A little Skewered in Second Life

Kondor Art Centre: Etamae – Skewered, May 2023

Currently open at the Kondor Art Centre, curated by Hermes Kondor, is an exhibition of art by Eta (Etamae) entitled Skewered. It forms the second of two exhibitions at the centre I recently visited, the other being Bamboo Barnes’ Unusual, which I recently wrote about in An Unusual statement of freedom in Second Life.

Of the two, Eta’s was actually the first I visited, and as I toured both, I felt a thread of connection between them which I initially saw as a means of writing about both in a single article. However, given the idea there might be a connection between them was purely subjective, I decided against and joint-write up, and to instead focus on each in turn, starting with Unusual, as that had been open a few days longer than Skewered.

Kondor Art Centre: Etamae – Skewered, May 2023

The latter is presented within a sky gallery designed by Etamae’s SL partner, Jos; it is also best viewed through the use of a specific EEP setting – Bryn Oh’s Virginia Alone. The latter is one of over 200 former Windlight settings converted to EEP assets (through the hard work of Whirly Fizzle) which can be found in the Library section of your Inventory. To use it, just run an Inventory search for “Virginia”, and it should show up in your results (located in the folder Library → Environments → Skies → Bryn Oh). When located, right-click on it and select Apply Only to Myself. A copy of the asset is also contained in the introductory notes for the exhibition (available from the information giver close to the landing point), and can be copied from there to Inventory an applied to your avatar from there.

In addition, the installation makes use of the viewers Advanced Lighting Model (ALM) and looks its best with Shadows: Sun/Moon enabled (although this is not vital). Both of these can be set through Graphics → Preferences, if needs be.

The core of the installation comprises 10 free-standing mounts, each displaying two layered images on reverse sides of each mount. Abstract in nature, these pieces have about them the suggestion of human flesh / the body in a fluidic state, as if in motion across a darkened surface, subtle animations layered in to each adding an almost subliminal additional sense of motion. This is further added to by the installation space itself through the use of sine wave patterns along the walls and part of the floor and the play of projected lighting (hence the requirement for ALM being enabled).

Kondor Art Centre: Etamae – Skewered, May 2023

It is this sense of fluidity and gentle motion that – for me – suggested (tenuously, admittedly) the incidental connection with  Bamboo’s Unusual and, perhaps more appropriately – if equally tenuous – a link to Eta’s recent installation entitled Pariah – The Hidden Persona, displayed at the Hannington Arts Foundation (see: Art and our Hidden Personas in Second Life).

I say this because both Unusual and Pariah in part (or fully) focus on matters of identity and what lies within each of us, often hidden (or forced into hiding) by the demands of society / conforming to what is expected of us, and only given the opportunity to thrive / find release when we are alone or as we embark on a journey of self-discovery. Though highly abstract in form, the images within Skewered might be said to suggest the idea that life is a transformative and we are organisms in a constant state of flux and change, revealing (or discovering) new facets of ourselves – perhaps in defiance of the demands of “fitting in”, whilst also hiding others through the fluidity of expression.

Kondor Art Centre: Etamae – Skewered, May 2023

I’ve honestly no idea if this interpretation is anything close to Eta’s intent – if indeed she had any intend beyond getting us to engage the grey cells between the ears -, and it is not something I’ve discussed with her. But even if you don’t see Skewered as it occurred to me, there is no denying the manner in which this exhibition engages and draws the visitor back to it, each viewing of the pieces often revealing something new / causing additional cogitation. As such, I suggest you hop on over and take a look for yourself.

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An Unusual statement of freedom in Second Life

Kondor Arts Centre: Bamboo Barnes – Unusual, May 2023

There are two exhibitions I recently visited in turn at the Kondor Art Centre, curated by Hermes Kondor. Both are by artists I greatly admire, and there is what might be seen as a thread of connection between them. However, given that such a thread is by no means certain, I’ll be looking at them over the course of a couple of articles, tackling them in the reverse order to how I viewed them, but rather in chronological order in terms of when they opened.

The first is that of Unusual, the latest selection of art-in-reflection-of-thought by Bamboo Barnes, which opened on April 20th, 2023 within the Kondor Art Centre’s Main Gallery.

Bamboo is, as I’ve often noted in these pages, one of the most vibrant and evocative digital artists displaying her work in Second Life. And I mean this not just in terms of her use of colour or form or subject – but in the way she layers her work both physically and narratively, such that it offers a depth of emotion and sense of being, it draws the observer into it, dominating both the space the work occupies and to the eye and mind.

Kondor Arts Centre: Bamboo Barnes – Unusual, May 2023

A major theme within Bamboo’s art is that of identity; who we actually are in life in the face of an ever-changing world, when society, ego, id, work, friends, politics, and more continually impinge on us. Sometimes these pressure encourage us to flow and change and reach beyond who we are; at others they demand we conform; confine ourselves to ideas and dreams others see as being what (or all) we can achieve, thus preventing “disappointment”; or that we “stay in our lane” (always a pejorative outlook often born from a mistaken idea of self-privilege by those voicing it), and so on.

Unusual takes the latter point – that we must conform and limit ourselves without crossing the lines others have drawn for us – and asks what happens when we decided to step beyond them, much as Bamboo has done, particularly the mix of joy and wonder an excitement (and the sometimes chaotic results of doing so). These disparate elements can be seen – to my eyes, at least – in a variety of ways. Take, for example, the use of geometry in some images, with its suggestions of limits or boundaries.

Kondor Arts Centre: Bamboo Barnes – Unusual, May 2023

Elsewhere, the use of repetition within some images might be seen as a dichotomy in its statement; on the one hand, it might appear to say “we are free to express ourselves, but only so far; we should still conform”; hence the repeated poses, limited used of colour palette within them – as with Kagerou A, as an example. At the same time, the very title (which might be translated as “heat shimmer” (or “haze”) or “mirage”) suggests how we are all so much more than we appear to be, the mirrored nature of the piece adding to the notion that we have more than one side to our nature, despite those aforementioned constraints others would place on us.

Then there is the use of colour in some of the pieces; vibrant hues which seem to have a life of their own, echoes perhaps that sense of excitement, wonder and chaos as we step beyond the constraints to which we have been subjected. All of this perhaps comes together most of all within the 3D piece Little Girl Blue, with its constant movement and shifting images suggesting the true fluidity and changing nature of life.

Kondor Arts Centre: Bamboo Barnes – Unusual, May 2023

However, in this I’ve said enough with which to colour your thoughts; as such, I invite you to hop over to the Kondor Art Centre and view Unusual for yourself.

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Endless: images and quotes on life and feelings in Second Life

Kondor Art Centre: LikaCameo – Endless

Open at the main gallery space at the Kondor Art Centre through until March 10th, 2023, is Endless, an exhibition of original art by LikaCameo, and reflections on life, feelings, and the nature of time.

Split between the lower floor and the mezzanine level of the hall, this is in some ways an exhibition of two parts, woven together through the use of words. On the lower level is a total of 13 monolithic plaques (including the exhibition’s title piece). Each is semi-translucent with an image captured from within Second Life offered on one face in colour and the other in monochrome, each one offered with a quote.

Kondor Art Centre: LikaCameo – Endless

Twelve of these pieces represent the months of the year, each one bearing the colours / tones most associated with the month it represents. The quotes accompanying these images have been drawn from a number of sources ranging from Dr. Seuss (or possibly more correctly, Georges Duhamel, given Seuss appears to have used an English variation of words first used in print by Duhamel), Confucius, Vincent Van Gogh, Albert Einstein, David Viscott (although oft attributed to either Pablo Picasso or William Shakespeare), and more – I’ll let you research the for yourself. However, attribution here is less important than the content of each quote and what it has to say about life and how we live it.

Accompanying this collection is a series of white-on black drawings (also in places offered as glass-like etchings placed in front of some of the images). These drawings are reproductions of a further set of 12 images to be found on the upper level of the hall.

Kondor Art Centre: LikaCameo – Endless

The latter comprises 12 monolith plinths with a colour image on one side and a monochrome version on the other. Their positions match those of the plinths on the lower floor. Also like those, each image represents a month of the year, but rather than being accompanied by a quotes, they instead appear with an noun (primarily) or adjective as a means of defining a mood or feeling which may have an association with the month (e.g. January / Inception; December / Fate perhaps reflective of birth (the start of the year and our eventual demise (December)); however, I Ieave it to you to visit and decide.

Linking the two halves of these upper level at the head of the stairs  – and thus linking the twelve upper images with those on the lower floor – are the core lyrics to Circle of Life, perhaps one of the most poignant songs of life to be written for a Disney film.

Kondor Art Centre: LikaCameo – Endless

Evocative, layered and richly presented, Endless offers an engaging essay in images and words, marking it as a rewarding exhibition which should be witnessed for itself before it closes on March 10th (also, do note the blue sign regarding purchases of the pieces on the lower level of the gallery).

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Art, Ukraine & Xmas: two personal exhibitions in Second Life

Kondor Art Centre: Hermes Kondor – Christmas in Ukraine

December brings with it two evocative and personal exhibitions on the subjects of Christmas, the human condition and the world at large. They are presented by artists I greatly admire for their ability to give us pause for thought through their narrative whilst also offering us the opportunity to appreciate them for their pure artistic quality. Given this, and the fact that these exhibitions are being shown in the halls of the main gallery space at the Kondor Art Centre, I’ve opted to write about them in a joint article.

Within Christmas in Ukraine, Hermes Kondor once more offers a series of photo-like images generated via the Midjourney AI programme and the post-processed to provide a collection of digital prints that are rich in emotional content. The best way to describe it is through Hermes’ own words:

Christmas in Ukraine is a personal project created to pay a deep heartfelt tribute to the people of Ukraine who do not have the same right, as we do, to celebrate Christmas. 

– Hermes Kondor

Kondor Art Centre: Hermes Kondor – Christmas in Ukraine
Presented as a collection of 15 pieces in the manner of a photo-journalistic study, there are pieces not celebrating the resistance of the Ukrainian people against their invaders, but offered rather as stories of reunion, love and rejoining, as the men and women, wives and husbands, fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters, lovers and friends, may experience reunions of hope and peace across the their homeland, so rudely torn asunder throughout most of 2022.

Digital productions these may be, there is no denying the humanity they contain. They also stand as a reminder that, no matter what your political stripe, the use of organised military force through acts of war in suppression of others is not something to be celebrated but – in a so-called civilised age – preferably avoided. For while it may well by measured in terms of political (or religious) “success”, it is inevitably a story of human suffering.

Kondor Art Centre: Hermes Kondor – Christmas in Ukraine

Across the square, Scyllia Rhiadra presents God with Us: Essays on Christmas within the lower-floor setting of the 2-storey Main Gallery hall 1.

Utilising avatar-centric photographs posed and captured within Second Life, this is a richly layered collection that juxtaposes her images with quotes primarily from the Gospels concerning the birth of Christ (although some are taken more broadly from the Bible and other religious writers), to produce pieces that both reflect the Biblical presentation of Christ’s birth and offer modern commentary.

Kondor Art Centre: Scyllia Rhiadra – God with Us: Essays on Christmas

Within this structure, Scyllia also seeks to express a measure of her own attitude towards Christmas, encompassing childhood memories – presents under the tree, etc., – with her outlook on matters of faith and the Christmas message and the messages of hope, sacrifice and love it contains. These are aspects that Scyllia beautifully outlines within the artist’s notes available from the board just inside the gallery entrance. As such, and at the risk of putting words into Scyllia’s mouth, I’ll focus here on the broader message these images convey to me.

To me this broader message appears to be a commentary on the realities of the so-called “Christian spirit” as all too often espoused by the organised churches and branches of the Christian faith today and which – I would gamble – Christ himself would oppose were He here. This commentary appears throughout many of the pieces within this exhibition; perhaps most visibly The Innocents; however, I’ll focus my thinking on the neighbouring piece, No Room.

Kondor Art Centre: Scyllia Rhiadra – God with Us: Essays on Christmas

On the one hand, this is a modern-day representation of the plight faced by Joseph and his heavily pregnant wife: forced to make a long, uncomfortable trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem to fulfil political requirements, only to find themselves denied reasonable comfort and rest on their arrival. On the other, with its modern backdrop, it is a reminder that, in an age of mass human displacement, when Charity – the so-called greatest of the three Christian graces (the other being faith and hope – see 1 Corinthians 13:13) – is greatly needed the world over, it is all too often the loudest voices raised in opposition to the idea of any form of charity, large or small, being given, are those all too equally loudly raised in proclamations of their “Christian values”.

This layering of context and meaning can be found throughout God with Us: Essays on Christmas, encompassing elements such as the commercialisation of Christmas and the sheer selfishness that Christmas tends to bring out, and more. All of which marks this as an exhibition fully deserving of considered viewing.

Kondor Art Centre: Scyllia Rhiadra – God with Us: Essays on Christmas

Two superb exhibitions by two gifted artists, both Christmas in Ukraine, and God with Us: Essays on Christmas are appropriate and engaging exhibitions for the time of year, and I have no hesitation in recommending both.

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Monsters, Demons and Chess in Second Life

Kondor Art Centre: Monique Beeb – Monsters, Demons and Chess

Monique Beebe – Moni to her friends – is one of the most expressive digital artists I know in Second Life. I’ve had the good fortune to follow the growth of her photographic and digital art skills since her first exhibition, hosted at Nitroglobus Roof Gallery back in early 2017 (see: Hidden Faces in Second Life), and have always utterly enjoyed exploring her work as it enfolds the sensual, the sublime, the emotive and more – always with a story to tell, a question to ask, or a subtle means of engaging her audience’s minds.

Through the years since that first exhibition, Moni has continued to enthral, engage and challenge through evolving styles and approaches, as is the case with Monsters, Demons and Chess, which opened at the Kondor Art Centre, curated by Hermes Kondor, on November 8th, 2022.

Kondor Art Centre: Monique Beeb – Monsters, Demons and Chess

To be honest, this is an exhibition I would have embraced even without having an admiration of Moni’s work which has only grown over the last five years, because it encompasses a form of art that is gaining increasing traction among artists engaged in Second Life: that of hybrid art, and specifically the use of AI processes – in this case the Midjourney AI art generator. I’ve outlined this open-source software previously in these pages, but I’ll let Moni – who has been using it for around six months at the time of writing this article – describe it:

It is software used to generate realistic images, based on Artificial Intelligence. It is used with text we can write down, and it creates some indications; it is not a random image taken on Internet, which corresponds to your text, your words really create something with a deep learning algorithm, giving birth to a new image.
[It presented] A complete new experience for me! In the beginning I was doubtful about it, and I did read a lot of discussions around this subject. It ended becoming a curiosity in my mind, and turned out to be a complete addiction. It [has] allowed me to search more about AI, to discuss it with users and artists, in what way they manipulate it to come to something they wanted at first or appreciate something they did not know about previously.

– Monique Beeb

Kondor Art Centre: Monique Beeb – Monsters, Demons and Chess

Offered across the two floors of the striking gallery building are some of the fruits of Moni’s labours with Midjourney: a striking series of 25 images that allow us to see into Moni’s journey with the software tool, a journey involving chess, monsters and demons, as she explains in her liner notes accompanying the exhibition:

My first use of this software was rather random, I was mostly discovering it. I took simple shapes, balls, and it ended in chess pieces. I made many of them, arranging the background, the lights, the perspectives … When I tried to make faces, I often saw irregularities in the way they were created. Distortions on the eyes or lips, strange shapes. Then I worked more, trying to identify why it came that way. I was at some point left with a gallery of “monsters” on my computer. Their unusual odd curves made me like them … I eventually edited them on Photoshop, and make them: beautiful monsters and quiet demons!

Monique Beeb

I don’t propose to delve into the pieces in depth – each and every one of them speaks clearly and beautifully for itself. The lower floor of the gallery focuses on the works featuring chess, and like that game, there a marvellous strategy at work within them as Moni takes the nuances of MidJourney’s algorithm and combines it with her own innate ability to frame a single-frame story which born of the aforementioned sensuality, subtleness and expressiveness.

The latter is also present in the images around the upper level, where Moni’s “monsters” and “demons” reside.  These may not be sensual in the conventional sense like those on the gallery’s lower floor, but there is a richness of expression, beauty and look that makes them as equally attractive and as rich in their own narratives.

Kondor Art Centre: Monique Beeb – Monsters, Demons and Chess

As a part of this exhibition, Moni asks a question that is not uncommon with the subject of hybrid art: are images generated through, or collated and manipulated by, AI (and other) means really art? She also enquires whether such images have a place in Second Life. My personal response to both questions is an unequivocal “yes”; traditional artists manipulate brushes, paints and inject their own eye and imagination in their work in order to create a piece of art; similarly, Second Life (and digital) artists also manipulate images with tools like  PhotoShop and GIMP and paint with digital tools to produce an end result.

The fact that tools like Midjourney rely on descriptive text elements or the manipulation of algorithms or alterations to their baseline parameters does not lessen the fact it is the artist’s eye and imagination, often assisted by additional tools that allow for editing and / or compositing – just as with other digital art forms, as noted above – guiding the entire creative process.

Kondor Art Centre: Monique Beeb – Monsters, Demons and Chess

More than that – I’d defy anyone to visit Monsters, Demons and Chess and not see the images presented as a richly artistic expression.

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A touch of artistic self-promotion in Second Life

Exhibition poster

I’m taking time out from regular art reviews to engage in an irregular bit of self-promotion. Opening at the Kondor Art Garden, a part of the the Kondor Art Centre, on Thursday, October 27th, 2022, is an exhibition of art entitled Masters of Landscape Photography.

The exhibition features the work of two individuals, Vanessa Jane – an accomplished Second Life photographer-artist – and moi, and is itself one is a series of exhibitions utilising the title and featuring pairs of artists to take place at the Art Garden.

I’m frankly – and genuinely – flattered to be asked to exhibit alongside Vanessa, who is is an artist in the physical world (and holds and arts degree), and is thus able to bring the eye, training and sensibilities of her physical world artistry to Second Life. This is clearly and fully demonstrated in  the selection of pieces she presents within the Kondor Art Garden, all of which demonstrate she is fully deserving of the title afforded the exhibition. Through her work, she has been one of a number of talented individuals who has – albeit indirectly – helped me to improve my abilities with the SL camera, although I still have a lot to learn.

Kondor Art Garden: Vanessa Jane

The exhibition of our work opens at noon SLT today, Thursday October 27th, 2022, with music provided by the talented DJ Tulsa Sapphire, who will be spinning a mix from the 80s, together with taking requests from those who attend the opening. I very much hope that in reading this, you’ll opt to hop along and join us for the party, or that you’ll find the time in the course of the next month to pay the exhibit a visit.

My sincere thanks to Hermes Kondor, owner and curator of the Kondor Art Centre for both extending an invitation to exhibit at the Garden, and for encouraging me to do so.

Kondor Art Centre: c’est moi!

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