The Book of Caligula in Second Life

Artsville Gallery: Chuck Clip – The Book of Caligula

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was born in 12 CE into the Julio-Claudian dynasty. The son of beloved Roman general and hero Germanicus, he became popular with his father’s troops when, at just three years of age, he accompanied them on a campaign in Germania wearing a full miniature soldier’s uniform, right down to little versions of their hardy footwear. It was from these little boots that he would gain a nickname from the troops which would follow hi throughout his life: Caligula.

Caligula succeeded Tiberius – with whom he had a strange relationship as the second emperor’s “ward”-come-prisoner – in 37 CE to become the third emperor of Rome. His rule started as a time of get popularity: he seemingly put a stop to the terror of Tiberius’ treason trials with their executions and exiles; he recalled those exiled back to the freedom of Rome; he decreased the overwhelming burden of tax on those the most affected; he re-established elections to public service positions, and spent treasury money on lavish games and entertainments for the citizens.

Artsville Gallery: Chuck Clip – The Book of Caligula

Almost all of that largesse vanished barely eight months into his rule. Struck down by a sudden and potentially life-threatening illness, his recovery left him with a far darker, crueller demeanour, one which saw the return of executions and exile, a lust for money and power, the ruthless extermination of real or perceived threats, and a growing belief in his own righteousness. It is claimed that the latter reached a point where he allegedly demanded he be regarded as Neos Helios, the “New Sun”, and in 40 CE announced his intention to relocate his seat of power from Rome to Alexandria, Egypt, where he believed he would be worshipped as a living deity. Whether or not this is true is subject to debate; however it was later recorded as the primary reason for his assassination in early 41 CE, allegedly because such a move to Alexandria would result in Rome – and the Senate – losing its power and prestige as the seat of the empire.

History tends to regard Caligula as insane; but is this true? Certainly in the generations that followed, Suetonius and his contemporaries looked back on Caligula as such. But they based their views on the contemporaneous writings of Seneca and Cluvius Rufus – neither of whom may have had an unbiased view of the emperor; Caligula almost executed Seneca out of malice in 39 CE whilst Rufus was a conspirator in Caligula’s assassination – and of Philo of Alexandria. They also potentially took Seneca’s and Philo’s references to insanity out-of-context, as both couched the word in terms of Caligula being corrupted over time in his role as emperor, rather than being genuinely mentally unstable.

Artsville Gallery: Chuck Clip – The Book of Caligula

So what is the truth behind Caligula? Was he born a sociopath who would inevitably cave in to his own blackness of heart and be regarded as a madman? Or was he born of good heart and intent, only to be corrupted by the absolute power bestowed upon him as emperor? Or did the legacy of his upbringing – the imagined ancestral weight of the dynasty into which he was born, coupled with all he witnessed first-hand as the prisoner / ward of Tiberius – ultimately combine to drive him to excess? Or did all three combine within him over time?

Which of these might be true is lost to the passage of history. But while time may well have moved on, and the structures of family, society and power have changed, are we, as individuals and a society, really that far removed from Caligula and the Rome over which he held sway? These are the questions swirling through The Book of Caligula, an exhibition by Chuck Clip and hosted within a suitable Roman villa-like setting at Frank Atisso’s Artsville Galleries and Community.

Comprising 40 individual pieces (including three positioned to suggest a triptych), these are fantastical and not a little disturbing works offered almost as etchings, rich in detail. Each offers a window into Caligula’s life and times: the elevation of bloody gladiatorial games; the corruption born of power (be it emperor or the Senate); the mercurial swings between generosity and and brilliance and bloody, murderous intent, and more. Some, such as Incitātus, offer a very direct reference to the legend (if not necessarily the reality) of Caligula’s life. Others, like Mockery, offer a more subtle hint as to the foundations of the darkness in his heart (his young adult view that the nickname bestowed upon him by his father’s troops was intended as form of derision).

Artsville Gallery: Chuck Clip – The Book of Caligula

But within each of the intricate nightmarish twisting of form and content – almost Boschian in extent – each offers lies something deeper. Note only might they be seen as windows opening onto Caligula’s time, but also mirrors reflecting the realities of the human condition.

Yes, times have changed, as have the strictures of society such that murder, assassination and blood games are no longer considered openly acceptable and apart of the natural order of things; but are we not all still as potentially fallible as Caligula, whether through a failure of mental health or through the corruptions of society and (particularly) political power? Are we not equally vulnerable to excesses which can so easily swing our moods erratically from kindness and generosity to cruelty of word and viciousness of action? Does not power still corrupt, and do we still not, when perceiving ourselves as victims, all too often lash out viciously and blindly? In short, when all is said and done, are we really any more immune to the underpinning weaknesses and failings evident in Caligula’s rule?

Thus, as Chuck notes in the introduction to the exhibition, The Book of Caligula is not merely about the life and times of a fallible Roman emperor ages dead, it is about all of us, and the continued complexities and failings of the human condition.

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Reflections on life’s cages in Second Life

Artsville Gallery: Ava Darkheart – Cages – Birth

I was led to Cages, an installation by Ava Darkheart at Frank Atisso’s Artsville Galleries entirely by chance. The intention had been to drop into Chuck Clip’s The Book of Caligula; however, a SLurl error on the Artsville blog directed us 1,000 metres higher than Chuck’s installation, dropping us neatly into Ava’s exhibition. It was actually serendipitous – Cages had opened in mid-January, and I’d totally missed the announcements about it – and so might actually have missed it entirely before it closes on March 5th, 2023, had it not been for the mis-direct.

Perhaps the easiest way to describe this 6-part installation is as an essay in art, a story of the one journey we all have no choice but to make: that of life.

However, rather than charting this journey in as Shakespeare did, through the seven stages from birth to death (As You Like It Act II, Scene 7) or as a reflection of both admiration and ultimately ironic sense of despair on the human condition (Hamlet Act II, Scene 2), Ava instead presents a set of vignettes which encourage us to consider six aspects  – six “cages” – of life which may both constrain us and also define us as individuals. In doing so, she challenges us to consider a range of subjects, natural and social / societal.

Artsville Gallery: Ava Darkheart – Cages – Emotions

Presented around a central foyer / event space, the installation comprises six numbered rooms, which can be visited in numerical order, if so desired, although outside of the first room, it is not unreasonable to say the others might be visited howsoever the feet wander. The entrance to each is marked by white chevrons on the floor of the foyer hall, and whilst blank from the outside, can be seen to be a keyhole from within each room – a rather nice metaphor, perhaps for the keys to life and unlocking understanding.  Alongside each entrance, Ava sets out the title of the cage presented within, together with a short text piece to challenge the grey matter into action in considering each vignette.

In total, the six themes, in their default order, are: birth, the body, roots / the family, emotions, work, and the brain. Each offers a static vignette representing the core focus. Each is carefully considered with very little within it to be overlooked, with both obvious and more metaphorical elements awaiting discovery.

Artsville Gallery: Ava Darkheart – Cages – The Body

Take Birth for example: the baby floating within the cage is clear enough, as might be the seabed-like setting in which both reside (suggestive of amniotic fluid and the pre-birth “memories” some claim to have of floating within their mother’s womb) – but don’t miss the little red-crowned crane frozen in mid-dance as a potential stand-in for the stock of childhood stories. Then there is the cocoon bag sitting to one side; not only does the name evoke thoughts of the womb within the womb, it allows us, via our avatars as they sit within it, a means to recapture a sense of warmth, protection and nourishment which carried us into the world.

Some of the commentary is more direct – such as the text panel for The Body’s Cage (The Flesh), speaking as it does so eloquently on matters of gender and the growing divide between personal identity and the increasing (and unbalanced) demands for conformity / regression to purely binary outlooks some in society are demanding (despite nature as a whole rarely being truly binary). Meanwhile, there is such a subtle play on human relationships offered within The Roots Cage (The Family); contrast the reproduction of The Last Supper on the wall behind the family group, the babe-in-arms – and the look on the face of the man with burger and coffee in his hands as he keeps his head and eyes turned away from the conversation; and don’t overlook the little bench outside with its lone light, and all that might say about familial separation and loneliness.

Artsville Gallery: Ava Darkheart – Cages – Emotions

I could work my way through all six – the use of the peacock, the Jaguar, the apple tree and colours with The Untamed Cage, and so on – but this is an installation designed to get the visitor’s grey matter churning on the subjects and their motifs, and as such, I really have said far too much here. As such, I do recommend a visit before Cages draws to a close in early March

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Through the eyes of Lunaspina in Second Life

Artsville: Lunaspina Anatine, January 2023

Opening on Friday, January 6th, 2023 at Frank Atisso’s Artsville gallery complex is Endless – Through My Eyes by Lunaspina Anatine. Occupying Gallery 2 at the complex, this is a selection of landscape pieces which have been taken within a single region, that of Sombre Nyx’s Endless: Birdlings Flat, each one utilising a minimalist approach and compositional style which immediate capture the eye and the imagination.

This is clearly evident from the first image within the series – Endless 01, located just inside the left side entrance to the hall as you enter it. The images presents a view of a set of communications dishes set against a cloudy sky. But where are they – what are they? Civilian? Military? On a building or high on a mast?

Artsville: Lunaspina Anatine, January 2023

In successive  images we encounter more – a field in a misty dawn (or perhaps late afternoon) and a grid of upright posts, slender wires strung between them. They appear to be sitting within a field – but again, what are they? A place where vines are to be planted and grown for their crop of grapes? If so, then where are the vertical lines for the vines to grow along? So if not that, then what?

Thus, as we progress around the images, these is the invitation for us to form a story around them. as to what they may represent. Of course, those familiar with Birdlings Flat (which I wrote about it here) may opt just to enjoy the images in this exhibition in their own right; and there is nothing wrong with this, nor do visitors need to be familiar with the region. Seeking a narrative is purely a matter of choice; these are images which can be enjoyed in their own right and as individual compositions.

Artsville: Lunaspina Anatine, January 2023

At the same time, these pieces – beautifully post-processed and making superb use of various EEP settings – speak to the marvels of Second Life, a place that can be visually expressive, filled with opportunities to explore yet also at times empty of of people  – just as many remote parts of the physical world (such as the eastern end of Kaitorete Spit on which Birdlings Flat is based) can be as well. Within each one, Lunaspina perfectly captures the essence of the term endless.

I confess that I’m not aware of having witnessed an individual exhibition by Lunaspina, and I was immediately captivated by her overall approach to her images – camera placement, angle, subject focus, used of depth-of-field, etc., – in that I could not help but see a strong similarity to the work of another artist I admire hugely – Melusina Parkin. This should not be taken to mean either artist is in any way derivative of the other; rather they both have a eye for composition that I find attractive and engaging and which teases out their subject gently to their audience.

Artsville: Lunaspina Anatine, January 2023

A warm, easy-to-appreciate exhibition of landscape art which is – as noted – also beautifully layered, Endless – Through My Eyes is well worth visiting.

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Milena’s 5th Season in Second Life

Artsville, December 2022: Milena Carbone – the 5th Season (Heroes)

Now open at Frank Atisso’s Artsville, and seeing out 2022, is another provocative art installation by Milena Carbone entitled The 5th Season. Perhaps best described as a trilogy, it comprises three individual but inter-related exhibitions: Blind, Africa, and Heroes. Two of these offer a reflection of previous installations Milena has presented, and they should preferably be visited in the order given, although whether you opt to visit all three sequentially in a single tour, or visit them each as an individual visit (whilst keeping their linked themes in mind) is entirely down to you.

To define the core themes present through The 5th Season, it is perhaps best to start by quoting Milena directly:

The 5th Season … questions our tendency to follow a path of self-destruction. It is related to the imminent threat of dramatic consequences for all living species as a result of climate change. It tries to dig deeper into the roots of our denial.
The “fifth season”, is an imaginary season, which will replace the four seasons we have known. One season in a year, chaotic, devastating. A foul beast that humanity will have created.

– Milena Carbone

Artsville, December 2022: Milena Carbone – the 5th Season (Blind)

The important point to note within this description is the term “it is related to the imminent threat … of climate change” (my emphasis). I highlight this because, whilst climate change and our response (or lack thereof) to its existential threat does offer the foundational thread of theme linking all three parts of this installation, bound within two of them are references to a greater malaise that has affected humanity throughout time: wilful self-destructiveness – be it on the purely personal level or through religious and / or political indoctrination, or national / racial fervour.

To achieve this, Milena uses the three elements of the installation to present images and stories to prompt us not so much on an emotional level, but rather intellectually, asking us to dissect what we are seeing and reading and look beyond. As such, these are stories and images that might be taken literally (e.g. George and Martha, and The story of Daphne (both found within Blind) – the first being a direct commentary on the destructiveness of the demands placed upon all of us to be “successful” and “happy” through acquisition and idealisation (such as through the insidious nature of television programmes ad ads) rather than by simply communicating with one another; the second a pointed reference to the artificial use of war and bloodshed in order to maintain the status quo of a decades-old corrupt regime).

Other stories are more metaphorical (e.g. The Story of Antigone (also in Blind) or the entirety of Africa); still others utilise elements of history or mythology. Some of the stories are reproduced on the walls of the three exhibition spaces, but most are accessed via links to Milena’s website – and I recommend reading all of them there, as several contain further links to help gain familiarity with the subjects offered (after all, how many of us are familiar with the myths surrounding Tiresias?).

Artsville, December 2022: Milena Carbone – the 5th Season (Africa)
“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, “you are mad, you are not like us.”

– From The Sayings Of The Desert Fathers, a quote which eloquently
encompasses the polarised nature of modern society, which Milena also touches upon

As the first element in the trilogy, Blind – I believe I’m correct in saying – originally appeared (at least in part) within an exhibition Milena presented in June / July 2022 (I admit to being hazy on this, as it is not an installation I managed to see). It’s core arch is that of our aforementioned denial  – our blindness – to the realities of climate change; a blindness that exists, again as noted, as much among those who acknowledge the threat but who go on to do nothing, however small the move, to play their part in trying to lessen the impact, as it does among those who persist in denying it, despite the weight of evidence before them.

In this, I found the inclusion of Tiresias particularly fitting as a double-edged sword; his gift of foresight might be aligned with the the mountains of data gathered over the last 30-40 years relating to climate change. On the one hand, just as Tiresias offered help and counsel to Odysseus in his quest, so too might the data we have gathered offer us the means to avert the coming global crisis; on the other is that just as Tiresias was stuck blind by Hera due to his ability to divine the future and truth, so to are those who seek to raise greater awareness of the the threat of climate change all too often vilified by those unwilling to hear their message.

Artsville, December 2022: Milena Carbone – the 5th Season (Blind)

Within Africa – which Milena originally presented at Nitroglobus Roof Gallery in October (see: Milena Carbone’s Africa at Nitroglobus), the theme of climate change and its impact on the cradle of humanity is further explored through image and commentary. Here, in addition to the story elements are 3D models of various African animals; these should be approached directly to reveal further elements of this part of the installation. As with Blind, the stories and elements offered in Africa also contain broader themes, some of which (notably colonialism) link back to Blind and The story of Daphnie.

Heroes, the final part of the trilogy, offers a more hopeful chapter for viewing. As a race, we are too rooted in the past – up to and including the view climate change deniers have on the historical nature of this planet’s biosphere – claiming it is no more different to other periods of heating and cooling that have occurred in the planet’s long history. And while that may be true to a point, it nevertheless ignores two inconvenient truths: the first is that for the last 250 years, humanity has been pumping out increasingly huge amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere; and the second is that for the last 50 years, we’ve been busily decimating the natural means by which the Earth regulates its atmosphere to help purge it of those gases, such as the Amazon rain forest.

Artsville, December 2022: Milena Carbone – the 5th Season (Heroes)

Thus, if we are to survive, we need to stop looking back; we need to focus on the future. And this not only includes how we husband this planet and its resources, but in how we look upon ourselves as a global society. As Milena notes, too much of our history and our “mythology” is rooted in the past in – dare I say it – a patriarchal, hunter-gatherer history.

If we are to mature as a race, we will need modern heroes, modern myths founded on respect, understanding and care, which foster the belief that we can all, regardless or creed, colour, gender or personal belief, aspire to do better, to be better. Through the presentation of the 12 modern-day fictional tales, complete with their tabloid-style headlines (be sure to sit in the chairs before each of them to see more), Milena challenges us to leave this exhibition with a willingness to do just that: look to the future and play our own role, howsoever small, to bring about the changes we as a people – as a world – need.

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We Orange the World in Second Life

Artsville: We Orange the World, 2022

Opening on Friday, November 25th at Artsville is We Orange The World, a 16-day arts event intended to coincide with the The United Nations Women’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, and which runs from November 25th, 2022 through to December 16th inclusive.

The physical world campaign started in 1991 at the inauguration of the Women’s Global Leadership Institute, which continues to coordinate each year’s campaign. It is used as a nexus strategy by individuals and organisations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. Initially a civil society initiative, the campaign has – since 2008 – been supported by the UNiTE campaign,  which runs parallel events with the aim of ending violence against women by 2030.

Within We Orange the World, artists have been invited to submit a piece of 2D or 3D art to be displayed within the exhibition, related to the general theme of the beauty and empowerment of women around the world. Entrants were asked to keep pieces positive, uplifting and empowering rather than negative in nature, otherwise subject matter and presentation were left up to the artists.

Artsville: We Orange the World, 2022
Why [are we] having this campaign in our virtual world?
Let’s face it! Gender-based abuse also exists virtually, it may be in an unintentional or intentional form. The extent of this violence may not be physical but will always result to short-term or long-term emotional trauma and anxiety to the member victims resulting to a violation of the Community of Standards (not TOS) of SL. Raising awareness in our SL community will give us reminders that one cannot just violate and do things according to their pleasure in-world with the expense of another person/ persons. It is time to at least put light into this issue by supporting us.

– We Orange the World organisers

The event is taking place on a purpose-built sky platform at Artsville, a space divided into a number of areas, all caught under an appropriately orange sky. The first part is an area of open water backed by high falls against which a seated Buddha floats serenely. An island and small promontory sit over the water, both home to elements of a Zen garden. The island is the main landing point for the event, and is noticeably crowned by a sculpture (Lady Carmagnolle by Bryn Oh). This helps indicate that the statuary in the event are interactive in nature: touch them to receive information in keeping with the theme of the campaign.

Artsville: We Orange the World, 2022

Over a bridge from the landing point, a path winds its way to the remaining elements of the setting: the main art exhibition and the event space – We Orange the World will include a number of related events through its run including music, DJ events and poetry reading (although at the time of writing, a schedule of events had yet to be published), all with the focus of raising awareness of the campaign and what it is trying to achieve / eliminate. After passing through the event spaces, the path winds onwards back through the screen of trees to the little headland on the lake. Along the way are a number of seating areas, with benches also presented within the art display areas for those wishing to appreciate the art.

The call for artists this year went out a little on the late side (earlier in November), but the artists who have responded to the call include: Wren Carling, Mara Telling, Carelyna, Selen Minotaur, GitterPrincess Destiny, Idoliza, Ilrya Chardin, Anja, Mareea Farrasco, AmandaT Tamatzui, Jaz, Elfi Siemens, Sina Souza, Ambre Singh, Justhyne Shewolf and deborakaz. All of whom nevertheless make for an engaging exhibition.

Artsville: We Orange the World, 2022

Photo Contest

The global theme for this year’s UN Women’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls. In support of this theme, the organisers of We Orange the World partnering with GP Gallery to run a photo contest on the theme of Unite, with a total of L$10,000 available in three prizes.

The competition runs through until December 10th, 2022, the the rules being:

  • Photos can be taken anywhere in SL but must adhere to the theme of “Unite” and “Violence against Women”.
  • Post-photo editing is allowed for touch ups only – no significant work that changes the content / appearance of a piece.
  • Entrants can submit a maximum of two pieces to the competition.
  • Submission should be made to the contest Flickr group, and must include “#orangetheworld2022” in the description, together with the entrant’s name, and must be uploaded no later than 12:00 noon SLT on Saturday, December 10th, 2022.
  • Photos will be judged on composition, style, creativity and general appeal.
Artsville: We Orange the World, 2022

We Orange the World officially opens on Friday, November 25th, 2022 at 13:00 SLT with a special event featuring the live music of Kael and Maximillion Kleene.

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Melusina’s Greyscale Magic in Second Life

Artsville: Melusina Parkin – Greyscale Magic

Currently open at the relocated Artsville Galleries and Community is a new exhibition by Melusina Parkin entitled Greyscale Magic. Located in a skyborne gallery space at Artsville, this is an exhibition that makes full use of the main display/ event hall and its two side wings to present a collection of images offered – as the title implies – greyscale tones which have been captured in Melusina’s always-engaging style.

Black-and-White or greyscale? I preferred to title this exhibition using the greyscale term because b/w photographs actually aren’t black-and-white: they show a palette of endless shades of grey, from the absolute black to the absolute white. 
But why are they “magic”? It’s because they offer a conventional image of the reality they depict, forcing our brain[s] to interpret the different greys as colours of the “normal” view.

– Melusina Parkin, Greyscale Magic

Artsville: Melusina Parkin – Greyscale Magic

The three-room layout of the gallery space allows Melu to present this collect as a three-part portfolio; one in which she those familiar with her work might see as being – intentionally or otherwise – new interpretations from themes which have been the focus of some of her past exhibitions and work.

In the main hall, for example, is a total of ten images that offer us unique views of rooms and furnishings. Some present images of private living, others more public spaces – a café here, a diner there; collectively they bring to mind Melu’s work in exhibitions such as Empty Spaces and Absences (2017). Meanwhile, in the side rooms we have, respectively, fives studies focused on motor vehicles, evoking thoughts of Cars (2019) and perhaps also Roadside Images (2020); and also five images of buildings and streets that carry with them an echo of Night Walks (2019).

Greyscale photography has been, for a long while, the only one admitted and legitimated to represent “art photography”. Although colour techniques have been available for many decades, [it was] only in the late 1930s [that] colour photography started to be considered a form  of art, thanks to the surprising new technique introduced by Kodak with the famous Kodachrome film … But while the colour TV overwhelmed the b/w one and made it obsolete, greyscale photography endured as a more sophisticated for of art.

– Melusina Parkin, Greyscale Magic

Artsville: Melusina Parkin – Greyscale Magic

Which is most certainly not to say Greyscale Magic is is any way derivative of those past exhibitions, these are new pieces. However, in echoing these from her past exhibits, Melusina is both (again, quite possibly subconsciously) drawing a thread of continuance through her work, giving us further chapters in her ever-expanding and captivating artistic narrative. This is further reflected in the overall framing of these pieces, wherein the angle, subject, lighting and focus speak a single utterance of a much larger story that sits beyond their physical size, so inviting us to enter into the story and interpret it according to our own viewpoint, thoughts and imagination.

More particularly with this collection however, is the fact that these are images captured in Second Life which exude a powerful sense of depth and life entirely of their own and separate to that which otherwise might be present were they to be offered in colour. As a long-time admirer of both greyscale and monochrome images and art, I’ve always felt both have a powerful means to often better convey the vitality of Second Life as a “place” we don’t merely see – we inhabit through our avatars and the time we spend here. As, again, Melusina notes in her statement on the exhibit:

I think that this is due to the “magic” I was talking [about] before. SL photography is colourful, windlight and PhotoShop allow us to play with meaningful colours to represent more real, or more surreal, scenes. But if you select the the right images, desaturate them or turn them greyscale, the result is often closer to the “real” world that it can cheat even the most attentive observer. Isn’t that “magic”?

– Melusina Parkin, Greyscale Magic

Artsville: Melusina Parkin – Greyscale Magic

I  would wholeheartedly agree; and within Greyscale Magic, Melusina demonstrates again, that she is a master magician in the magical arts of Second Life photography.

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  • Artsville (Caribbean Ocean, rated Moderate)