CybeleMoon (aka Hana Hoobinoo) is an artist oft featured in these pages. Her mixed media art is renowned for its fabulous richness of tone, balance of light and shade, depth of symbolism and – most poignantly – its wonderful framing of narrative that makes any exhibition of her work in Second Life utterly unmissable.
There are many ways to explore Cybele’s work, some of which I’ve touched upon in writing about it. However, there is one aspect that I’ve not really explored in words thus far; one that Cybele herself examines in her latest solo exhibition The Spaces Between Heaven and Time, which is currently on display the the Kultivate Signature Gallery.
I often use doorways, windows, bridges and solitude in my images as a way of conveying my impression of stopping the world and perceiving my own reality in the shifting tapestry of time.
Through this series of images Cybele explores her relationship with her art and the idea of liminality – that as an artist (and indeed we, as observers of her art) – she stands on a threshold between two states: the reality she experiences rooted in the physical world, and the worlds presented through her images.
In the strictest sense, liminality is used to define the state of ambiguity that is said to exist within a rite of passage, in which participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete. With Cybele’s art, however, I would suggest ambiguity or disorientation have but a small role to play (if any at all). Rather, that in facing her art, we are more in a state of enticement or longing; what we see in each piece offers us a glimpse of a world that calls softly to us to enter – a place we desire.
There is more here as well; a nuance that is both subtle and yet entirely fitting given the state of the world as it stands in May 2020 and in the midst of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. It’s a careful, unobtrusive reminder that solitude and / or being alone is not necessarily the a contrary state of being (as some seem to believe). Rather, it allows one to give time to self – to appreciate, to learn, to relax, to enjoy, to reflect – to create. In these times of social distancing.
The manner in which the images reflect the themes within this exhibition offers an further nuanced layer to it. Take Dr. Chandra, Will I Dream for example. Through it, we can witness the beauty of solitude as reflected in the single outstretched arm and the simple, delicate pleasure offered by passing a hand lightly over the flowers in a field, while the idea of liminality sits within the title of its title, which comes as a quote from the climax of the film 2010: The Year We Make Contact, in which HAL 9000 sits on the threshold between two realities, whilst the words themselves reflect our very questioning of the nature of life.
The Spaces Between Heaven and Time is a beautifully nuanced exploration of ideas through art – one that absolutely not be missed.
Currently open at Melusina Parkin’s gallery is Roadside, her latest collection of images taken from around Second Life, which will continue through May and June. Presented in Melu’s familiar and captivating close-up style, they present a series of pictures with a theme of road trips – but with a very specific focus, as she explains in the introduction to the exhibition:
Diners, motels, pump stations, garages are elements of a “road popular culture” developed in wide spaces crossed by monotone and endless roads. We can’t imagine a motorway without them.
Like mountains, hills, fields, lawns and rivers, they are part of any landscape we see when travelling through the country.
– Melusina Parkin
So it is that we have a series of images of motel signs, petrol (gas) stations and pumps, parked vehicles, wooden walls of motel cabins and more, each one offering a unique take on the idea of the Great American Road Trip. Within them are many of the icons of that tradition – the coupé with its top down, the ribbon of dead-straight road vanishing into the distance, the metal-sized roadside diner, the pannier-laden motorbike, and so on. However, they are presented in such a way that rather than simply offering a scene for us to appreciate, Melu once again frames them in a manner that invites a story.
Take Roadside 3, for example: a battered yellow coupé sits parked in the foreground, inviting us to consider it: it’s condition, who might own it, where might they be going, and so on. Then, beyond it and through partially shaded windows, we can see the familiar bright red vinyl seating of a diner – something that always inspires a feeling of warmth and comfort, and our thoughts are similarly comforted with ideas of good food and rest in a friendly environment, whilst also broadening the story of the owners of the car: what might they be eating, what conversations are going on at their table, and so on.
Similarly, Roadside 5, with the motorcycle parked before petrol (gas) pumps immediately spins out thoughts of the freedom of riding the open road through to (perhaps) thoughts of iconic road trip films like Easy Rider. And so it goes on around the four walls of the gallery space (a single room at the top of her store).
There is perhaps a wider context for this exhibit as well. June will mark Second Life’s 17th anniversary with the familiar Second Life Birthday celebrations taking place. The theme for this year’s event, the theme is road trips and vacations, so Melusina’s Roadside might be said to offer a lead-in to the celebrations.
Bryn Oh’s Hand first appeared in Second Life is 2016, located on her arts region of Immersiva. At the time, it proved a highly popular installation, likely thanks to its nuanced tale that straddled the light and the dark places of life and offered a commentary on the possible future relationship between physical and virtual life. More recently, Bryn rebuilt Hand entirely in mesh for Sansar, taking advantage of that platform’s particular capabilities, before porting the mesh build back to Second Life and her home region of Immersiva, giving it a new lease of life there, using SL’s particular presentation strengths.
As with much of Bryn’s work and such is her standing as an artist, Hand has been supported by a grant from the Ontario Arts Council – a part of which has required Bryn produce a machinima of the installation; and she is offering members of her Patreon group and readers of this blog an advanced viewing of the film, which you can find at the end of this article.
Hand is the story of a time when society transitioned to living and working in the virtual space. In this society people housed their bodies in inexpensive pods hooked up to food cannisters. They discarded their houses and furniture as they were no longer needed. They evolved past their physical bodies and lived digitally as the person they wanted to be. Overseeing all of this is a singularity AI named Milkdrop, first seen in the Singularity of Kumiko, though only now revealed to be an AI.
Bryn Oh on Hand
In this, Hand, whilst an accessible piece in and of itself, offers a deeply layered story that reaches beyond its own pages. At its core, it is the story of children who have been left out of the VR “nirvana” entered into by adults, and who must fend for themselves. largely surviving by “borrowing” the condensed food used to feed the VR “dreamers” in their pods. For these children, any understanding of life and the world around them comes purely through the ideas of fairy tales and ancient copies of Dick and Jane books. They believe that the dreamers, like Sleeping Beauty, will one day awake and rejoin them – but until that time, they must strive to maintain life and family through the simple, idealised writing found in Dick and Jane.
We follow this story through the character of Flutter, a young girl who yearns for the touch and companionship of a mother. She sates some of this need through the plastic hand of a shop window mannequin, holding on to it as though it were the hand of a mother figure with whom she converses. Through Flutter and her conversations, we are connected to the rest of this world – a place that is perhaps unpleasant to both the rational and the emotive mind, both which may recoil from the themes offered. But that’s intentional; Hand is not supposed to be black-and-white. Rather, and like all of Bryn’s work, it is intended to provide a narrative and to challenge perception and raise questions.
The layering evident in the tale is highly nuanced, some of it contained within the central story, other elements reaching beyond it. For example, within the story we have the subtle parallel of between “dreaming” adults and awake children. The former have escaped reality into a virtual existence, whilst the latter find a more acceptable order to their reality by framing it in terms of the fictional happy family ideal of Dick and Jane.
But beyond, this, Hand reaches into the rest of Bryn’s immersive universe. As she noted herself, the AI Milkdrop is actually first witnessed in The Singularity of Kumiko (2016). It is also, perhaps, the intelligence that assisted human scientists create the robots from 26 Tines (2017), while those same scientists constructed the Rabbicorn we see in The Daughter of Gears (first seen in 2011 and again 2019), whilst the laboratory they use harkens back to 2011’s Standby.
Thus is it possible to bring these stories together on a time line, one in which Hand takes place some 120 years after The Daughter of Gears was built by her grieving mother, but only 20 years after the Rabbicorn discovered her in her Standby, whilst little more than a decade has passed since the events of The Singularity of Kumiko.
With my work I build for different types of people. There are those who have followed my work and know how to search for the deeper layers; they are the “experts”. For them, the story and time line are important. But I also try to build for people who know nothing about the history of the world I have created. So I build in layers: the top layer is for people who know nothing of my work and they enjoy the story on its own; the next layer is the story and then concepts within the story and the final layers are where the story fits into the time line.
– Bryn Oh
This broader layering is also reflected in some of those we meet in Hand, such as Milkdrop. Then there is also the character of Juniper, hidden under her blankets, and whom Flutter stops to visit on her way home. She is the central character in Bryn’s 2013 poem and machinima of the same name, and who also forms a part of Imogen and the Pigeons. Thus, through Hand, we discover more about Juniper’s huddled existence and why, in so strange and lonely world, she finds such security and comfort under her hole-riddled blankets.
Whilst stories in their own right, all sharing a common universe, there is something more within each of Bryn’s installations and pieces which reflects her thoughts and feelings in an almost journal-like fashion.
My work is almost a type of diary. I take things from my life or observations on society and incorporate them into the ongoing narrative. The idea is to create a parallel society we can recognise, but use very personal or emotional aspects of my own life to connect to the viewer. So as an artist if I take something from my own life, something I understand deeply and personally, I can convey that emotion to the viewer better than an idea that I have not lived. The first hand experiences let me detect the nuances that may be lost if I were to attempt to create something that I had not experienced.
– Bryn Oh
As immersive pieces, Bryn’s works are also somewhat experiential, in that they often involve a lot of activity on the part of visitors. This is again intentional, as Bryn noted to me: having to work for something results in a deeper attachment to an installation, a sense of achievement on gains success, together with a personal connection to the story through that achievement. It may not be something that appeals to everyone, but it is something that undoubtedly adds significantly to the ability of her work to keep people visiting and in making repeated visits.
When looking at Bryn’s work as a whole, it is not unfair to say that she has, over 13 years, become one of the world’s foremost virtual artists, and through her work in Second Life, Sansar and other virtual mediums and environments – including the use of machinima as seenat the end of this article -, she is very much a pioneer in shaping a new artistic movement.
We had the Cubists, Impressionists, Surrealists, Modernists and I see our movement as the Immersivists. I have believed in this idea a long time but now with virtual reality headsets such as Vive or Oculus, the immersion is less fragile. You don’t look at a computer screen and beyond its borders see a bill that needs to be paid or your cell phone rings… instead you are in the world I have created and firmly there. Unlike painting where you stand from a distance and look at a static scene or cinema where you are told a story as a passive observer, virtual reality artwork can offer the ability to be an active participant in the art.
– Bryn Oh
As a pioneer, Bryn herself faces many challenges, up to and including being able to finance her virtual work. In this, she is keen to note the on-going support of the Ontario Arts Council, which has been vital to Hand’s renewal in Sansar and Second Life, as well as supporting her in some of her other installations and work.
Hand took me almost a year to build; to undertake a project like this with potentially few prospects is, as you can imagine, unwise. So the financial support of the Ontario Arts Council helps enormously. But what is more important to me is the psychological support they provide through their belief in me as an artist. I work alone; few among my family and friends understand what I do, nor are they particularly curious … Recognition by, and support from, the OAC, is something that reinvigorates my confidence and says to keep going and striving in this art medium that I truly believe in. So I would like to thank again the OAC and the great work they do.
– Bryn Oh
A further reflection of the depth and importance of Bryn’s work also lies in the fact that professor Carolyn Steele of the Communication and Culture department at York University, Toronto, is putting together a new course on Bryn’s work that will be presented at the university in the near future.
For those of us unable to attend that course, we still have Hand to appreciate in Second Life and Sansar – and, doubtless, more stories to come out of Bryn’s universe. So for now I’ll leave you with the aforementioned video, as produced for OTC, and also offer my thanks to Bryn for all of her work in Second Life and Sansar, which means a lot to so many, and for giving me the time to answer questions and discuss her work in order to produce this article.
Cica Ghost opened her latest installation on Saturday, March 7th 2020 for a month-long run. Entitled Another Fairy Tale, it offers a continuation of ideas first presented in Fairy Tale in 2017 (see: Cica’s Fairy Tale in Second Life), introducing a new family of fantastical creatures scattered across a twilight landscape.
Like Fairy Tale, this installation is introduced with a quote by a writer of tales, with Cica using words from Hans Christian Andersen: Everything you look at can become a fairy tale and you can get a story from everything you touch, and such is the evocative nature of the scene that for anyone who visited Fairy Tale, the intervening years between it and this installation simply vanish, and it is as if we’ve turned a page in Cica’s magical story and arrived at the start of a new chapter.
But while the original featured a somewhat bleak and barren landscape with columns of rock and branches bereft of leaves vied to reach the sky, here we are in a garden setting, where tall flowers point their colourful petals towards the darkening sky, and leafy vines droop their way around rocks even as flowerless shoots also rise towards the clouds scudding overheas, the ground beneath them mottled and covered by verdant, moss-like grass,
Within this setting reside creatures fantastical, some seemingly born of the land, some of the sea and some of the air; some with legs and / or wings, others limbless or with forelegs ans sinuous tails. Many are quadrupeds, some with cloven, hoof-like feet, with or without claws, others with foreleg appendages that appear to be capable of manipulating other objects.
All of them are united in the facial features, which range from the almost bovine (at first glance) of some through to the very anthropomorphic looks, the latter most noticeable in the winged creatures, graced with very a human-esque placement of forward looking eyes above a nose-like snout that in turn sits above a lipped mouth. All are faces suggestive of intelligence and awareness, eyes occasionally focusing on visitors, expressions set in frowns at being disturbed or what might be smiles of greeting.
How and where these creatures evolved is perhaps part of the region’s story. There is a suggestion that while some are now quadrupeds, they mostly share a heritage born of the surrounding waters, and that even now evolution is being witnessed as those with sinuous tails or bodies are adopting to life ashore, growing forelimbs – or they are at least given to being equally at home on land or in the sea. This idea is aided by another creature that rises slowly from the waters just offshore, as if gradually worming its way ashore, while nearby, a second, massive creature (a wonderful combining of mesh elements and the region’s terrain on Cica’s part to give it form and life) raises its bulk and head above the waves to look down on the landscape like a mother watching over her brood at play.
Whether this is a land of our own planet but hidden far, far, away from everyday human affairs (as can be the way of fairy tales) or is perhaps part of another world entirely is something also left to the imaginations of visitors. For those who like the interactive elements of Cica’s builds, be sure to mouse around; sit and dance points are waiting to be found within flowers and close to some of the land creatures, while grabbing a leg of one of the flying chaps will take you on a journey across the region, revealing many of its delights and curiosities – such as the Jaws-like rocks pushing up from the grass their open “mouths” partially lined with “teeth” revealing they are nests and home to as yet flightless version of the airborne creatures.
Imaginative, whimsical, and delightful, Another Fairy Tale is a delightful continuation of a trips through Cica’s worlds of the imagination. Do be sure to at least enable ALM when visiting to appreciate her always considered use of lighting projectors and materials.
Bryn Oh first created Hand is Second Life in 2016. An immersive experience, it mixed art and storytelling with a touch of mystery and discovery.
Originally an installation that used Second Life Experience Keys, Hand recently transitioned to Sansar with the assistance of a grant from the Ontario Arts Council, and which I recently wrote about in Bryn Oh’s Hand in Sansar. That grant has also allowed Hand to once again be resurrected in Second Life.
In writing about Hand in 2016, I noted of the installation:
This [is a] journey takes us through a strange, broken urban setting with decaying, collapsing buildings; a place where adults are almost (but not entirely) absent, apparently leaving their children to fend for themselves. Technology is still active – drones buzz around and project adverts on walls and floors for whoever might watch them – presumably as a form of currency / earning, and lights flicker and play. Walking through the streets and buildings there appears to be nods to dystopian sci-fi: a hint of Soyent Green here, a reference to rampant consumerism there. While Flit [the principal character] and the other children brought to mind shades of And The Children Shall Lead, minus the space alien angle.
– Bryn’s Hand in Second Life, December 2016
This is still true, as is the use of Experience Keys to assist visitors, instructions for which are provided at the landing point. What is different with this iteration is that rather than using a teleport to reach the actual starting point of the story – Flit sitting in an underground station – visitors must find their way through a tunnel from one station to the next, where Flit is waiting.
From here visitors once again travel up the escalator and out into the the run-down setting of a city well past its prime. Here the story will unfold by finding, and following Flit as she appears at various points in the installation, either pointing the way through the story or ready for a chapter of it to be told. As you approach the latter, you should hear the narration (assuming you have local sounds enabled). However, if no audio is obvious, make sure local sounds are on, and touch the microphone alongside Flit.
Aspects of the path through the story do require some care – making your way over tightrope-like planks and fallen towers for example, or climbing up piles of the detritus of humanity. Also, cleverly woven into the story are hooks to several other elements of Bryn’s work – so don’t be afraid to touch things as you explore. Take the scene of the girl with the golden crown and her little entourage waiting to be found whilst exploring the rooms of the main building in the installation: touching the girl or the insects and creatures will offer you the chance to watch a video about The Girl with the Paper Crown.
Hand, whether visited in SL or Sansar – and a visit to both shows some of the core differences between the two – remains a captivating story, one that encourages us to fill-in the blanks through our own imaginations, adding to the richness of the tale Bryn tells through character, setting and the words of her narrator.
Cica Ghost opened her latest region-wide installation on Sunday, February 9th, and it is another absolute delight from an artist who can chase away the darkest clouds and turn the deepest frown into a smile.
Burlap is a marvellous setting where just about everything is fashioned from that fabric (also known as hessian in some parts of the world). The ground is a stitched-together pattern of plain and coloured burlap swatches, the houses, vases, pots and boxes that lay scattered across it similarly so, while a ribbons the fabric forms a road that winds around and over the land. Even the posts and fences are made from the stuff, as are the flowers that sprout from vase and pot.
The only real exception to the use of burlap and thread comes in the form of buttons. These not only secure the clothes of the local population – of which more in a moment, they also act as wheels on vehicles large and small, some mobile, some static, some apparently being pulled along. Wheels even sit at the four corners or on either side of some to the finger-like houses, suggesting that with a firm heave-ho, they could be set rolling across the quilted landscape.
Within the setting, the local inhabitants watch the comings and goings of visitors with interest, forming a little community of burlap-dressed bears, rabbits, ducks, felines and mice (and even a giant fish apparently quite at home draped over a hill!). The bears, rabbits and ducks all have their own little neighbourhood areas, complete with their own burlap-fronted shop, while the felines – a lion jealously guarding his bag of potato chip (or crisps as we’re prone to call them in the UK), and a cat apparently out shopping with a little mouse literally in tow with her – stand apart from one another.
Touch the fronts of the shops, and the burlap “doors” will rise curtain-like, to reveal smaller versions of the locals available for purchase and display.
As with all of Cica’s builds, Burlap includes a lot of places for avatar animation / interaction, with sits and dances to be found on multiple sufaces – just carefully mouse over things and watch for the Sit icon to appear. Some of the obvious places are the giant gramophone player, the swings and the chairs – but there are more that I’ll leave yo to discover 🙂 .
Also, keep an eye out for the gift giver – it’ll present you with your very own burlap sack you can use to hop around the installation and have sack races with friends. There is also a fish car rezzer sitting to one side of the region awaiting drivers (turn off your AO to sit within in properly). Do be warned, however, that it does tend to launch you and your car once you’re seated!
Whimsical, fun and bright, Burlap will remain open for about a month. When visiting, do please consider making a donation towards Cica’s work, so we can all continue to enjoy her art in Second Life.