Currently open at the Itakos Project, curated by Akim Alonzo, is an exhibition entitled Soul Portraits. Featuring the work of ten individual photographers and one couple, it’s an exhibition that evokes – for me at least – mixed feelings.
To frame the exhibition, it is easiest to quote the introductory note card:
With this exhibition we celebrate 4 years of life of the Soul Portraits-Itakos Art Gallery group on the Flickr platform, with more than 5700 photos published by about 250 photographers registered in the group. A collective exposition that focuses on female portraits, and the selected artists all have a particular and personal eye on the emotions that a second life avatar can express. Feminine looks that touch, sometimes deep and inextricable, or tender, half-closed or hidden eyes, looks that wander beyond or that stare at you, questioning your soul.
The selected participating artists for the exhibition are: Mr. S, Sonic, Roberta Barineaux, Miuccia Klaar, Katia Lavecchia, Charlie Namiboo, Izabela Navarathna, Maloe Vansant, Lula Yue, and the pairing of CFaleny and Moki Yuitza, who between them have a total of 30 images on display, with the majority having three images apiece within the exhibition.
I will admit that in viewing the works, I tended to have something of a personal bias; three of the artists participating in Soul Portraits – Mr. S, Charlie Namiboo and Moloe Vansant – never cease to fascinate me with their work; they have the ability to frame entire stories within their photographs I find incredibly alluring. As so it is the case here, where I immediately gravitated towards Maloe’s four pieces as they formed pair bracketing the three from Mr. S at one end of the gallery’s Grey Pavilion.
Which is not to say narrative isn’t present in any of the other pieces on offer; far from it; there are stories or threads of stories to be found within many of the pieces in the exhibit; and those that don’t perhaps carry a full narrative do convey emotions and provoke a subjective response – which as the liner notes indicate, is the goal of the exhibition.
However, I do confess to finding the similarity in approach to many of the images – a close focus on head shots sans broader background – coupled with their close proximity to one another, for me tended to lessen the overall impact of individual pieces.
But this aside, Soul Portraits is a further engaging exhibition at Itakos Project.
It may seem a little unfair presenting two reviews of exhibitions at the same gallery space in such short order, but the fact is the Itakos Project, curated by Akim Alonzo, is currently hosting exhibitions by Awesome Fallen and Akim himself which I personally feel should not be missed. Having covered Awesome’s Simply Dreaming just a day ago (see Awesome Fallen at the Itakos Project in Second Life), with this piece, I’m diving into the what might be referred to as “an exhibition of two halves”, both of which feature collections of Akim’s own work.
You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.
Ansel Adam’s words have been the foundation of Akim’s approach to photography, and of the Itakos Project as a whole – and this is clearly demonstrated in both of the displays of art he has on display within the gallery at the time of our visits.
Split between the gallery’s entrance level and the floor above, and occupying the Black Pavilion area, Water is a collection of 12 images focused on the titular subject. However, these are not simply studies of seascapes, coasts or similar. Rather, they are examinations of our complex relationship with water. We are conceived into water, life came from water, we are water; it both defines us and stands as something of a metaphorical image of human life and relationships, all of which Akim sums up in his liner notes on the exhibition.
We are Water and we can not live without it. Sometimes we are like islands lost in the sea, or we float in lush archipelagos full of life. Water brings with it the meaning of survival, it is the immaterial substance of the flowing time, it is the depth of the human soul, of the vital emotions, of joy and fear, fury and tranquillity, of solitude and of love. Water moves me, I am Water.
Thus, through this mix of monochrome and soft colour images we are offered the most stunning of image poems, each of which tells something of that complex relationship. These are pieces of such depth and narrative, they cannot be taken at a single glance; time is required to fully absorb their beauty and hear their myriad whispers. But that said, even looked a briefly, each speaks volumes about Akim’s eye and mind as a photographer; there is little doubting each piece has been influenced by the full breadth and depth of his artistry and all that has influenced it.
The Matrix, the second “half” of Akim’s overall exhibition on display, is located on the floor above the entrance level, within the Orange Pavilion. Its found influence is perhaps more obvious – that of the Matrix movie franchise; however, like Water, it is actually quite complex in foundation and presentation, as Akim again indicates in his liner notes:
These photos are loosely based on the cult movie The Matrix, which I loved a lot. A metaphor for a world of people trapped in a simulated, virtual reality that has many aspects in common with the Second Life world. So I imagined, listening to the Matrix soundtrack, avatars and life scenes in second life revealed in their intrinsic background network … of which we avatars do not realise.
So it is that we are presented with nine images, again rich in metaphor and narrative. Framed by the ideas of the movies, as given form by the soundtracks, they also encompass an observer’s view of Second life coupled with a user’s innate understanding of the platform, with broader influences such as dream echoes and, stirred into the mix.
As with Water, these are pieces rich in story and interpretation. Within them lie questions of reality and identity, and the riddle of worlds within worlds – the Chinese Boxes to which Akim refers – which not only extend inwards through the images, but also outwards to encompass each of us as we view them.
In this, the reference to the Matrix is taken a stage further: not only are these images an interpretation of the films as layered within the virtual realm of Second Life – they actually reflect the central idea of the film: that were are all in fact unwittingly operating within a virtual realm. We are thus as much a part of each of these images, a further layer, if you will, that is observed from somewhere beyond us, as much as we are observers of each image.
However, there is something else here as well; a more innate statement on our relationship with Second Life itself. Within these pictures is a subtle reminder that, no matter how hard we might try to distance self from character within SL; no matter what the roles we play in-world, the backstories we build, the fact remains that facets of our own natures, our own identities, will inevitably be impinged on those characters; they are, inevitably, and by their very nature, a projection of self into the virtual. What’s more, their daily encounters and experiences within the virtual realm inevitably reflect and inform upon our physical selves. We have a genuinely visceral intertwining between the “real” and the “virtual”.
Together or individually, Water and The Matrix are two absorbing, evocative and engaging selections of art by a master photographer, artist and storyteller.
In 2017, Akim Alonzo launched the Itakos Project as a Linden Endowment for the Arts installation with the aim of presenting the work of SL photographers who, through their images, engage upon story-telling or presenting the ideas of stories, or who seek to present beauty and emotion through their study of the avatar and the worlds around it (see The Itakos Project in Second Life). However, I confess I lost track of the gallery after its 6-month LEA run came to an end. So an invitation to view a new exhibition at the gallery – now in its own location – offered the perfect reason to resume my acquaintance with it.
Simply Dreaming is a remarkable selection of pieces by Awesome Fallen, an SL artist whose work I’ve always been drawn to for her richness of narrative and opening of the imagination. With this exhibit, she presents twelve images on the subject of dreams and dreaming, located in the gallery’s entrance level Grey Pavilion. Surreal, marked by the use of heavy and dark colours and tones, these are perhaps images of the darker side of dreams and dreaming.
Each is – and I use this term deliberately, despite the dark tones and subject presented – a beautiful representation of an instance of a dream; the moment of recollection we can all have when awakening from a period of REM sleep, a single frame of our dreaming thought processes captured in the lens or the mind, or which is retained and held subconsciously and returns to us at the first moment of waking in the morning.
In this, the surrealist nature of the images is entirely fitting on at least two levels. The first is that dreams are always linear or logical; as the brain processes its way through our sleep, cataloguing, filing, recalling – or doing whatever really is going on in our dream state – we can become observers to those processes without really being aware of what if going on or why. Thus the mental images that we regard as dreams can be both vivid and ethereal; images lying one over the other, some clear and fresh or vibrant in their emotion (if not necessarily in their colour), others faded and faint. Within their mixing we oft encounter surreal views and disjointed images or flashes of thought that are sharded and broken or at least confused.
So it is with this images that were are presented with contrasts and juxtapositions: faces split; images that offer a clear view of a subject and a shadowed reflection in the darkness; figures of menace; faces lost; scenes that might be from the day’s activities but turned by the churn of mental processes into scenes that aren’t quite right; negative thoughts and feeling that have become personified. A tumult of emotions and thoughts given form to become surreal stories without clear narrative except the emotional response they create.
The surrealism approach is also fitting when one considers the origins of this form of art – that of developing painting techniques that allowed the unconscious to express itself. The surrealist movement embraced Freud’s work with free association, dream analysis, and the unconscious. Thus, by presenting these images in a surrealist form, Awesome not only maintains the movement’s idealism, she actually offers a visual treatise on the nature of the movement itself, literally taking the art back to its roots through the presentation of dreams as scenes.
There is more layering to be found within these images. Take for example the stanza-like line repeated in each of them: On the canvas of your soul, with the tips of my fingers, drawing smiles with the colour of my feelings… Not only does this provide a thread that draws all twelve images into a tapestry; it also suggests that through these images Awesome is offering us windows into her dreams – and into our own. In this latter regard, it is perhaps tempting to see these images as perhaps autobiographical, the capturing of personal dreams; this may be the intent, but equally all twelve pieces speak to our own psyches, offering a means for our subconscious to respond. Hence why, perhaps, on seeing these works we might all feel an odd sense of familiarity and recognition as we look upon them.
“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera,” American photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams wrote in The Camera. “You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” It’s a thought-provoking statement which encompasses the richness and depth of photography as an expression of art and artistry; suggestive that photographs can be part of a wider, deeper journey through life.
It is also a quote Akim Alonzo has chosen to encapsulate The Itakos Project, which is now open through until the end of 2017. A gallery complex of three buildings arranged around a courtyard, with the main building flanked by two pavilions and facing an events space across the courtyard. The name for the project has, like the quote from Adams, been carefully selected, echoing as it does the name Ithaca, the Greek island and legendary home of Odysseus. In doing so, it also evokes the idea of a journey – or, as Akim himself notes, a dream or the search for beauty and emotion.
The aim of the project is to present the work of SL photographers who, through their work, engage upon story-telling or presenting the ideas of stories, or who seek to present beauty and emotion through their study of the avatar and the worlds around it.
For the initial exhibition, Akim presents his own stories told through his images and work within the project’s Blue Pavilion, while in the Red Pavilion focuses on Maloe Vansant and Paola Mills under the joint title of The Itakos Collection. Within the main gallery structure can be found Subtle Scent ofSolitude, by Imani Nayar and The Dancing Serpent by Kate Bergdorf. Also to be found in the foyer area of the main building is a teleport doorway leading to a separate platform wherein can be found The Venal Muses, an exhibition by artist and videographer Tutsy Navarathna.
“Poets, painters, photographers, writers, film-makers and musicians were all inspired by the atmosphere of brothels and their venal muses,” Tutsy notes in introducing the exhibition. “Some, like Toulouse-Lautrec have even made it an essential part of their work. Painters like Degas, Manet, Derain, Munch, Ronault, Van Dongen, portray ladies of little virtue lounging on a sofa, on the rooms of their lupanar….”
Thus those taking the teleport to The Venal Muses find themselves in a softly lit setting with plush red walls, soft furnishings, all of which are redolent of the boudoir for a woman of easy virtue whilst also retaining the feel of a gallery. On the walls of the rooms and halls of this space hang striking images by Tutsy, rendered as painting and richly recalling the work of the artists he mentions. It’s an evocative space, not just because of the inherent depth within the images, but because the design of the space casts the visitor perhaps into the role of voyeur or – on a deeper level – patron, within some of the scenes presented.
All of the exhibitions on display offer much to those visiting, but with its richness of setting and uniqueness artistic expression, both of which reach directly into the subject matter, The Venal Muses is perhaps the most captivating of the current exhibitions currently on display at The Itakos Project. From the project’s notes, I understand feature artists at the gallery will change on a monthly basis while the upper floor of the main building will be devoted to displaying work by artists enrolled in the Soul Portraits – Itakos Art Gallery in Second Life Flickr group.