Four kilometres of art in Second Life

DC Spensley Retrospective

Despite receiving an e-mail invitation, I regret I was unable to attend the official opening of David “DC” Spensley’s towering – in a literal sense – art retrospective on September 22nd, 2018. However, as soon as time allowed, I did take the opportunity to jump over and immerse myself within it.

Known in-world as Dancoyote Antonelli, DC is one of the pioneers of visual arts in virtual worlds, working independently and in collaboration with other early pioneers to create 3D art that were considered ground-breaking at the time. In the United States, his work has been referenced in mainstream press, including The New York Times, Reuters, Step by Step Design, and Fibreculture Journal.

In 2006, DC also founded the world’s first virtual, aerial dance company – the ZEROG SkyDancers. On seeing the troupe perform, former Linden Lab alumni John “Pathfinder” Lester compared their work as genre-expanding as the Cirque Du Soleil. More recently, in 2014, DC and the ZEROG Skydancers again pushed the boundaries of performance art and dance, with Avant Garden. This mixed reality performance featured dancer Kathleen Moore performing on stage at the Little Boxes Theatre in San Francisco, a rear protection screen allowing her to interact with the troupe as they performed within Second Life.

Kathleen Moore performs on stage at the Little Boxes Theatre in San Francisco, August 2014, interacting with members of the ZEROG Skydancers performing in Second Life.

For this retrospective, DC presents many elements of his work (and notable elements by other artists) in which is likely to be the tallest structure yet built within Second Life: rising 4,000 metres from its water level base, the Tower of Light. The art is presented on a total of 40 levels extending from the tower, with a number being interactive either by touch (control panels and media boards) or physical avatar collision. Information plinths are placed on each level to deliver contextual notes and insights on each of the elements being presented, making this an informative, as well as visual installation.

Movement between the levels is achieved via a teleport HUD available from the landing point, or by sitting on a tour cushion,. The latter also allows for direct transfer to a desired level within the two (by means of a smooth vertical ascent rather than a TP), or can take riders on a “grand tour”, visiting each of the levels in turn. All three option are valid means of travel, delivering the visitor to each level alongside its associated information plinth, although I enjoyed the “grand tour” the most.

DC Spensley Retrospective

In a considered touch, the “tour cushions” will not simply poof should a visitor stand at any given level. Instead, they remain rezzed for long enough to get up, inspect the art, try any supplied controls or watching any associated video (if trying them / watching while seated proves inconvenient) before sitting once more in order to resume a journey to other levels.

Exploring the Tower of light is also both an exploration of DC’s thinking and his approach to art and of something of the history of visual arts in SL as a whole – although it should be noted this is not a chronological journey through DC’s art. Rather it is a thematic voyage, enfolding within it his concept of “hyperformalism”, exploring the nature of “native” art produced within a virtual world.

Rather, the historical aspect is born out of the majority of these pieces either being created before the advent of true mesh capabilities in Second Life, or which eschew the use of mesh in keeping with the aim of hyperformalism. Thus, these are primitive art, a term I use in reflection of their construction, not as a suggestion of any lack of sophistication they might otherwise contain; rather the reverse in fact: the nature of primitives actually requires these pieces to be sophisticated in design and scripting (and examples of all the scripts can be found in the relevant information note cards provided by DC).

DC Spensley Retrospective

It is also the information cards that offer insight into DC’s thinking and ideas around hyperformalism, with some also acting as a glimpse of part of the platform’s history. Of those who, like me, have been active in SL for the last decade, some of the names mentioned are liable to set memories tumbling: Qarl Fizz, Dekka Raymaker (who only returned to SL in August 2017 after a 6-year hiatus), and Nomasha Syaka to name but three (Nomasha’s sculpted horse was a decorative mainstay in many of my early SL homes, and is still to be found within the Library section of inventory).

When visiting, I would suggest allowing sufficient time to visit all 40 levels within the Tower, rather than breaking a tour up over two or more visits, as this offers the fullest potential to appreciate both the art and the concepts involved in DC’s work.  And as a purely subjective opinion, I would suggest using the viewer’s default midnight setting when travelling through the installation. This removes the distraction of the surrounding clouds, and more particularly adds a tangible depth to the colours within the Tower and the art it presents, giving a greater sense of presence whilst touring.

DC Spensley Retrospective

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More art at the Astral Dreams Project

Astral Dreams Project

The Astral Dreams Project has opened a further round of artist exhibitions. As I noted in July, when the installation first opened in July, the aim of the installation, itself a reproduction of the Piazza di Spagna in Rome, was to celebrate Italian arts and creativity in Second Life. However, for the latest exhibition, Oema Resident, the installation’s curator, has thrown her net a little wider.

Astral Dreams Project: Giovanna Cerise

Occupying the two 3D galleries (one of which occupies to location of the Keats-Shelley Memorial House) are home to exhibitions by JadeYu Fang and Giovanna Cerise. Both are striking artists, perhaps best known for thematic installations of their own.

For Astral Dreams, both offer pieces that appear to be influenced by some of those installations pieces. Giovanna, for example, includes a piece reminiscent of Clinamen Read here for more) and an element of From the Worlds to the World (read here for more). Meanwhile, JadeYu includes pieces that are reminiscent of her OpeRaAnxiEty (read here for more) among the selection of pieces for her exhibit.

Astral Dreams Project: CybeleMoon

Across the piazza, the twelve 2D art spaces present works by nabrej Aabye (physical world art); Dido Haas (avatar studies); Cullum Writer (physical world digital art); Kiana Jarman (avatar studies); CybeleMoon (Hana Hoobinoo) – mixed media / SL photography); Megan Prumier (avatar studies); Skip Staheli (avatar studies); Nekotto (avatar studies); Ambre (Ambre Singh) – avatar studies; Lam Erin (waterscapes); Naiike (avatar studies) and Ful Macchi (landscapes).

Of these artists, I confess to be drawn to the images and imagery of CybeleMoon – who creates the most fantastic stories through her art; the remarkable studies by Dido Haas, who has a way of capturing the very life of her avatar; the fabulous digital forms by Cullum Writer; and Lam Erin’s painting-like landscapes and waterscapes.

Astral Dreams Project: Cullum Writer

Which is not to say I don’t have an appreciation of the work by the other artists; truth be told, all over something eye-catching or unique. Together they all make an interesting exhibition, one that will be open through until at least the end of the month.

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Through the Gates of Oria in Second Life

Gates of Oria

Now open through until the end of the year is Tah’s (Tahiti Rae’s) latest full region installation, Gates of Oria.  Tahiti has a reputation of building immersive, often deeply expressive installations in Second Life. I first visited one of her installations, 4077 MASH, a homage to the television series and a commentary on war, in 2014 (read here for more), and then was totally captivated by her Love, Henry installation from 2015 (read here for more) and by EVRE in 2016 (read here), her evocative, complex examination of consciousness, connectedness and time.

Gates of Oria does, in many ways, share the same roots as both Love, Henry and EVRE. As with both of those installations, it is very much a journey; one that, like Love, Henry, is intended to stir the emotions, tripping them into play by engaging our imaginations. At the same time, and like EVRE, it takes us on a physical journey through numerous worlds, the very triggers for engaging our imaginations and teasing our emotions, which vary in their themes from light to dark, reflecting the fact that fantasies come in many shades.

Gates of Oria

They say it takes 300 years for an oak tree to grow; 300 years for it to live; And 300 years for it to die. Perhaps our fantasy love took 300 years to grow; An eternity to live; And never dies. Maybe .. it’s real.

– Tahiti Rae, Gates of Oria

This is an installation designed to visually, aurally and musically connect with visitors, as is explained at the landing point. Along with the viewer’s Advanced Lighting Model, enabling local sounds and the music stream for the installation is strongly recommended. I’d also suggest setting draw distance to around 300 metres, so the fullness of the larger spaces can be more easily seen without interruption. As the landing point also notes, proportions can be a little off in places, so when travelling a little playing with ALT-click camera movement and the use of the mouse wheel (or using the CTRL-8 / CTRL-9 / CTRL-0 combinations) can be required, particularly in the spaces where the backdrops appear intended to blend with the build.

Gates of Oria

Exploring the installation can be achieved in one of two ways: by teleporting to the ground and then travelling to the Gates themselves (additional telelport points within statues), and returning to the ground after each visit to make the next. Or, for those short on time, a note card listing the landmarks for all ten worlds can be used to hope directly from one to the next. The former of these approaches again echoes EVRE, except here there is no need to seek out the teleport points, they are found within groupings of statues. As such, and while the statues offer text to set the scene for the world to which that connect, there is no reason the note card LMs cannot be used to move between the different worlds once an initial visit to ground level has taken place.

Fantasy … can be such a risk; such a deep mystery; and profoundly the strongest certainty ever known.

– Tahiti Rae, Gates of Oria

I’m not going to run through all of the worlds; they are for you to experience for yourself. Suffice it to say all are very individual in tone and design, although some motifs can be found in more than one. Some openly demand exploration and can be extensive – such as Labrinto, which is perhaps the set piece of the installation; others are not quite as straightforward as might first appear to be the case, requiring equally considered exploration as there can be many details so easily missed in a quick walk / cam through. Deathless, for example, holds a certain Game of Thrones echo awaiting discovery. Still others are more open in nature, settings designed to allow the imagination to simply take flight – as with 4 Suns.

Gates of Oria

Within several of the worlds, art by CybeleMoon (Hanna Hoobinoo) can be found. Always fantastic in scope, these images give further flight to the imagination. Emotions are also stirred by the audio stream which, although occasionally interrupted by the briefest of adverts, offers music Tah states she has selected specifically for the installation.  Drawing heavily from the world of film (and where else, given the installation is about fantasy and imagination?), the music does add further depth to Gates of Oria – although I admit that I’m perhaps a little biased here in my response, as the stream features pieces by some of my own preferred composers  / arrangers, from the likes of M83, Taro Iwashiro, Bear McCreary, and the amazing Ramin Djawadi, through to several of the established greats of cinematic soundtracks: Morricone, Williams, Horner, Eidelman, Arnold, and more.

A series of events are planned throughout Gates of Oria’s run, details of which can be received by subscribing to Tah’s group at the landing point.

Gates of Oria

There are some minor niggles we encountered – falling through apparent solid objects in a couple of places, while the Eagles in Labrinto steadfastly refused to work for me (I simply right-clicked them for the guide description in the build floater); some of the guidance given was also a little confusing (“Exit far right corner” rather than “Exit to your right”). However, Gates of Oria is nevertheless evocative, imaginative, fully deserving of the time needed to explore and appreciate it.

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Ethereal Shapes in Second Life

Ethereal Shapes

Currently open through (I believe) until the end of October 2018, is Ethereal Shapes, an installation of form and light by Noke Yuitza. It comes with an intriguing introduction (touch “Info” on the board on arrival):

Within the forms of faces, animals, flowers… in groups of stars, ink, glitter… There are 4 scenes: Dreamer, Galaxy, Ballet, and Eyes. The concept that brings them together is the dreamer that looks at how stars dances in a galaxy ballet.

The landing point – a gazebo that appears to have been in part delicate spun from light – sits at the centre of a series of scenes brought to life by the shimmering play and movement of light. They stand in a circle against the darkness of night sky (note the windlight for the installation appears to have been set at parcel level, so if you are not using Firestorm, you may have to manually swap to Midnight in order to appreciate the setting properly).

Ethereal Shapes

The ring of scenes, linked by more shimmering tendrils of light that form intricate, ghostly flowers, are pointed t to by short walkways radiating out from the gazebo. Two of these routes may appear to have greater prominence than the others as they are marked by avenues of the gossamer, gently pulsating flowers. However, I’d venture to suggest it does not matter which of the five routes you opt to take in stepping off the gazebo; all of the scenes will captivate both eye and imagination.

These are elements designed to appeal to our imaginations, the dreamers within us, calling to us to look beyond the obvious and see what lies within each of them – the hidden faces, the hints of animal or creature outlines by curve and twist of leaf; the majesty of the cosmos around us, and the life it gives to us – and so much more. As such, words alone are insufficient to convey this installation; it needs to be experienced first-hand.

Ethereal Shapes

In this, having to manipulate the camera freely is of a huge advantage – and those who have a means to flycam via a joystick, game controller or Space Navigator style of mouse controller will be at a distinct advantage, as with some of the elements within the installation, a distant look isn’t always enough to fully grasp, rationally or via the imagination, the subtle beauty of things.

Take for example, the plants and the play of light across them.  It is as if they are in motion: dancers caught in an intricate ballet, or intangible creatures leaping into the air or caught on the wing. Then there are the very human figures also give to dance, their outlines broken into tiny constellations of softly pulsing light and flaring blooms of flowers. Zoom on these, and it is like zooming into the microcosm of the the heavens, a delicate reflection that we are in fact star-stuff.

Ethereal Shapes

Ethereal Shapes is an environment where the longer one spends within it, the more captivating it becomes. It is also a setting that is hosting a number of music events while open; so be sure to check the events board as well when visiting.

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Ethereal Shapes (LEA 2, rated Moderate)

Italian artistry in Second Life

Astral Dreams Project

Astral Dreams Project is an exhibition celebrating Italian arts and creativity in Second Life, and to which I was recently invited to seen by the exhibition’s creator, Oema Resident.

“I was asked by Jack Davies and Mina Arcana, (the holders of the famous Astral Dreams region) to work with them to create an artistic project that helps to promote work of Italian artists in Second Life,” Oema informed me ahead of my visit, and framing the exhibition for me.

Astral Dreams Project: Ciottolina Xue

Given Italy’s role in the development of art and artistic expression in all its forms down through the centuries – architecture, painting, sculpture, design, and so on – an exhibition celebrating the work of some of the many Italian artists in Second Life really is appropriate; and Oema, Mina and Jack have clearly endeavoured to fold as many aspects of artistic expression into this installation.

Take, for example, the setting itself. This is a reproduction of the Piazza di Spagna, Rome, one of the most famous squares in that city, dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church located at the top of the Spanish Steps, which descend to the Fontana della Barcaccia. Within the exhibition setting, these elements come from the collections of Italian SL designers Acqua Aria and Dogma9, who are also responsible for the buildings used to represent the rest of the piazza – although a little licence has been taken in places. The Palazzo Barbieri, for example, site to one side of the square. In the physical world it more correctly belongs within  Piazza Bra in Central Verona; but its presence here is very much in keeping with the theme of the project.

Astral Dreams Project: Paola Mills

The square itself presents two rows of boutique gallery spaces for 2D art displays, facing one another across the cobblestones, while the buildings either side of the Spanish Steps (one of which occupies to location of the Keats-Shelley Memorial House) are presented as galleries spaces for the sculptures of Ciottolina Xue and Mistero Hifeng.

During my visit, the 2D display spaces featured the work of Paola Mills, Lorys Lane, Renior Adder, Desy Falcone, Magda Schmidtzau, Clarisa Congrejo, CandieSheel, Degoya Galthie, Jarla Capalini and Oema herself. I’m not 100% certain if these artists will be rotated with others, or if they will remain on display throughout the life of the project. Oema did indicate to me there are events in the planning to introduce further artists; but this doesn’t necessary mean those currently on display might vanish; there is still room for more.

Astral Dreams Project: Mistero Hifeng

I say this because both the Palazzo Barbieri and the Trinità dei Monti were, at the time of my visit, home to reproductions of classical Italian paintings, so they might yet develop into further gallery spaces for SL artists. If nothing else, the “Coming Soon” sign that was displayed outside the Palazzo Barbieri indicates that this at least would be a further gallery space in the near future.

There is perhaps a slight preponderance of avatar studies among the 2D art currently presented. This is not surprising, given the popularity of this genre of SL photography. However, it does run the risk of overwhelming the eye, and is perhaps why, that among the 2D artists, I found myself repeatedly gravitating towards Renior Adder and Degoya Galthie, both of whom offer quite different displays to the rest (which also should be taken to mean I did not appreciate the art of the other artists around the piazza!).

Astral Dreams Project: Degoya Galthie

I don’t have dates for further openings in the project, but I will be keeping my eye on it to see who else might have their work exhibited – and I certainly recommend it as a worthwhile visit for those who enjoy SL art.

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Salt: an immersive arts degustation in Second Life

Salt

Salt is an immersive arts degustation. I’ve quite deliberately misappropriated the term ‘degustation’ [the careful, appreciative tasting of various foods, generally taken in good company] as this imparted itself as an ideal transition, because each segment-course is a unique work of its own volition.

Eliza Weirwight, discussing Salt

Salt is the title of the immersive installation by Eliza Weirwight, which formally opened over the weekend of June 16th and 17th, 2018. In terms of her non-commercial work, Eliza is perhaps best known for developing installations that reflect issues that concern her. This was certainly the case when I first encountered her work through her 2013 piece 35 Elephants, which you can read about in my article here.

This embodiment of matters that concern and / or have influenced Eliza are very much at the heart of Salt which, as Eliza notes in her introduction (quoted above), stands not as a single installation per se, but as a collection of scenes or elements or vignettes – call them what you will – which stand as pieces in and of themselves, but which all are drawn together via subtle threads of thought and outlook.

I will say from the top that this is not an easy installation to interpret. There is a deep layering of themes, whether they are in support of LGBTQ rights or statements speaking out against violence or inequality. In particular, there is a strong commentary on matter such as the objectification of women, gender-based violence, sexual predation, discrimination, hatred and on the state of “western” society as a whole which some may well find discomfiting. But so too is the installation richly emotive and evocative.

Salt

To define Salt, it is necessary to provide a little background information: while it is itself a new installation in and of itself, Salt has been a work gestating in thought and ideas for some time, as Eliza explains:

I was asked to produce a piece for One Billion Rising [Fourth Position]. It was eight little segments addressing things that were concerning to me … Some of the topics had such gravity, I refused to see them as disposable, and I had this idea bouncing around my head for a few years that I want to do this big thing, so I’ve woven a lot of that original work into Salt, because just about everything in this work matters to me. Some of it is my stories, and some of it is other people’s stories

Eliza Weirwight, discussing the origins of Salt

The “other people’s” stories Eliza references encompasses all those who have faced prejudice and / or hatred of any kind, be it based on gender, race, colour, sexual orientation or sexual predation. Within some of these issues she has drawn directly on the lives of others – notably Marilyn Monroe and  Phan Thi Kim Phuc; within others, she has drawn upon the work of artist of all genres – painters, writers, poets, musicians, to add flavour (depth) to the framing of the subjects represented by them. These influencers include – but are not limited to – David Bowie, Andy Warhol, M.C. Escher, Edgar Degas, William Blake, Maya Angelou, Pablo Neruda, and Norman Rockwell.

Salt: A take on Jane Elliott’s Blue Eyes–Brown Eyes. Sit on the chairs, and also note the comment on the wall from Jane Elliott in relation to the exhibit

The way these influencers are used is both intricate and subtle. For example, the very design of the structure housing Salt is mathematically precise in it use of shapes, whilst also offering something a challenge to the eye. Thus through it, we catch a glimpse of Eliza’s own appreciation for Escher’s work and the way in which it has captivated her thinking over the years. Elsewhere within the installation, Blake’s masterpiece The Tyger sits with a section related to violence, and thus its complex questioning on the nature of the creative force behind a creature as deadly as tiger becomes transformed into troubling questions on the subject of violence and those who would so willingly visit it upon others, becoming a further provocative motif within the section in which it sits.

Some of these references are delicately nuanced. The row of soup tins in Campbell’s Soup brand colours might initially appear to be “just” a homage to Andy Warhol. However the labels on these cans offer a statement on the ease with which bigotry and vitriol can be espoused on the basis of other people’s sexuality. Given Warhol’s own sexual orientation and attitudes prevalent in “respectable” society towards male homosexuality throughout most of his life, there is a deeper poignancy contained within this piece than might first be apparent.

Salt: Marilyn Monroe – objectification and self-harm

While the vignettes and scenes within Salt do, as noted, stand individually, so too can they complement each other, adding a further richness of narrative to taste and consider. Take, as another example, the exceptionally poignant section on Marilyn Monroe. Framed around an excerpt of six-page letter she wrote to the psychiatrist who would find her dead a year later, it cannot fail to evoke sympathy at the depth of personal suffering individuals can experience as we reflect of Monroe’s own life and suffering and the price that can be paid as a result of societal expectations.

But there is also a broader narrative here as well. Within the section, there are two images – Monroe examining a small sculpture of Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans by Edgar Degas – a man famous for his paintings of ballet dancers, and second of Monroe practising ballet. Both images offer a visual link back to the preceding section (in which a representation of Petite Danseuse de Quatorze can be found), although there is more at work thematically between the two sections.

As the quotes from likes of Vanity Fair and The Guardian accompanying the representation of Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans note, the manner in which Degas presented ballet dancers can often contain an almost misogynistic delight in portraying the pain and suffering inherent in their craft, somewhat objectifying them. Elsewhere in his art there can be a sense of male sexual predation. Thus, given that a lot of Monroe’s own suffering was a direct result of the objectification she faced, together sexual predation, the placing these two elements together within Salt intertwines the two, presenting visitors with a much more intense sense of narrative shared by both.

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