Five Years of Fractals in Second Life

Five Years of Fractals – Gem Preiz

Now open at the R&D Art Gallery complex is Five Years of Fractals, celebrating five years of Gem Preiz’s remarkable fractal art in Second Life.  Split over two floors of the exhibition space, the displayed art is divided between retrospectives of Gem’s past installations at the Linden Endowment for the Arts, and his exhibitions and installations displayed elsewhere in Second Life.

Normally displayed in a very large format, Gem’s work is always a masterpiece of fractal design and storytelling on a grand scale. As such, what is seen within Five Years is but the tip of the iceberg – a soupçon if you will – that should remind those familiar with Gem’s work with the power and majesty of his art and hopefully serve to whet the appetite of those new to his work such that they will want to see more.

Five Years of Fractals – Gem Preiz

I certainly fall into the former of these two groups. I’ve long been an admirer of Gem’s art and his virtuosity in both setting a mood and telling a story for almost as long as he has been exhibiting in Second Life, and a number of my personal favourites out of his installations are presented here, both directly and indirectly. The ground level section of the exhibition space presents a retrospective of, for want of a better category name, Gem’s “non-LEA” work. Some of this is presented through individual images, other is animated frames which page through scenes from those exhibitions. On this level we can again experience Polychronies, Rhapsody in Blue FractalsMythsTemples, Metropolis – complete with silhouettes of the figures which formed a part of it painted on the walls behind the images – and more.

As well as the art itself, there are books of his work visitors can peruse and also links to videos of some of this exhibitions – which I unhesitatingly recommend watching, bringing together as they do not only the art as it could be seen in situ whilst on display, but which also marry the images to the music Gem has offered with each installation, thus, through the videos as well as this exhibition, we can re-immerse ourselves in his art or gain greater familiarity with it and understand the inter-weaving of images and music.

Five Years of Fractals – Gem Preiz

Reached via teleport discs, the lower level of the exhibition space focuses on Gem’s LEA exhibitions, as noted. Among the pieces displayed, we can once again experience the visions of his Cathedral Dreamer, journey through his trilogy of stories, Vestiges and Wrecks, which formed his Heritage pairing, and No Frontiers, the unofficial sequel to Heritage, while images from the likes of The Anthropic Principle and No Frontiers cover sections of the walls behind some of the images. As with the upper level of the gallery, objects offer links to videos of some of the installations, while spaced around the gallery area are props and elements from others – such as the air car and the shuttle which Gem his used in his installations, allowing visitors to fly through them.

Fractal art is not uncommon in Second Life, but there is something very unique in Gem’s work. Perhaps it is the way in which it reflects both his interests – cosmology, nature, geology – and blends them with his background education in science and mathematics to present stunning visions of nature and future (or even ancient) scenes which are evocative, and both beautifully geometric and wonderfully fluid. Perhaps it is because, in composing his pieces, he presents not just individual pieces of art, but entire stories  we can explore and witness.

Five Years of Fractals – Gem Preiz

Whatever the reason, I very much welcome this opportunity to revisit – at least in part – many of his past extraordinary installations – and in doing so, to look forward to his next.

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The Anthropic Principle in Second Life

The Anthropic Principle – Gem Preiz

“I want to give the feeling that you’re an explorer, only having the tale of one man, written in a little book, to guide you,” Gem Preiz says of his latest installation The Anthropic Principle, which Caitlyn and I have the privilege of exploring ahead of the official opening on Thursday, April 20th. And truth be told, hat’s exactly the feeling he has created.

As one might expect given the focus of Gems work, fractal art plays a role within the installation,  and visitors do undertake a journey through various spaces to view them. But the familiar journey and the art itself are only a part of things. The Anthropic principle is a piece which binds together many parts: storytelling, a contemplation on religions, extra-solar life, the nature of human origins and philosophy, in a world which has a highly effective, TRON-like feel to it.

The Anthropic Principle – Gem Preiz

In particular, and as the title suggests, it draws upon the anthropic principle, a philosophical consideration that observations of the Universe must be compatible with the conscious and sapient life that observes it. In particular, the installation draws upon the weak anthropic principle as Brandon Carter, an Australian theoretical physicist, first employed the term in its contemporary form.

If this sounds terribly dry – don’t be fooled. Gem utilises the anthropic principle as a foundation upon which to build a story, a story visitors use as a guide to their travels through a series of cityscapes. Broad in scope, the story encompasses the recent discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system (which you can read about in this blog here, here and here), and well as touching upon one of his previous exhibitions, Wrecks (which you can read about here), to present an installation which is both fascinating to explore and which gets the grey matter working!

The Anthropic Principle – Gem Preiz

A journey starts with some simple instructions: on arrival, set your viewer to midnight, make sure you have Preferences > Graphics > Advanced lighting Model checked and particles turned up (you don’t need to set draw distance to 400m, the spaces are all relative enclosed, and half that distance works fine). Then, grab the story from one of the cubes on the floor (English and French versions available), enable the audio stream, have a read (recommended) and – when you’re ready – head for the Stonehenge-like structure where a teleport awaits.

This will carry you to the first destination – a city on one of the distant worlds of TRAPPIST-1. You’ll learn about the first journey to this world through the worlds of an original explorer, whose tale is related through the words of the story’s protagonist. In doing so, you’ll also find clues to the route you should take through this maze of buildings and subterranean vaults, a place built be a civilisation remarkably similar to our own, and with similar broad religious beliefs, prompting questions on origins.

The Anthropic Principle – Gem Preiz

The story guides visitors through these places, each rendered in that TRON-like style, bright lines of colour – orange, yellow, white, blue, red – although the way is not always obvious. Within these realms are galleries (sometime one, sometimes more than one – look for the deep blue lines on floors and in entrances to rooms) where hang Gem’s magnificent fractal art pieces, all of them an integral part of the unfolding story.

From the city through to Hell and thence back to the city and onwards to Paradise, visitors are gently exposed to Gem’s take on the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP), an interesting and thought-provoking idea that not only will a universe capable of supporting give rise to living beings capable of observing and reflecting upon it, but that those lifeforms, wherever they are spawned in our universe will pass along an almost identical evolutionary path, up to an including forms philosophies and religious ideals, architecture and more, which all stand as a reflection of our own civilisation through the centuries.

The Anthropic Principle – Gem Preiz

This really is a journey worth taking rather than describing. Not for the ideas that Gem gently puts forward, but because  whether or not you’re in the mood for philosophical conjuring, the various environments are really worth seeing, and the fractal art within them is, as ever, mind-blowing; each piece a story in and of itself.

And when you do visit, do make sure you have the accompanying sound stream playing.  The selections of Hans Zimmer’s music are remarkably apt, and Gem has clearly chosen the pieces with care: time and again both Caitlyn and I were struck by the perfect fit of music with our own rising expectations as we ascended ramps or descended stairs towards the waiting light of new rooms…

The Anthropic Principle – Gem Preiz

All told, a fascinating exhibition and another selection of stunning fractal art. When you have completed a visit and found your way back to the landing point, you can touch the poster there to visit No Frontiers, another of Gem’s installations (which you can also read about here), which is running concurrently with The Anthropic Principle through until the end of June.

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No Frontiers in Second Life

No Frontiers - Gem Preiz
No Frontiers – Gem Preiz

I’ve long been an admirer of Gem Preiz. His work in creating magnificent vistas using fractal art is simply astonishing. So it was a genuine pleasure to once again be offered an opportunity to previewing his latest installation, which opens on Thursday, January 12th, and runs through until the end of June.

No Frontiers is, in at least some ways, a sequel to his last two environments, Hertiage: Vestiges and Heritages: Wrecks (which you can respectively read about here and here). Within it, we are again asked to engage upon a journey through space and time. But where the Hertiage pieces were perhaps rooted in a dark vision of a future encompassing loss and departure, only brightening at the very end, No Frontiers presents something altogether more optimistic, a vision of a vast cosmos awaiting us, with opportunities unbounded, the potential for new encounters and a celebration of what we are, and what we may yet mature into.

No Frontiers - Gem Preiz
No Frontiers – Gem Preiz

As with is previous works, No Frontiers invites the visitor to travel through a series of vast halls, in which each of is placed a single, gigantic fractal image, each comprising around 18 individual elements. The halls are all interconnected by tubes, and are so vast, flying is the most practical way to see them. To assist in this, Gem provides two flying vehicles, a single-seater and a tandem two-seater (although visitors are welcome to free fly is they prefer). These are found in the “departure hall”, where instructions on how best to appreciate the installation can be found. I recommend the latter are read, and that in particular, particles are turned up and the music stream is enabled.

In addition to the massive, intricate and breath-taking fractal images, the halls include 3D elements designed by Gem which further enhance both the environment and add to the narrative suggested by each image. Some of these may be easily translatable, others may actually be more subtle, and require observation to pick up on their nuance.

No Frontiers - Gem Preiz
No Frontiers – Gem Preiz

For example, within one hall, two spirals of spheres slowly rotate, horizontal arms extending from the spheres. Each resembles a strand of DNA vertically split, and as they rotate, every so often they align to become the familiar double helix. But on either side of this joining, when they almost align, there are perhaps hints at other forms of DNA, suggesting life alien to ours, waiting to be discovered in our voyage out into the cosmos.

Suggestions of alien civilisations appear elsewhere as well. Take, as another example, the tiny spacecraft forming orderly lines of traffic heading towards a planet being orbited by a vast structure (the 2nd image in this article). Are these intergalactic commuters on their way to / from work? And what of the giant ringed sphere floating before a similar such object orbiting another world with one of Gem’s images? What tale of intelligences might they hold?

No Frontiers - Gem Preiz
No Frontiers – Gem Preiz

Meanwhile the connecting tubes themselves suggest two things. On the one hand, they are offered to us and connecting tunnels between environments, capped at either end by airlocks. On the other, they resemble wormholes we fly through, tunnels through the fabric of space and time, allowing us to travel the vast distances of the cosmos in mere seconds.

At the very end of the journey, visitors enter a vast space, surrounded by distant stars, and within which, as one rises through it, lay planets, spheres, the funnel of a black hole, the billion and billions of stars contained within an ever-spinning spiral galaxy. And, eventually, a landing platform / arrival point where they can safely lands and exit their craft.

No Frontiers - Gem Preiz
No Frontiers – Gem Preiz

Gem’s work is never less than awe-inspiring; and while he has used 3D elements in past installations no Frontiers offers something entirely new in how physical elements are images have been combined to add to our sense of voyage and immersion. Add to this the soundtrack he has provided, and No Frontiers makes for a stunning experience, visually, aurally and for the imagination. Not something to be missed. The official opening will be at 13:00 SLT on Thursday, January 12th and as noted, the installation will remain open until the end of June 2017.

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Gem Preiz: a retrospective in Second Life

Gem Preiz Retrospective: Complexity (2013)
Gem Preiz Retrospective: Complexity (2013)

Open now through June at LEA 26 is a retrospective of Gem Preiz’s entire catalogue of fractal art installations in Second Life. For anyone who is familiar with his work, they offer a visual treat in spades; while for those who have yet to encounter Gem’s stunning canvases of intricate, fractal-generated images, all of which combine technology with wonderfully organic forms, even when depicting artificial structures, there has never been a better opportunity to be immersed in his work.

The installations are reached via individual teleports, arranged in chronological, left-to-right order as the visitor looks at them, each with its original info card giver located on the wall above the teleport disc. This allows visitors to not only visit each of Gem’s past installation in turn, but also to witness his growing confidence in using fractal generators to not only create scenes, but to weave narratives through his work, offering insight into his own growth within his medium.

Gem Preiz Retrospective: Heaven and Hell (2012)
Gem Preiz Retrospective: Heaven and Hell (2012)

I have covered Gem’s work extensively in this blog (all of my reviews can be found by following this tag, or view the menu: Second Life > Reviews > Art Reviews > Art in SL > Gem Preiz), and so was personally delighted to see his two earliest installations, Heaven and Hell and Complexity are included in the retrospective, as I’ve not previously had the opportunity to view them.

Heaven and Hell, Gem’s first ever exhibition in Second Life, dates from 2012 and takes as its lead a quote from French artist Georges Braque, “Art is made to disturb, science reassures.”

“It seemed to me funny and interesting to evoke the concepts of hell and paradise, which are by definition irrational, by means of one of the most accomplished domains of the science: mathematics and fractals.” Gem says of the installation.  inviting people to cross the Styx and enter the devil’s domain before being reborn in paradise.

Gem Preiz Retrospective: Polychronies (2014)
Gem Preiz Retrospective: Polychronies (2014)

Complexity, first displayed in October 2013 at Timamoon Arts, is an intriguing voyage of creation and growth, physically and in terms of knowledge, reflected in a quote, “The detailed knowledge of the world helps us to better understand it, but we never understand it better than when we forget its details.”

It takes us through fifteen images, each an ever more complex outgrowth of the last, carrying us from a single fractal at the centre of a blue realm, to the most intricate and complex shapes which form their own universe, expanding ever outwards until at last we come to … what appears to be a single fractal floating in a blue realm. A perfect summation of the quote.

Gem Preiz Retrospective: Metropolis (2015)
Gem Preiz Retrospective: Metropolis (2015)

From Complexity, one can travel onwards through Cathedral Dreamer – my first exposure to Gem’s art,  to Polychronies, which still stands as one of my favourite installations by Gem,  and onwards through to Metropolis, with his most recent joint work: Heritage: Vestiges and Wrecks, also on display above the same entrance hall, thus providing a complete tour de force of Gem’s work to date.

Gem’s work is a wonderful mix of art and science, organised structure and organic growth. Within it complex themes are interwoven, which also doesn’t prevent him from having a little fun as well. But when taken as a whole, his work simply isn’t something to be missed, as this retrospective amply demonstrates.

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