Currently open at the Itakos Project Art Gallery, curated by Akim Alonzo, is Golden: A Journey into the Art of a Dreamer, featuring the work of Paola Mills.
Spread across the two levels of the gallery are some 29 exquisite avatar studies that incorporate a range of themes, and are linked by the fact that each one forms a single frame story.
From fantasy to what might be considered beauty shots and going by way of touches of sci-fi, horror, edges of transhumanism, and even a homage to a classic film (Hitchcock’s classic North by Northwest (see:Follow the Ageless Tide), these are all stunning pieces. Many carry a degree of subtext through title to further drive their story, although equally, a fair number are untitled – but they still speak clearly to those who study them.
This is because all of the pieces offered here, produced in both colour and monochrome, are marvellously crafted, rich in detail and composition. Within them are to be found stories centred on a range of subjects: identity, love, life, sexuality, emotions, loneliness, memory and more.
As well as the individual images mounted on the gallery walls, Akim has included an animated slide show system that pages through copies of all of Paola’s pieces in the exhibition. It’s an approach that will a new feature with exhibits at the gallery. Here, with its smooth, gentle animations and cross-fades, the slide show brings together the images in such a way that the transitions from one to the next presents a feeling of shifting dreams in keeping with the sub-title of the exbition. Further, several times during the show, the transition from one image to the next naturally suggests a broader story spanning the art than might be found when viewing in the individual images around the walls.
It is really hard to write about this exhibition, as the pieces are so rich in narrative that they really should be seen first-hand, rather then through the intervening eyes of and thoughts of another. Nor are they pieces to be simply seen; they deserve to be given the time to speak and tell their stories. As such, I strongly suggest paying a visit through the month the exhibition will be available.
Memories Of A ForeignReality is a new exhibition by Etamae and Imaginary Footprints (01Matthew10) that opened recently in the White Hall of Akim Alzono’s Itakos Project gallery. It’s a fascinating and complex exhibition in terms of concept and execution, although I admit to finding myself slightly at odds with its central tenet as defined by the artists.
Back in the 60`s and 70`s there was a need to raise this individualism as the holy grail. We evolved the individual to the highest goal, and now we see the result.
Millions of confused minds are searching for a hold. Entangled in political and economical strategies. The American dream, or the possibility of being a important person on the world wide web has given us a tenuous hold, a fragile rope that can easily be severed…
…The soul… a character in a context… equal to others… seem to be forgotten. but it is there… it suffers… and it tries to be seen.
– Artist’s statement, Memories Of A Foreign Reality
This description leads into a set of 13 monochrome pieces which I understand have been produced through a collaborative effort between the artists, passing images back and forth , allowing it to evolve in accordance with their individual perceptions. This in itself gives the pieces a unique reflection of the concept of individualism and the merging of ideas and thoughts can be positivity received.
These are pieces that offer multiple aspects. Some are almost abstracted in form and despite being monochrome, bring to mind ideas of the 60’s counter-culture and flower power, and carry suggestions of psychedelics and dream states, the rainbow swirls and bright colours represented by the use of grey and white (vis: Reflected Into The Ether, Hypnotic, 3 Faces of Eve). Others are a lot darker in imagery and tone, that are both chaotic and oft depicting scenes edged with violence.
However, taken as a whole, all 13 images convey the element of soul (inner self), struggling to be seen / heard. The monochrome nature of the pieces helps to further emphasise this idea of of an inner voice struggling to be heard, as it gives the images the look and feel of photographic negatives, yet to be developed (as in seen and heard).
As such, these are provocative, compelling images, make no mistake; and they do marry to the final part of the artists’ statement as quoted above. So why then my sense of being at odds with that central tenet?
It’s a minor point, but for me (admittedly through the lens of history books rather than personal recollection) while the 1960’s and 1970’s did see a dramatic shift in emphasis in our understanding of “individualism”, given it encompassed the likes of changing in ideas of equality and our understanding of the environment, together with a broadening of our technical and scientific understandings, this shift was of a broadly positive impact, collectively and individually. Thus, for me, it appears that the disconnect of “self” (/ soul) to which the artists’ refer, didn’t really commence with the rise of the Me Generation, and the coming of utterly partisan socio-political (/religious) drives that occurred at the same time.
But this is is subjective differing of viewpoints, one that might well encourage discussion and debate – but which ultimately doesn’t impact on one’s ability to appreciate Memories Of A Forgotten Reality, or from exploring its concepts and message.
October sees Akim Alonzo’s Itakos Project gallery host an exhibition of art that chimed a strong bell with me, thanks in part to my cosmological interest in astronomy, space exploration and science fiction. Located in the Black hall of the gallery, Space Oddity features a selection of 14 images that are predominantly monochrome in tone, with just touches of colour that give them an almost heartbeat-like splash of life.
It’s an exhibition that apparently grew out of a common interest both Caly and Akim share for the beauty of deep space, and also a mutual love of the music of David Bowie. Given Caly’s attraction to things like cybernetic enhancements and the use of prostheses in her avatar images, these interests combine to present a selection of 14 pieces that are framed by two stanzas from Bowie’s 1969 single, Space Oddity, released just five days ahead of the launch of Apollo 11 and which itself drew inspiration from the Kubrick / Clarke masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This is Major Tom to Ground Control I’m stepping through the door And I’m floating in the most peculiar way And the stars look very different today
– David Bowie, Space Oddity, 1969
These 14 images take us on a voyage, one that wonderfully encompasses several elements, all of which could be said to be reflective of thoughts of space – inner and outer – whilst touching on elements of identity and of human progression and the state of the world around us.
Intentional or not, the offered images appear to be split into three groups, each with its own story, each of which it turn goes beyond the subject our deep space.
On entering the hall and turning to the left, the far end features a series of avatar images set against backdrops that seem to offer up views of who we are and what we might become, indicated by the various cybernetic and machine elements evident in some, and also by the almost tribal-like markings, some red and some blue. They also frame both the reality of our place in the cosmos (star fields and black voids suggestive of endless space) and the conceit that once attempted to put us at the centre of the universe (a head at the centre of an orrery, the planets orbiting around it).
A further set show a hardsuited figure on a planetary surface, mechanical hands clutching a posey of daisies. These again perhaps offer a mix of themes. On the one hand, they could indicate the wonder of the universe that somewhere out there, one day, on another world, we may well encounter the beauty of life (represented by the daises), that we will cherish. But might they also tell other stories? One perhaps that not matter how far we progress in space, Earth – as represented by the daisies – will always call to us? Or another that stands as a warning that if we do not start nurturing the world around us, the only way we might come to see its open spaces is from within the confines of hardsuits, the promise of life a scarce an precious find within its barren fields?
For here am I sitting in my tin can Far above the world Planet Earth is blue And there’s nothing I can do
– David Bowie, Space Oddity, 1969
The final group of images take us to the original theme of the exhibition as discussed by Caly and Akim: that of floating in space. But here again the interpretation of the images is mixed.
On the one hand, the presence of the odd little fish, with their translucent scales revealing their skeletal forms suggest some of these images don’t represent outer space, but the inner space of an ocean. But is this again the ocean of another world, and the fish its strange inhabitants? Or is it a reminder that there is a vast “cosmos” around us on this very planet within the oceans that make up the majority of its surface, there is much that we have yet to discover – including the wonder of lifeforms of which we’ve remained ignorant for so long? It is, again for you to decide the narrative – although, as with the other images, selecting one story does not exclude any of these others.
Multi-layered, beautifully presented Space Oddity is a marvellously engaging exhibit that should be seen by all who appreciate art that stirs both the heart and the mind.
Now open on the Green Pavilion 1 platform at Akim Alonzo’s Itakos Gallery, is Bunkers are Us, by Kaiju Kohime. A 3D installation, it is a reflection on modern life, that in part draws on the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, but casts its net much wider.
All of us need shelter. It can be a house, a tent, a church. But the past few decades we have increasingly isolated ourselves from others in ever more fortified houses with increasing security and locks. Because of the the increasing amount of threats that are bestowed upon us, like wars, climate change, exponential population growth and fast spreading diseases we have become less confident in our fellow human beings. We have retreated behind concrete masks, concrete skins, concrete bunkers.
Our last shelter is our skin. We hide inside our skin. But not only are we fortifying our houses, are we not becoming bunkers ourselves as well?
– Kaiju Kohime
On the platform is a reflection of the above description: three large concrete homes with gun-like slits for windows, together with two smaller bunkers and a cathedral, its original form shown in rusting outline, the building itself having shrunk within the framework as physical representation of the idea of withdrawal away from the world.
The houses contain within them various elements: violins, concrete blocks that might be books, flowers, ladders that climb nowhere… They are perhaps the things we take with us into our solitude in lieu of genuine company, and perhaps – in the case of the ladders and the female form – reminders of the freedoms and companionships we lose in so shutting ourselves off from others.
Projected onto the walls of the building are the words of Proposition 1 from the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Austrian-British logic philosopher Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (if you do not see the words of the proposition, make sure you enable your viewer’s Advanced Lighting Model (ALM) via Preferences → Graphics). The only one of his works to be published in his lifetime, TLP, as it is often called, was an attempt to identify the relationship between language and reality and to define the limits of science, and is regarded as one of the more significant philosophical works of the twentieth century.
Within this installation, the use of Proposition 1 would appear to be a direct challenge to the manner in which we are all increasingly self-isolating, an attempt to remind us that back contracting inwards, we limit ourselves, that the world is all that is, is becoming ever more finite thanks to our willingness to withdraw and the facts that help us interpret, understand, and live within that world are similarly become more finite, thus limiting our world view even further.
It is symbolism like this, found throughout Bunkers Are Us, that makes this installation provocative, be it through consideration of how our slide towards isolationism – which started well before SARS-CoV-2 reared its head -, or our mistrust of those around us that causes us to convert our houses into castles and has reduced churches from places that welcomed everyone to closed fortresses where only the known few are welcome; or through the manner in which it brings us into contact with Wittgenstein; or simply through the wonder of the mobile sculptures within the smaller bunkers.
With further subtle commentary in the form of the two Animesh figures located at the teleport station (echoes of simplier times when the world was our home?), Bunkers are Us is an installation that pokes at the conscience and grey matter.
Now open in the White Hall of Itakos Gallery, curated by Akim Alonzo, is Phenomenal Women, 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.
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
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.