Phenomenal Women at Itakos in Second Life

Itakos Project: Phenomenal Women

Now open in the White Hall of Itakos Gallery, curated by Akim Alonzo, is Phenomenal Woman, a joint exhibition by Cecilia Nansen and Maloe Vansant. The focus of the exhibition is to “interpret a poem about women” using Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman.

Born Marguerite Annie Johnson in 1928, Maya (a nickname bestowed on her in childhood by her older brother, Bailey  Jr., being derived from “Mya sister”) Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences – which were far from easy. Born into a stormy relationship between her parents which ended when she was three, Maya and her brother were dispatched by her father to live with her paternal grandparents for four years before he abruptly sent the children back to their mother. Whilst there, Maya was raped by her mother’s boyfriend; he served just one day in prison for the assault, but after being released, was brutally murdered. This left Maya mute for five years, believing that by speaking out against him, she had caused his death, possibly at the hands of family members.

Itakos Project: Phenomenal Women – Maloe Vansant

From these harsh beginnings, Maya Angelou grew through multiple careers, including cast member of the opera Porgy and Bess, coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonisation of Africa, to become a celebrated actress, writer, director and leading member of the American civil rights movement, working with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

As a poet and writer, Maya often wrote on the themes of love, painful loss, music, discrimination and racism, and struggle. With Phenomenal Woman, written in 1978 when she was 50, she offers a piece describing the allure she has as a woman of middle-age, and what makes her irresistible to the opposite sex despite the fact that she does not fit into society’s definition of what makes a woman beautiful. It’s a subtle, engaging poem taking an unconventional subject and presenting it in an unconventional rhyming scheme and structure that both add to the poem’s allure just as there is much that is unconventional about her captivating appeal as a woman.

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size.

Phenomenal Women opening

Itakos Project: Phenomenal Women – Cecilia Nansen

With their images in Phenomenal Women, Cecilia and Maloe offer a selection of views of women that are fascinating on  a number of levels. Firstly, they have very different styles. Maloe’s work tends to embrace darker colours and tones and a tendency away from an overt use of artificial lighting; Cecilia, meanwhile, tends towards brighter colours and tones and a broader use of highlights.

At the same time, both compliment one another through their use of camera angle, framing and cropping. In this, both artists demonstrate enormous skill in framing a story or message through a single frame.  Whilst visible in all of the pieces presented in this exhibition, this “complimentary contrast” is perhaps most clearly visible in the pieces Phenomenal Two – 2 (Maloe) and Phenominal-in-leather  (Cecilia), located on the upper mezzanine floor of the gallery hall.

As studies of femininity and feminine appeal, the 19 images are rich in the motifs that tend to make women attractive in the eyes of men and other women: body shape, application of make-up, cast of expression, curve of breast, use of clothing. Again, this makes for a powerful series, some of which almost ooze sensuality, whilst other use more directed aspect of nudity to convey the message.

Itakos Project: Phenomenal Women – Maloe Vansant

How well one might feel they offer an interpretation of Phenomenal Woman is perhaps more open to question. While it might be more a commentary on the limiting means of how the female form is oft represented in SL more than any “failing” on the part of the artists, these are images that do present bodies and faces that sit almost in opposition to the opening lines of the poem, whilst it might be argued that the inclusion of a fair amount of semi-nudity in several of the pieces is in opposition to the more mysterious elements of appeal voiced by the poem, which stay away from the more obvious elements of female sensuality:

It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.

– Phenomenal Woman

(that said, nudity is not necessarily misplaced in the broader content of Maya Angelou’s life: one of her careers in her younger says was that of a sex worker.)

Itakos Project: Phenomenal Women – Cecilia Nansen

Thus, Phenomenal Woman is a complex exhibit, one almost of two individual parts: images and poem; yet both are connected through the complex intertwining of ideas, message and viewpoint.

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Senna’s Unions at the Itakos Project in Second Life

Itakos Project: Union – Sennaspirit Coronet

Currently open at Akim Alonzo’s Itakos Project is an exhibition of avatar studies by Sennaspirit Coronet that is far from what might be called the “usual” for such exhibitions, given it both presents its subjects and offers a glimpse into their lives through their own words.

Entitled Union, and carrying the strap line Portraits of friends, collaborators, and lovers, it features 18 portraits of couples within Second Life who are friends with Senna, together with notes by one or both of the featured avatars on the nature of their relationship that bring each of the studies to even greater life. In developing and defining the exhibit, Senna notes:

We all know those people who, while individuals, have close ties to another in world person, whether they be friends, collaborators, or lovers. This show celebrates the “Unions” we have in this virtual world. When you think of one, very often you naturally envision the other. The great people who gave their time to participate in this show are wonderful examples of these bonds we form and proves that SL is RL.

Itakos Project: Union – Sennaspirit Coronet

Unsurprisingly, given Senna’s involvement in the SL art scene, the majority of the dual portraits feature other artists and those closest to them, be it their SL partners, long-term collaborators, or closest friends. The portraits themselves are elegant in their simplicity of presentation, each one framing the featured couple such that it that offers a living, breathing look into their virtual selves.

These are studies that would form an engaging series in their own right. Beautifully posed, lit, edited and and finished, each offers a statement on its subjects as both a pairing and as individuals. However, it is through the added words – which are as noted, by one of both of the subjects in each study – that we are carried beyond the images and into the thoughts and lives of those who inhabit the avatars.

Itakos Project: Union – Sennaspirit Coronet

Some of these pieces are short, we both have a passion for creating and I am faster than Cica so she can’t get away. Others more lengthy; all reveal the nature of the relationship between the two subjects, and whether the relationship has tended to remain within the digital boundaries of Second Life, or directly moved to encompass the physical world as well.   All of which makes for an engaging exhibition.

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Art and quantum states in Second Life

Milena Carbone: Agape in Pace

Having opened at the Itakos Project, curated by Akim Alonzo, on Sunday, February 16th, Milena Carbone’s Agape in Pace is a fascinating exploration of art, love, hate, religion, politics  – all of which might be summed up as the human condition; together with reflections on quantum field theory – specifically the quantum vacuum state and the Casimir effect.

Spread over two floors of the gallery space, the exhibit presents a mix of images and text panels, which together present a layered, nuanced story.

Initially, the exhibition was inspired by the strangeness of the quantum vacuum: a vacuum that was the result of interactions of matter, antimatter and quantum fields that cancel each other out. The image of the Agape and Lilith twins represented the course of matter and antimatter that arises and rejoins almost simultaneously to disappear in the peace of emptiness.

As my work progressed, I drifted towards the two parallel stories: of Agape, oriented towards love and the search for peace; and of Lilith, oriented towards hatred of the other and the search for destruction. These are two postures towards the world. Not just the world of humans, but of all forms of life and the mystery of our existence. The two stories inevitably unite in death and forgiveness.

– Milena Carbone, describing Agape in Pace

Milena Carbone: Agape in Pace

The stories of Agape and Lilith are told on the lower floor of the exhibition, Agape to the left and Lilith to the right as you face the hall. Each can be followed individually, while each acts as a reflection of the other. Neither can actually exist without the other, yet should they ever meet, they will mutually annihilate one another violently and completely. But while they stay apart each might continue indefinitely, as symbolised by the mirror-like triptych at the end of the hall.

Further nuance is added through the examination quantum field theory. The popular idiom life doesn’t exist in a vacuum tells us that everything is in relation to it’s context; thus, neither Agape nor Lilith exist alone; they are intertwined – love and hate, light and dark – each giving life to the other; neither occupies a vacuum, and together, whilst never touching, they operate as an example of the Casimir Effect: their very existence as individuals means that between them, they generate a non-zero energy that effects the space (or others) around them.

Milena Carbone: Agape in Pace

On the upper level, the exhibition, Milena both continues her examination of the human condition whilst offering her own examination of Agape in Pace. In doing so, she offers insight into her creative process and her use of layering in her art as a part of her storytelling. Here as well, there are nuances and reflections on the nature of life and existence, religion, and an understanding of our place in the universe – indeed, the idea that life itself is a reflection of the physical forces at work throughout the cosmos.

Provocative in stimulating the grey matter, attractive in its art presentation, and ending on a pointed commentary on both the small-mindedness we are all too often witnessing in modern politics, and the reality of our tiny presence in a cosmos that small-mindedness presumes we own, Agape in Pace is a captivating exhibition.

Milena Carbone: Agape in Pace

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Overlapping Realities in Second Life

Itakos ProjectOverlapping Realities: On Mars You Only See What You Wanna See! by Jean Toussaint Tosi

I’ve long been a supporter of the use of Second Life as a medium for artists to present their physical world art to audiences they might otherwise not be able to meet. While there are other means for 2D artists in particular to be able to present their work – their own websites and photo-sharing platforms such as Flickr / Smug Mug, for example – Second Life presents something of a unique opportunity to allow an audience to experience more of a uniquely “personal” involvement when witnessing physical world art and photography in-world.

Hence why I was drawn to Overlapping Realities, at The Itakos Project, an exhibition featuring the work of Jean Toussaint Tosi, a Corsican born, Paris residing photo artist. As well as providing the mean to witness Tosi’s work, the exhibition marks the start of a new series of exhibitions at Itakos Project, one that adds a unique flavour to physical work art being shown through Second Life, as gallery founder and creator Akim Alonzo explains:

With Overlapping Realities the Itakos Art Gallery inaugurates a new experience and exhibition concept: to show works by artists who have no presence in the Second life virtual world.

The Itakos Project – Overlapping Realities: Vision #12 by Jean Toussaint Tosi

As Akim goes on to note, while Tosi is an artist with no virtual presence in Second Life, thus very much making his work as fitting the aim of this new series of exhibitions, his photography carries with it a cinematic look as feel that is both rich in presence and style, it can also be surrealistic in look and tone. In doing so, it can be said to both reflect the richness, depth, and sometime surreal nature in having a virtual life, and so becomes a fitting bridge between SL and the aims of the exhibitions it inaugurates.

Offered in monochrome, these prints are quite marvellous in scope, forming sweeping panoramas rich in story. Some have a dark or coy sense of humour about them, while the surrealism can clearly be evidenced in pieces like On Mars You Only See What You Wanna See! (seen at the top of this article). Nor is that all; in places, Tosi’s photography offers commentary on life (She’s Waiting on the lower floor of the gallery hall and shown below) and / or issues such as the climate (Waves, aka Vision #7).

Itakos Project – Overlapping Realities: She’s Waiting by Jean Toussaint Tosi

I am above all, a serious humorist photographer.
Just a dreamer who loves all kind of pictures!
I’m never satisfied but I always try to do the best I can.
Many thanks to all the dreamers who follow me!

– Jean Toussaint Tosi, describing his work

Drawing on elements of fashion, fantasy, science fiction and Hollywood, coloured – despite their monochrome nature of the pieces in this exhibit –  with Tosi’s vision and outlook, Overlapping Realities is a marvellous exhibition in its own right and serves as an excellent introduction to his art as a whole; each of the images here link directly to his Flickr stream for those wishing to see them in full and explore the rest of his work.

Itakos Project – Overlapping Realities: Vision #6, by Jean Toussaint Tosi

An official opening for Overlapping Realities will be held on Saturday, December 14th, 2019 starting at 13:30 SLT.

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Homage to Surrealism on Second Life

Itakos Project: Homage to Surealism – PatrickofIreland

Officially opening on Saturday November 30th, 2019 at the Itakos Project, is A Homage to Surrealism, a dual exhibition by the gallery’s owner and curator, Akim Alonzo and PatrickofIreland.

Hosted in the gallery’s Blue Pavilion, the exhibition is split across two levels, with Patrick’s work on the lower level, and Akim’s on the upper, linked by reproductions of classic surrealist works by the great Salvador Dalí and Renè Magritte.

As a cultural movement, Surrealism encompassed multiple aspects of the arts: literature, music, film, theatre, sculpture, and – perhaps most famously – art itself – whilst also touching on politics. It has its roots in the early 20th century, rising to become a major form of expression in the 1930s – the period when the likes of Dalí and Magritte joined it.

Itakos Project: Homage to Surealism – Akim Alonzo

The movement carried within it its own manifesto, and was created with the aim of resolving “the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality”. Surrealist work is most often marked by the use of juxtaposition and non-sequitur elements and ideas. Within the visual medium, this can result in the most startling, attractive and thought-provoking pieces of art, and this is very much the case with the pieces presented by PatrickofIreland and Akim.

The eleven pieces PatrickofIreland offers embrace originality, with some almost touching on hints of post-modernism. Each is richly expressive, strong in narrative and engaging to the eye. So much so, that picking out individual pieces would be unfair; all need to be seen and savoured for their depth and appearance.

Itakos Project: Homage to Surealism – PatrickofIreland

With his exhibition, Akim builds on his Matrix series, a selection of his art I’ve covered previously in these pages (see: Water and a Matrix: reflections on life by Akim Alonzo, April 2019). It is a series rich in story and interpretation within it lie questions of reality and identity, and the riddle of worlds within worlds, that allows them to stand as a collection in their own right.

Here, Akim’s work offers a unique perspective of both surrealism mixed with a strong sense of post-modernism and futurism – take the title of the series, for example, drawn as it is from the film series of the same name. This might appear to be a step away from the ideal of surrealism – until you consider that the Matrix franchise both presents a surreal world view and carries a manifesto (and warning) of its own concerning automaton and the superior reality offered by technology – just as surrealism carries its own manifesto drawing on the same themes – albeit one aimed at broadening horizons and opportunities. Thus, Akim’s works present both a visual representation of surrealism and an underlying thesis.

Itakos Project: Homage to Surealism – Akim Alonzo – note the Dalí reference

This is an engaging and provocative exhibition. It is already open to visitors, but those wishing to celebrate it with the artists might like to attend the official opening at 13:30 SLT on Saturday, November 30th, 2019, when the music will be provided by D.J. Ramel Markova.

Akim as also produced a video to introduce the exhibition, which I’ve taken the liberty of embedding below.

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The Stolen Child in Second Life

The Itakos Project, The Stolen Child – CybeleMoon

CybeleMoon (Hana Hoobinoo) is renowned for her fabulous mixed-media art. It carries within it a richness of tone, a mixing and balance of light and shade, a depth of symbolism and – most poignantly – a wonderful framing of narrative that makes any exhibition of her work in Second Life utterly unmissable.

All of this richness, depth and framing is on display in full force at The Itakos Project, curated by Akin Alonzo, where Cybele presents The Stolen Child, a series of 15 images presented within a glade-like setting caught in the enfolding arms of ancient ruins, which has been specially built for the exhibit by Akim. Reached via the teleport door in the main foyer of the gallery, this setting is not merely a backdrop for Cybele’s art, it is part of the overall theme of the exhibition, designed through its form and lighting to increase the feeling of immersion in in the story the exhibition presents.

The Itakos Project, The Stolen Child – CybeleMoon

This story is not offered as a linear tale; rather, there is a central strand of theme running through both setting and images. This strand leads us through Cybele’s images, linking them indirectly and without necessary order (although one is suggested, somewhat by the circular placement of the pieces) as they form windows, if you will, into the underlying proposition of the exhibition; a proposition a proposition Cybele explains thus:

Fairies are not benevolent creatures at all, attracted by the strength and vitality of mankind, they kidnap children and especially newborns, or seduce (for the purpose of kidnapping) beautiful girls and boys.

She continues by noting the myth of the fairy lies routed in a times past need to rationalise the death of a child, be it at birth or with a short span of months or years thereafter: that the fairies had stolen the child away from a otherwise sad destiny. Within this weaving of fable, there was also menace: children with autism, depression, or other mental health issues were at times considered to have lost their souls as a result of eating fairy food.

The Itakos Project, The Stolen Child – CybeleMoon

Thus through Cybele’s art were are presented with a series of poignant scene sit within the framework of the dome of a night’s sky – the time when fairies might be abroad more than during the hours of daylight – and within a symbolic ring of ancient walls and arches. The latter carries with it a echo of the fairy ring of mushrooms that act as doorways to the fairy realms, or the idea of the faery castle hidden from mortal eyes by the form of a hill, and into which abducted children might be taken should they not take care.

That central strand running through the images – and the exhibition as a whole – takes the form of The Stolen Child, written in 1886 by by William Butler Yeats, who was also captivated by the entire mythology of faeries in Irish mythology. Through the words of his poem, we witness the bewitching song of the faerie folk, calling to children, tempting them away…

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

The Itakos Project, The Stolen Child – CybeleMoon

Cybele takes lines and words contained within the poem as titles for each of her pieces. Thus, each image forms that window I mentioned above, a glimpse into a scene, one that is often double-edged. On the one hand, it may seem innocent and rich in joy or tranquillity: young folk running through a meadow; a view across rolling hills at twilight while sheep graze; the innocence of blowing into a dandelion. On the other, the titles of the pieces hint at the darker element of fae intent: the stealing away of children, of leaving mothers bereft, to deny the young that chance to see sheep grazing at twilight or know the comforts of home and hearth, their young lives having been swept away with the promise of dances by moonlight in places forbidden by their ever-anxious parents.

To further accompany the exhibition, Cybele also provides a short story, together with additional images, that can be found on her (always enchanting) website. Also presented with the story and images is an audio recording of the marvellous Loreena McKennitt, who put the words of The Stolen Child to music. I’ll leave you with a video of the song from one of Ms. McKennitt’s live performances, and the note that this is a truly engaging and evocative exhibition; rich in narrative and atmosphere, and absolutely not to be missed.

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  • The Itakos Project (ATL, rated Moderate) – remember to take the teleport door in the gallery’s foyer to reach the exhibition!