on the dock; and last but not least, enjoy our rustic mill right by the water. Photography encouraged.

So reads the introduction to Elysium, the Homestead region designed by Wassilian and Amelie (Amelie9 Sautereau), a setting I was recently encouraged to visit – although it has taken me a while to make a visit to it.

Elysium, October 2021

Coming at the time of year when many public regions are rich in the colours of autumn and/or heavy with the trappings of Halloween, my visit found Elysium a refreshing place that is still sitting within that period when late summer is considering allowing autumn to take its place on the the seasonal stage.

Comprising a large western island and three smaller island to the east, this is very much a pastoral setting, the large island home to an extensive farm which in turn is the location of the region’s landing point. The northern end of the island offers a highland area on which the farmhouse sits, complete with large greenhouse that has been converted to other uses – be sure to say hello to the two main occupants, Sophie and Levi. This greenhouse sits bracketed between a garden and orchard to one side and the farmhouse itself, open woodland falling away down the northern slope to a open deck. A further copse, leaves turning golden brown as the change of the season approaches, sits before the farmhouse, the garden paths winding between the trees as they form a natural screen between the farmhouse and its view to the east.

Elysium, October 2021

This entire corner of the region is a setting unto itself, but it is just a start. To the south, the land drops to fields and barns. The fields look ready for harvest, a scarecrow standing guard to keep birds away – although it has failed to keep the farm’s horses from wandering among the crops and taken the odd snack or two. These lowlands are also home to a comfortable inlet of water from the channels separating the islands, a home to swans and the water mill mentioned in the region’s About Land description.

To the east, two of the islands are connected one to the other by means of a bridge, with a further bridge linking them back to the highland gardens and woodlands of the farm.

Elysium, October 2021

Thus, by following one of the winding paths from the farmhouse over the first bridge and along the trail that offers a relaxing journey under the spreading boughs of the trees that top the island and then on to where a tower-like cottage sits. Along the way, the path runs past several places to sit and relax, while those who reach the tower cottage may find one of the farm’s cows has braved the bridges to get there first!

The remaining island in the group can only be reached from the southern farmlands, where a wooden bridge crosses the water to become a board walk that snakes along the side of the remaining island become snaking its way over an inlet to reach the second house in the region, which sits on a legs that allow it to reach over open waters, its decks offering uninterrupted views over the sea.

Elysium, October 2021

Elysium is a setting rich in wildlife as well as domesticated animals. Deer are to be found among the trees, whilst waterfowl can be found in or near the waters while rabbits also skip and play. For those who wait, the waters might offer further surprises in the form of a pair of orca swim through the channels separating the islands and from time to time, a humpback whale might be seen breaching off the coast or even within the channels, as it sometimes will follow the orca between the islands.

With tumbling waterfalls, the sounds of cows mooing and birds calling in time with the bleating of sheep, Elysium is a place that feels very much alive (visitors can even try a spot of farming with the tractor – but do take care!). Highly photogenic and welcoming, this is a region charming in its setting and facilities.

Elysium, October 2021

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  • Elysium (Silken Ropes II, rated Moderate)

Poppy’s Talefathers in Second Life

Janus Gallery II: Poppy Morris – Talefeathers

Talefeathers is – as far as I’m aware – my first exposure to Poppy Morris’s art in Second Life. Currently open at the Janus Gallery II within Chuck Clip’s Sinful Retreat arts hub, this is an engaging display of physical world art spread across the two levels at the gallery.

Hailing from Canada, Poppy commenced her art career in the world of paint, but has since expanded her expression to include textiles, new media and sound, and more. Her work as an artist and performer – Poppy often performs live as a sound artist- has been displayed before both domestic and international audiences, gaining considerable recognition. In particular, she uses her work as a means of exploring our relationship with technology, utilising “traditional art techniques such as weaving and dying alongside those of machines and micro-controllers. Most recently (in terms of her time in Second Life) she has started using machinima as a means of artistic expression.

An example of the latter forms the centrepiece to Talefeathers, Entitled Chrysalis Circuitry, it is the result of a commission by New Music Edmonton, and features images by Poppy together with music she composed with musician Allison Balcetis (who also performs in the video). A ballet of music, light and sounds, the piece edges on the psychedelic in places but is also an aural and motion rich form of abstract expressionism that is both flowing and in places atonal, thus offering a rich reflection of the genre’s many forms through a living piece of imagery and music.

Janus Gallery II: Poppy Morris – Talefeathers

Around the video screen on the lower level of the gallery are nine pieces of Poppy’s 2D art, with a further 20 displayed around the walls of the upper level. It’s a richly diverse selection of pieces that also might, in places be said to be thematically grouped.  Take, for example six of the pieces along the lower west wall of the gallery. These feature a range of bird-like creatures (some very definitely avian in nature, some apparently wearing masks), all of which – thanks to their titles – carry something of a social commentary. Meanwhile, and above them are four images focused on deer that also, through their titles, also appear to offer reflections on emotional responses.

Across the gallery from both of these sets, and occupying both upper and lower levels, are what might be regarded as more “traditional” landscape and plant paintings, but which again offer further food for thought in their distinctive titles. In this, the title given to this exhibition becomes clear; the tale reflecting the fact that all of the paintings have a story contained within their individual canvases, the feather perhaps a reflection of the avian nature seen within many of the piece. In fact, these might be said to be stories in two parts, depending on whether we opt to view them simply as they hang on the walls – as I would initially recommend –  or through the lens of the title Poppy has determined for each piece – which I would suggest as a follow-on activity, and only after appreciating / interpreting all of the pieces sans any reference to their titles so as not to be influenced in your initial interpretation.

By doing this, it is possible to view, as a singular example, Memories of Renewal both as a piece that celebrates a spring evening, with flowers in bloom set against the backdrop of a sky reddened by a setting Sun. At the same time, taken with its title, it sits as a reminder that, when it comes naturally rather than as a result of human error or mischief, something like a forest fire (suggested by the red backdrop to the piece) is actually nature’s way of natural renewal and rebirth (as presented by the foreground blooms).

Janus Gallery II: Poppy Morris – Talefeathers

Thus, Talefeathers is a visually engaging collection of art awaiting discovery, with Chrysalis Circuitry offer a unique insight into how Second Life can be a canvas for modern performance art and expression through machinima, and I recommend both during their month-long (I believe) stay at Janus Gallery II.

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Held by a Hidden Bottle in Second Life

Hidden Bottle, October 2021

Shawn Shakespeare recently poked me concerning Hidden Bottle, the Full region (complete with additional LI bonus) designed by Num Bing-Howlett (Num Bing) and Clifton Howlett, and which originally opened back in May 2021. In particular, Shawn wanted to let me know the region’s design has been updated, making it especially worth while paying a further visit.

Hearing things has changed both piqued my curiosity and my concern. As I noted back in May, Hidden Bottle offered a unique tropical setting of islands linked by cable car, with walks winding through them leading to event spaces and other points of interest. As such, I was leery of that design having been replaced – but my unease was unwarranted: Hidden Bottle retains much of its original iteration, whilst offering something new and different to explore.

Hidden Bottle: October 2021

Also still to be found are the setting’s two islands and its popular cable car system that provides a primary means of transport. Both of the islands are are both somewhat smaller than they were previously, leaving much more space for water and boats and swimming – although the shallows between the island are prone to being used by sharks for a little bit of paddling around – so swimmers be warned!

From the landing point – located on a deck extending over the water from the smaller, eastern island – it is possible to start explorations on foot, either up into into the rocky honeycomb of the east island, or via footbridge that rises by way of a single spire of rock to reach larger, western island. Or, for those that like to wait for a few minutes before setting out to wander, the deck serves as a station for the region’s cable cars as they sway their way around the eastern island and thence over open waters to the west island before dropping back to the deck.

Hidden Bottle, October 2021

Two other land masses rise from the water: a northern sandbar that is little more than a ripple rising above the waves, but which is nevertheless home to a quiet retreat; and a southern nub of rock that is home to a lighthouse warning of the shallows and rocks between it and the western island – although the wreck of a fishing boat on the edge of the shallows offers equal warning to their danger during daylight hours.

Of the two islands, the larger is perhaps the more natural in form, rising from its southern extreme to high cliffs at the north end, its flat centre forming a natural path with equally natural stone steps climbing down over its shoulders and slopes to connect highlands with lowlands and little nooks and places to sit – including one within a stone ring. At the northernmost end of the island sits a small beach from which two rocky pillars rise, one the home to the region’s bar and deck, only accessible via the cable car.

Hidden Bottle, October 2021

The smaller island is stranger in form – and potentially the more interesting to explore as a result. I used the term “honeycomb” above to describe it, and that is how it is; pillars of rock rising from the sands at the island’s base to support great slabs of rock that sit like table tops, the hollows beneath them offering more places that await discovery, their tops home to further places to sit in the open or under shade, bridges strung between them while wooden deck extending out into the air over blue waters.

One of the secrets of this eastern island comes in the form of a portal. Find it, and you can make your way to  Zamonia, the other setting created by Numb and Clifton, and the gallery there (both of which you can read about here). Similarly, portals from that region and the gallery will drop you at the eastern island of Hidden Bottle.

Hidden Bottle, October 2021

Also – and if you can find your way into them – there’s a series of tunnels and caverns to be found winding under the west island. These offer further places to be discovered – including the pirates’ hidden still area referenced in the region About Land description. To make your way into them, look for the pool beneath the south hull’s ribs.

Perfect for photographing under a range of EEP setting and finished with a rich soundscape, Hidden Bottle remains an engaging visit.

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