I recently reviewed Bryn Oh’s Daughter of Gears / Rabbicorn trilogy (see A Daughter of Gears and a Rabbicorn in Second Life), and while it may be only a brief two article break before returning to Bryn’s work again, there is a reason for this. It comes in the form of an exhibition of Bryn’s 2D and 3D art currently open at the Surreal Art Gallery, curated by JulietteSurrealDreaming.
The Standby Sketches offers a unique insight into Bryn’s creative process, specifically in reference to the three parts of the The Standby Trilogy.
Often when planning a new virtual artwork I still step back to the traditional art, from where I began, to sketch ideas and help myself understand what I want to convey in my artwork. This exhibit shows some of the various bits taken from my sketchbooks, the pen and ink drawing, the oil paintings, and even the bronze sculpture that materialise during the creative process.
– Bryn Oh, describing The Standby Sketches
Spread over two level of the gallery (accessed via the teleport point in the foyer area), the exhibition presents a series of sketches showing the evolution of The Daughter of Gears, mesh models from various scenes from the trilogy (including some that do not appear to have been used in the final installations), and drawings that appear to show the evolution of the rabbicorn as well asstory scene ideas.
This is a small display, but one that is fascinating nonetheless, providing insight into Bryn’s creative process. While it might have been enhanced with some additional textual information to accompany the sketches and sets of images, one cannot find fault with none appearing; for one thing, Bryn tends to keep busy with preparing art, whether intended for SL or elsewhere. For another, these pieces on offer speak eloquently in and of themselves, particularly for those who have visited the trilogy whilst it is at Immersiva, while the sketches and drawings are more than capable of standing up in their own right as works of art.
With individual pieces available for sale, and an opportunity to obtain limited edition bronze pieces cast of The Daughter of Gears and the Rabbicorn, The Standby Sketches will be open through the rest of January and February. Given the pairing of the exhibition with the Standby Trilogy, I’d recommend a visit to this ahead of The Standby Sketches so that the fullest appreciation of both can be gained.
Currently open – for a while longer at least – within her home region of Immersiva, is Bryn Oh’s three-part tale of a mechanical girl and a rabbicorn (part rabbit, part unicorn, all mechanical). It’s a complex, multi-faceted story rich in detail and themes that requires time – and not a little patience – to be witnessed and followed in full.
The three parts of the story stand as individual installations that should be visited in order. One sits at the ground level of the region, the remaining two up in the sky. They commence with The Daughter of Gears, and then progress through The Rabbicorn Story and conclude with Standby. Within them, they enfold matters of love, lost, fear, life, death, longing, companionship, human nature, feature of technology / progress, and sacrifice, as well as demonstrating how all of Bryn’s pieces share a relationship with one another, being set within the same universe – or perhaps “Ohverse” might be a better term.
The three installations between them also have a long history, as Bryn points out in discussing their origins.
Daughter of Gears story was originally created years ago when I was commissioned by a company called Rezzable to make something for an existing region called Black Swan … The second and third parts were hosted by IBM when they were actively within Second Life.
Originally when the stories were created in prims they each were close to 20,000 prims for a grand total of around 60k. Far more than a sim can hold. But yay! for mesh which has allowed me to reduce the footprint down to 19683.
Bryn, commenting on The Daughter of Gears and The Rabbicorn Story
Bryn covers the unfolding story at length through her blog, so I’ll restrict myself to just outlining things here. All three installations are framed around a series of three poems, the stanzas of which are spread through each of the installations and presented in such a way we can only visit them in the correct order.
For The Daughters of Gears, this involves climbing a high tower to uncover a story that might be said to have, as a seed, within Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus – although the two are very different in content. Here, a mother faces the death of her one daughter by building a mechanical body into which she can transfer her child’s soul. Unfortunately, the locals, scared by what she has done and regarding her work as an abomination, come to her high tower to put a stop to things. Ultimately, they fail – but at the cost of the mother’s life, leaving the Daughter of Gears alone.
The story is told by climbing the tower itself – individual stanzas set on different levels. Now, to be honest, climbing the tower isn’t easy – to the extent that some might find it frustrating – it is easy to mis-step / jump and find yourself back at the bottom of the tower (and I’d recommend using Mouselook in places, as the camera angles can be tight); however the scenes the climb reveal are more than worth the effort.
In The Rabbicorn Story, we follow the tale of a mechanical rabbicorn, it’s relationship with the boy form whom it is built, and what happens when others come to covet the uniqueness of a mechanical intelligence and how it might be used – for good or ill. The initial part of the story might be said to have a seed in a modern-day “classic”, this one Peter. Paul and Mary’s Puff The Magic Dragon (notably the lyrics dealing with dragons (or in this case Rabbicorns) living forever, but no so little boys). Forced on the run from, but tracked by, the scientists that covet it, the Rabbicorn eventually finds its way to the tower of The Daughter of Gears, and in the third part of the tale, Standby, we follow the attempts by the two of them to find a new home together, little realising they are being tracked.
These latter two parts of the tale are navigated by teleport rather than climbing – although for obvious reasons, a section of The Daughter of Gears’ tower does appear. There is also something of a Transhumanist / The Matrix-like reference in The Rabbicorn Story, as revealed in Bryn’s notes on the installation: the merging of human consciousness with machines to make the latter operable.
It is also within The Rabbicorn Story and Standby that we particularly see how this tale is interwoven with other aspects of Bryn’s universe. This is most clearly seen by the the Rabbicorn being created within the same facility as featured in 26 Tines, while in searching for a place to live, The Daughter of Gears and the Rabbicorn come across Lady Carmagnolle, still standing alone on her broken stage (you can read more about Lady Carmagnolle and 26 Tines in A Lady and 26 Tines in Second Life).
Richly visual, deeply set in terms of themes and interpretation, these three installations offer an expressive visit in which it is possible to become thoroughly enmeshed within the unfolding tale. The outcome may not be what might be entirely expected – but again, it follows a tradition within storytelling and myth building.
Standby also has a link with another exhibition of Bryn’s art in Second Life, and I’ll be offering a few notes on that in an upcoming piece.
Jane and Eloise, the latest installation by Bryn Oh officially opens on Saturday, December 8th. As with much of Bryn’s art, this is an immersive installation that carries both a story and a level of interaction – although the latter is perhaps more of a focus than may have been the case with prior pieces.
I wanted to play with the idea of what art can be in the virtual space … In a museum or theatre we stand back and look at a painting or sculpture, we don’t touch them nor interact usually, while in the theatre the movie tells us a story and we sit and listen. We follow the camera where it leads us and should we wish to open a door or look under a bed.. well that is not part of the experience … With this work I wanted to have a short narrative within an artistic environment focusing on colour, line and form but also creating a gamification of the artwork itself.
– Bryn Oh on Jane and Eloise
The narrative is that of two sisters – Jane and Eloise – who go fishing on Lake Superior. Theirs is not a happy tale, as they are caught by the changing weather, their boat capsizing on them. Sadly, Jane drowns, witnessed by Eloise, whose life is almost lost as well. Afterwards, Eloise is left tortured by guilt that she survived and nightmares – and the major part of the installation encourages visitors to share in those nightmares and to experience her confusion and distress first-hand.
The first element of the installation is a beach setting – the shoreline of Lake Superior, with changing tents set out on the sand and bathing wagons up to their axles in the water. If you have not previously accepted the Bryn Oh experience (or have revoked it since your last visit), you should accept it when prompted – as it is essential to your participation in the installation.
Travel along the breach and you’ll come to a small vignette depicting the final part of the fishing trip: Eloise, alive, washed up on the shore, the waterlogged canoe drifting just off-shore and Jane, laying just before the waves. Beyond this vignette, out on the horizon, the main part of the installation awaits: the brooding bulk of the maze.
The maze is a symbolic recreation of the nightmares that get embedded within our mind after a traumatic experience. It is the mind of Eloise … With a traditional artwork you can then step back and say observe and contemplate [with] this work, you enter the mind of Eloise and navigate a fairly scary maze trying to find the exit.
– Bryn Oh on Jane and Eloise
Providing you have accepted the experience, arrival at the entrance to the maze should equip you with a miner’s style lamp with head strap. A sign board on the wall near the entrance provides additional information on how best to enjoy it – in short, if you can’t use the recommended windlight (Firestorm should automatically switch to it), make sure you flick your viewer to at least midnight, enable projectors by turning on ALM and remove any face / body lights you are wearing. In difference to the instructions, you don’t need to have shadows enabled to obtain the projected light from the head lamp – but if you can run with them enabled, it adds considerably to the depth of the experience, allowing you to see it exactly as Bryn intended.
Within the maze, are corridors – patrolled by the demons of Eloise’s subconscious – and safe rooms. The idea is to make your way through the corridors, avoiding the monsters with the aid of the safe rooms. It’s a place best experienced in first-person Mouselook, and running may be required at times! In addition, some of the walls of the corridors include paintings, and elements of Bryn’s art can also be found in some corridors and in the safe rooms.
Along the way you might find what I call mouse holes. The mouse holes are thin doorways that only a single avatar can squeeze through into another hallway, if a monster is coming you can slip through and they can not follow, but if you are with friends then there might be some frantic pushing and screaming as the monster approaches 🙂 The maze can be scary and cause some anxiety, in tests I have watched people who find mouse holes and linger by them afraid to go further out into the maze.
– Bryn Oh on Jane and Eloise
Bryn invited me to try the maze with her, and I have to confess, it is addictive. If the monsters do get you, you’re teleported back to the start – and they are quite capable of sneaking up behind you! I also recommend having local sounds on; this both allows you to hear the monsters and adds further depth to the piece.
This is also a fascinating piece from a technical standpoint as well – and those from the Lab who read this review, I hop you’ll take note of what Bryn has to say vis-a-vis Pathfinding! Essentially, to prevent cheating, the maze rebuilds itself every hour, and as it includes creatures roaming it, it presented special challenges, as Bryn notes:
This work required that a whole new set of scripting was built because other forms would not work with it. For example, pathfinding is a great way to have a monster navigate a maze, except when a maze randomly rebuilds itself. In pathfinding the monster would need to know where each wall is, and then it could move through them.. when you make a new maze every hour the pathfinding creature can’t see those new walls. So a new type of movement had to be created where the creatures would “see” the maze as they move while also looking for people to chase.
– Bryn Oh on Jane and Eloise
All told the development of the maze took some 3 months, and the results are incredible – particularly if you happen to catch the maze rebuilding itself, as I did while exploring with Bryn.
Jane and Eloise has all the classic ingredients from Bryn: narrative, a beautiful use of light and shadow, colour and contrast, interaction and engagement, and despite the sadness of the narrative – offers a game element that when played with others or on your own can get to be addictive.
At the end of February 2018, Bryn Oh opened Tilt-aWhirl, the third in a series of single-scene poems she has been putting together whilst also working on a new immersive installation to succeed Hand (reviewed here). It joins Lady Carmagnolle and 26 Tines (both of which I wrote about here) on a darkened Immersiva. However, in difference to the first two pieces, Tilt-a-Whirl has something of a personal foundation for Bryn.
“It is pretty much a nostalgic memory of being young at a fairground or carnival,” Bryn says of the piece – albeit it a carnival with fantasy overtones. Two rides form the piece, the titular tilt-a-whirl ride, with flashing lights and regular-looking cars, and a carousel with a quite unusual set of animals on which to ride: a dragon, ball-balancing unicorn, a butterfly, and a mechanical octopus, seahorse and horseshoe crab …
These are not a random selection of creatures for the ride, however. In her notes accompanying the piece, Bryn notes how some of the creatures have a personal link to her – notably the dragon and the octopus – a creature she’s clearly fascinated by, and with good reason.
There seems to be a further personal element contained within this piece, a reflection of another childhood memory revealed by the accompanying 3-stanza poem, which opens:
I dreamt of my youth when I met a girl and kissed her by the Tilt-a-Whirl
Glance under the front of the Tilt-a-Whirl, and this memory is revealed through two figures – Flutter and Juniper – cautiously leaning towards one another, one shrouded by a blanket, hands reaching for one another, heads tilting. It’s a poignant moment caught in time; an echo of a childhood event made manifest once more through art and expression. Click on them, and you can view the video accompanying the scene, and which I’ve taken the liberty of embedding below (the video, and those for Lady Carmagnolle and 26 Tines can also be video by clicking the images on the floor of the arrival point).
Like Lady Carmagnolle and 26 Tines, Tilt-a-Whirl is haunting in theme, but it is also perhaps warmer in tone and feel. All three make for a striking visit.
Bryn Oh is currently working on a new immersive installation to succeed Hand, which closed in late 2017, and about which you can read more here. While the new installation is under development, she has opened two single-scene poems, Lady Carmagnolle and 26 Tines, both of which can be found on Bryn’s home region of Immersiva.
“A carmagnolle is one of the very earliest full metal diving suits,” Bryn says in explaining the first of these scene poems. “Monstrosities of protection that allowed people to explore the depths.” In fact, it was the first properly anthropomorphic design for an atmospheric diving suit (ADS), designed in 1882 by the Carmagnolle brothers. It features a distinctive metal helmet with multiple small glass ports to provide a view outside for the wearer.
In Lady Carmagnolle, the titular lady of the piece stands alone on a deserted stage in a broken-down theatre, the helmet of the carmagnolle suit in one hand, a rock in the other, a face drawn upon it. “She imagines the rocks to be injured birds who she cares for,” Bryn states, “When it rains the ink washes away leaving a simple stone. When Lady Carmagnolle looks to find these rocks and instead finds them gone, she wistfully imagines that they have grown back their wings and returned to the sky, finding others to fly with. In her loneliness this is her most beautiful dream.”
It’s a sad tale, accompanied by a sad poem and sent within the haunting setting of the tumble-down theatre, where the rain falls as Lady Carmagnolle’s only audience.
26 Tines, on the other hand, is something of a love story, again accompanied by a poem. “The laboratory is silent, the scientists gone, we have seven hours, before the dawn,” so reads the first stanza of the poem. It directly refers to the emotional bond between two robots within a research facility, a bond where – even were they both human – words would be inadequate to express their feelings.
So instead, when the working day has come to an end, and the humans have left this secretive, underground bunker of a laboratory, the maintenance robot pauses in its tasks of cleaning up. Instead, it sits down with its tiny kindred, and the two connect via cable. In this way, they bypass clumsy language and exchange their feelings and emotions directly one to another via the 26 tines of wire contained within the cable connecting them.
Thus it is, the two robots pass the time until morning comes and the daily routine intrudes, scientists returning to their lair to resume their work. Separated, the robots are left with the intimate memories of dancing together through the nights, the sublime delight of sharing their time, their feelings, so intimately for seven short hours each day – and the knowledge that in the night to come, they can be together once more.
Like Lady Carmagnolle, Bryn’s 26 Tines is haunting in theme, but with a slightly dark, science fiction turn. Both are easy to visit, but offer layered meaning and a richness of pathos, loneliness and devotion.
Hand, Bryn Oh’s latest full region installation officially opens in Second Life on Saturday, December 10th at 12:00 noon SLT. It offers visitors an immersive experience which mixes art and storytelling with a touch of mystery and discovery.
On arrival, visitors are asked to accept the experience HUD (which will initially be blank) , and which can be minimised by clicking the dancing figure icon. As there is a lot of text to be read as one progresses through the experience, the HUD can also be further enlarged by clicking the Extra Large Text button on the HUD.
Instructions for viewer settings are also provided at the landing point. These are geared towards Firestorm and specifically the use of Phototools. Those on other v4-style viewers will find the settings under Preferences > Graphics and the Advanced Settings… button (Advanced Graphics Preferences floater). Bryn also uses Firestorm’s client-side windlight by altitude capability, so those on other viewers may need to manually change windlights (listed in About Land) as they move up through the installation.
From the landing point and instructions, a teleport sphere carries visitors to an underground tram station, and their first encounter with the principal character of the piece, Flit – or as she is sometimes known – Flutter. It is her story we are invited to follow, the narrative (and the way through it) indicated by Flit herself, as she stands within certain scenes or points the way along the route we should follow – such as walking a collapsed aerial mast like a tightrope walker, or standing on a stairway as if waiting for us to join her and continue up them.
This 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 flutter and buzz or projects adverts on walls and floors for whoever might watch them, and lights flicker and play. Walking through the streets and buildings I seemed to come across nods to dystopian sci-fi: a hint of Soyent Green here, a reference to rampant consumerism there. While Flit and the other children brought to mind shades of And The Children Shall Lead, minus the space alien angle.
Whether any of this was Bryn’s design or simply my over-active imagination, I’ve no idea – but Hand’s narrative naturally invites you to fill in the blanks: what has happened here? Why have the adult withdrawn? Why is the city so ruined? Lack of maintenance because there are no adults – or something else (there are hints to be found pointing to a fear of nuclear war). Thus, in experiencing Hand, we also extend it, by exploring carefully and letting the hints – posters, objects, etc. – suggest things to us.
There are also links and hooks into Bryn’s other work to be found here as well. Some are present within the story, others may be harder to find. As Bryn states, don’t be afraid to touch things as you explore. Take the lacewing beetle, for example; touching it will introduce you to Scissors a machinima by Bryn. Elsewhere, a broken cellphone lying on the kerb might lead you skyward to poignant piece of art based on an equally poignant image; and so careful exploration is required.
Byrn produced a trailer machinima for the installation (below), featuring music specially composed by Phemie Alcott. Phemie was due to perform at the opening of Hand, but Bryn reports that as her Phemie’s mixer decided to commit suicide, the performance will now not take place until 14:00 SLT on Sunday, December 18th. Bryn isn’t sure how long Hand will remain in place – so be sure to visitor sooner rather than later, and please consider a donation towards Immersiva’s continued existence.