Art Made in Second Life: FionaFei’s fabulous shuǐmò

Fiona’s Reflection, as featured in Art Made in Second Life

FionaFei is a relative newcomer to Second Life and its art world, but she is someone who has made an enormous impression on those who have witnessed her art. I’ve personally had the delight in discovering it, and in writing about it on two occasions (see: Captivated by FionaFei’s art in Second Life (May 2019) and FionaFei’s shuǐmò Reflection in Second Life from November 2019).

As such, it was a joy to see that Fiona and her work are the subject of the first video (embedded below) in the Second Life series Art Made in Second Life (itself a further branching of the Made In Second Life video collection).

FionaFei (via Art Made in Second Life)

Fiona specialises in reproducing shuǐmò ink wash painting as 3D sculptures and setting within her appropriately-named Shui Mo gallery space in Second Life.

Also called shuǐmòhuà (suiboku-ga in Japanese) shuǐmò, uses different concentrations of black ink to create an image. Found throughout East Asia, it first emerged in Tang dynasty China (618–907), before spreading to Japan (14th century), Korea and to India. Beside the use of black ink in place of colours, it is also marked by the emphasis of the brushwork being on the perceived spirit or essence of the subject, rather than directly imitating its appearance.

Through her installations, Fiona marvellously brings the entire essence of shuǐmò to virtual life. In doing so, she allows the spirit of this ancient art form directly inhabit us, by making our avatars part of her work by virtue of our presence within it, whether we participate through direct interaction (as with the umbrellas in the “foyer” area that sits between the pieces referenced in the video (Reflection and Rising) or through our entry into, and exploration of, Reflection itself.

Within pieces like Reflection and Umbrella Landscape, and before them Wo Men Dakai (about which I wrote in Captivated by FionaFei’s art in Second Life), Fiona offers a combined celebration of this ancient form of art, a means of reflecting on her heritage, and an opportunity to present her own philosophy on life, as she notes both through the video and in her own writings.

As a Chinese American who immigrated from China at a young age, I created the Shui Mo series as a way of connecting with my ancestry and celebrate centuries of art from old masters who painted using traditional Chinese ink brush style….

…I see life and my journey as a painting. It can be forever an evolving piece … At any given time, you think you’ve reached the end of it, but you can always add to it, layer it, and change it. In a sense, each brush stroke is like a footprint.

– Fiona discussing her art and her world view

Three of Fiona’s traditional Chinese scroll painting – which are actually 3D sculptures, the centre on animated

What is particularly attractive about this short video (running to just under 2 minutes) is the manner in which it reflects the emphasis of shuǐmò. Rather than dwelling at length upon Fiona’s art, or presenting an in-depth look at her life and how she came to Second Life, it provides broader – dare I say  – brush strokes of both. Thus, and like shuǐmò, it captures the spirit of her work and presence hear, rather than more directly presenting the appearance of both, leaving us with the opportunity to discover more by visiting Shui Mo and Fiona’s Flickr gallery.

For my part, I cannot emphasise the sheet beauty and alluring appeal and depth to Fiona’s work, and urge anyone who has yet to witness it to both watch the video and take the time to visit her gallery in-world and fully immerse themselves in her art and vision.

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FionaFei’s shuǐmò Reflection in Second Life

Shui Mo Gallery: Reflection

Shuǐmò, or shuǐmòhuà (suiboku-ga in Japanese or “ink wash”), is a type of East Asian ink wash painting that uses different concentrations of black ink to create an image. It first emerged in Tang dynasty China (618–907), and is marked by the emphasis of the brushwork being on the perceived spirit or essence of the subject, rather than directly imitating its appearance.

Within Second Life, it has become a form of art exquisitely brought to life by FionaFei, who uses it to produce the most extraordinary 3D art installations. I was first introduced to her work  at One Billion Rising in 2019 prior to visitingd her Shui Mo Gallery to see Wo Men Dakai, an art-as role-play environment she created using shuǐmò that had its inspiration on Joss Whedon’s Firefly series (see: Captivated by FionaFei’s art in Second Life).

I made a return to the gallery on December 10th, after Miro Collas pointed me to an announcement Fiona made via Flickr concerning her latest shuǐmò piece. Entitled Reflection, it presents a to-scale painting as a marvellous 3D environment, about which Fiona notes.

In this exhibit, I am utilising Second Life’s virtual platform to provide a new perspective on this traditional art style by adding depth, making what has traditionally always been portrayed as 2D paintings into 3D sculptures. When the viewer looks into the art, they are looking into a 3D space, and depending on the angle they are viewing it from, the art changes.

– FionaFei, describing her shuǐmò art

Shui Mo Gallery: Reflection

In this respect, Fiona is very much what Bryn Oh refers to as an Immersivist: an artist who makes use of virtual 3D environments such that the sense of immersion felt by an observer is more intense because as well as viewing the art as a static piece, they can become an active participant in it simply by moving through the piece and witnessing it from different angles.

In this respect, I do recommend stopping at the entrance to observe Reflection as a static observer first (perhaps in Mouselook). This reveals its richness as a painting. Then, after you’ve done this, either move or flycam around it to reveal the additional depth it presents as it beautifully transitions from traditional Chinese ink painting into a 3D sculpture that reveals many facets, each a painting in its own right.

Reflection is actually one of two shuǐmò installations on offer. The other might be described as a foyer / events area, sitting immediately beyond the huge red doors of the landing point. This includes elements from Fiona’s SL16B installation Umbrella Landscape. Interactive, these sit as part of a landscape where water falls to a pond of Koi and on which interactive umbrellas float. Painted board walks running from the red doors provide access to Reflections (to the left as you face the exhibition space) and a second gallery area to the right.

This second space contains Rising, an installation Fiona created for the One Billion Rising in Second Life 2019, part of the annual global event to raise awareness of the plight of women and girls who face violence and abuse in their daily lives, and the staggering fact 1 in 3 women on the planet is beaten or raped during her lifetime.

Shui Mo Gallery: Rising

Rising represents those women who have experienced abuse who have finally been able to break free of the pain that they’ve experienced, literally rising from the darkness they have experienced. The particle figures are all hand-drawn, while the abuse they have suffered is additionally indicated by the bruised hands also being lifted up out of the darkness.

Nor is this all. The entrance hall containing the landing point includes a collection of 6 more pieces of art by Fiona. These are 3D pieces that represent scroll paintings combining both shuǐmò and guóhuà (“natural”) styles of Chinese. These are exquisite pieces, some of which are animated, and all of which are available for sale.

Shui Mo Gallery: paintings

Fiona’s art is captivating in both form and style, marvellously capturing a traditional form of Chinese art and bringing new life to it.

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Captivated by FionaFei’s art in Second Life

FionaFei: Shuǐmò

Shuǐmò, or shuǐmòhuà (suiboku-ga in Japanese), is a type of East Asian ink wash painting that uses different concentrations of black ink to create an image. It first emerged in Tang dynasty China (618–907), before spreading to Japan (14th century), Korea and to India. Beside the use of black ink in place of colours, it is also marked by the emphasis of the brushwork being on the perceived spirit or essence of the subject, rather than directly imitating its appearance.

It is also a form of art that has been quite marvellously brought to life by Second Life and physical world artist FionaFei as the basis of her latest art exhibition. This features a core element called Wo Men Dakai, which Fiona describes thus:

Wo Men Dakai (Chinese for “My Door Opens”) is an art installation I’ve created in the style of Chinese ink brush painting. The purpose of the space is for a role-play Firefly-based RP where my RP character YiLi graduates into a Registered Companion. However, the inspiration for the creation is from my own personal artistic journey in real life and in second life, and most of it really stems from who I am as an artist in both realities.

– FionaFei

FionaFei: Shuǐmò

While not everyone might be familiar with Joss Whedon’s (too) short-lived science fiction TV series Firefly (from which I freely admit taking my first name in Second Life!), having such knowledge is not s prerequisite for any visit to, or appreciation of, this installation.

From the landing point, visitors are invited to walk along unrolled scrolls of xuan paper, the traditional material for Shuǐmò painting. On these are painted the Chinese symbols for Wo Men Dakai as they point the way to a pair of great red doors. When touched, these will slowly open (just give them time) to reveal the gallery space proper.

FionaFei: Shuǐmò

This is a spherical space that is the embodiment of shuǐmò; a Chinese water garden wherein all the major features are produced as ink wash images / pieces: the bridge, the lilies floating on the water, the rocks on which the art is displayed, the overhead rocks from which water falls in black-and-white lines to fill the pool of the water lily garden.

FionaFei: Shuǐmò

Shuǐmò might be described as an ancient Oriental form of what we in the west call impressionism; a form of art where – as noted above – the aim is to capture the essence, not imitate the physical.

So, for example, when painting an animal, the ink wash painter seeks to present the animal’s temperament, not is muscles, sinews and bone structure. And so it is with the gallery structures here: the form and essential essence of the bridge, the lilies and surrounding plants are provided, while the intrinsic details: complete railings on the bridge, the details veins on leaves and petals is not so relevant.

Within the space are two marvellous and contrasting selections of art.

The first is a trio of 3D pieces, again in a traditional Chinese style bordering on shuǐmò, but which use add splashes of colour – red and green – that, together with the animations – bring a sense of life and vitalities to the pieces in an completely enticing manner.

The second is a beautiful set of charcoal on newsprint studies of the human body. These fourteen drawing offer the strongest contrast to the shuǐmò theme, presenting as they do a very western approach to anatomically detailed art featuring the human body, male or female – but which, through the use of charcoal in varying concentrations, nevertheless contain within them an echo of shuǐmò.

“I see life and my journey as a painting. It can be forever an evolving piece,” Fiona notes of her art. “At any given time, you think you’ve reached the end of it, but you can always add to it, layer it, and change it. In a sense, each brush stroke is like a footprint.”

In recognition of this, and as a part of the interactive nature of the exhibit, visitors are invited to take a selection of footprints (shoes, bare feet and paws), wear them, and leave their own marks (albeit temporary) as they “follow their own path” through the installation. There are also some koi carp gifts available at the landing point as well.

FionaFei: Shuǐmò

A truly marvellous exhibition by a wonderfully talented artist – but don’t just take my word for it. Go and see for yourself. My thanks to Pieni for the pointer!

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