Fading Melu: unique expression in Second Life

Melusina Parkin: Fading Melu

Almost two years ago, Melusina Parkin presented her first collection of avatar-centric images.  Just Melusina was very much an experimental collection; as Melu noted herself at the time, portraiture and taking images of her avatar were entirely outside of her focus (no pun intended), her work to that point being largely directed towards landscapes, architecture and design.

However, Melu is a uniquely gifted artist; she has the ability to identify angle, eye line, subject and focus to present intriguing picture in which it is possible to define a single line of narrative or dialogue that naturally leads one to perceive a story far broader than the canvas, and which at the same time can draw us along subtle lines of thinking. In bringing these techniques and approach to portraiture, Melu presented series of self-studies which, while obviously set and posed, were nonetheless utterly natural in style and tone, and completely captivating in their potential to tell stories – as I wrote at the time.

Now, two years on, Melusina has returned to the subject of self studies with Fading Melu, a collection of images centred on her avatar and with the same rich potential for weaving stories – but which are very different in tone and approach; something she set out intentionally achieve, as she noted to me as we discussed the collection just ahead of its September 10th, 2022 opening.

Melusina Parkin: Fading Melu

Comprising some 23 pieces Fading Melu offers portraits which are linked by three major elements: they are mostly set against a dark background; they carry a sense of being over-exposed; they utilise a depth of field that ensures both subject and backdrop (where visible) are intentionally out-of-focus.

This latter point might sound counter-intuitive; sure, depth-of-field can be used in many ways – most obviously by “fading out” a backdrop / the “less important” and either focusing the eye on the foreground subject or the specific element within an image that caught the photographer’s eye; but to blur the entire image, subject and all? After all, and as I noted in writing about Just Melusina:

“Traditional” portraits tend to be exercises in power and / or ego, however subliminal. The subject and their pose is what counts, the clothes they wear, the backdrop to their sitting, etc., are all merely accoutrements to the central theme of look at ME. Even self-portraiture can follow a similar route [so] the end result tends to be the same: to push their audience into a single track of emotional response. 
Melusina Parkin: Fading Melu

Thus, in blurring each image within Fading Melu, Melusina is literally blurring how these portraits might be perceived, and so potentially making their narrative harder to define.

But in doing so, Fading Melu – to me – achieves two goals. First, because subject and background are both equally out-of-focus, we cannot so easily discern what may have driven the thinking behind each one’s composition and presentation. Thus interpreting them becomes much deeper and more personal, our reactions formed more by our own outlook and perception rather than any subtle hints in direction presented by the artist.

Second, Fading Melu might be said to offer a commentary on the human / avatar relationship. Our involvement in Second Life brings with it a certain investment in our avatars; for some, this can be superficial in terms of how our “real lives” permeate our avatar in terms of looks, behaviour, etc; for others the investment can run very deep. Either way, the fact remains that no matter how we try, we can never fully inhabit our avatars; there is always something of a divide between avatar and self. Thus, through their intentional out-of-focus finish, these are pieces that might be seen as offering a subtle underlining of this entire “me / not me” dichotomy.

Melusina Parkin: Fading Melu

Thus, within Fading Melu we have another multi-faceted collection of images capable of stirring the grey matter, and which serve as a superb expansion and enhancing of ideas first seen within 2020’s Just Melusina.

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Melusina’s Art Deco Fragments in Second Life

Melusina Parkin: Art Deco Fragments, April 2022

Art Deco – or simply Deco – is a style of visual arts, architecture and design that we most recognise as reflecting the period of the 1920-1930s. Drawing on the bold geometric forms of Cubism and the Vienna Secession, and the bright colours of Fauvism whilst also incorporating or stylising architecture, design and art from the Far and Near East and South America, Deco influenced the design of buildings, furniture, jewellery, fashion, cars, cinemas, trains, ocean liners and everyday household objects from radios to ashtrays, table lamps, clocks – and even vacuum cleaners. Even today it is still associated with luxury, glamour, exuberance, and faith in social and technological progress.

However, whilst most readily identified with the decades immediately prior to World War 2, Deco actually arose in the years leading up to the First World War. It took its name from the term arts décoratifs, originally coined in the mid-1870s so that the designers of furniture, textiles, and other decoration in France a form of official status. By 1901, the Société des Artistes Décorateurs (Society of Decorative Artists) had formed, and decorative artists were given the same rights of authorship as painters and sculptors.

In 1912 the Société proposed a major international exhibition of art and design should be hosted in Paris. However, such was the scale of the event that the outbreak of the Great War interrupted proceedings, so it was not until 1925 that the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts) was held. Running for seven months, the exposition 15,000 exhibitors from twenty different countries, and it was visited by sixteen million people – and the term Art Deco came into popular, recognised use around the world.

Melusina Parkin: Art Deco Fragments, April 2022

Art Deco has also exerted a strong influence within Second Life, where – in keeping with its physical world namesake – it has been applied to buildings, vehicles, furnishings, lighting, decorative items and so on. One exponent of Art Deco is Melusina Parkin, who offers a range of Deco items through her store, the upper floor of which forms her personal gallery space. As a photographer, Melu is highly regarded within SL – and with good reason; her images are among some of the most narratively rich one can hope to witness, as I’ve commented upon on numerous occasions in this blog.

With her latest exhibition Art Deco Fragments, which opened on April 15th, Melu combines her unique perspective for photography with her love of Art Deco to offer a series of marvellous images that allow the stylistic richness of Deco to speak fully and freely. Using her trademark tight focus and angle, she presents elements of Deco (and also, one might say, touches of Streamline Moderne, the art form that grew out of Deco in the 1930s) in a manner that concentrates the eye on specific elements of buildings (use of geometry, glass, metal, lighting, and so on), that give Deco architecture that richness of look and exuberance of design we cannot fail to find attractive as we come across them in both the physical world in Second Life.

Accompanying the exhibition is the first volume of a four-book series Melusina is producing on the subject of Art Deco. As with Fragments, this first volume Art Deco: Building Details focuses on the details found within Deco architecture. Future volumes will look at building exteriors, interiors and the finer details found within Deco interior styling.

Melusina Parkin: Art Deco Fragments, April 2022

Dedicated to the memory of Sonatta Morales, another Second Life resident and Deco / Retro designer, Art Deco Fragments is both another engaging and a personal exhibition from Melusina.

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Melu’s Shining Street in Second Life

Art Korner: Melusina Parkin – Shining Streets

Update, June 27th, 2022: Art Korner has Closed.

Melusina Parkin is a Second Life photographer whose work never fails to impress and attract. Her images are among some of the most unique to be found in SL; beautiful blendings of focus, colour, tone, subject, angle and minimalist presentation that present us with highly personal yet resonant photographs that bring her subjects to life in a way that never fails to attract.

Generally building her exhibitions around an idea or theme, Melu uses her camera not only to present that theme, but to explore it, observe it, and even question it – or cause us to question what we are witnessing, thanks to her ability to offer not just a a moment in time, but an actual phrase within a wider narrative, inviting our imaginations to define what that wider narrative might be.

Which does not mean Melu’s art cannot be enjoyed simply in and of itself; all of her images are so perfectly composed and composited, that they stand as individual pieces that can be appreciated purely for the artistry they contain, without the need to plumb deeper ideas or thematic elements.

Art Korner: Melusina Parkin – Shining Streets

With Shining Lights, now available at Frank Atisso’s Art Korner, Melu explores the world of the signs and lights that illuminate our city nights, as presented within in Second Life. In doing so – as she notes herself – she follows in the footsteps of Walker Evans and other;, photographers who frequently used signage, billboards and the like as a means of adding depth to their photographic documentation of American life (Evans perhaps pioneered the technique whilst employed by the  Farm Security Administration, documenting the impact of the Great Depression  in the 1930s, and often returned to the subject of signage and billboards through his career, particularly during his 22 years with Time Inc..

Within this collection, Melu again offers her unique approach to her work – that use of angle, focus, depth of field, etc., that allows her to present the Shining Lights of Second Life in a manner that – thanks to her use of darkness / night to offer contrast to the bright glow of lights whilst avoiding wider structural detail – is again very minimalist in tone and feel, even when the colours are rich and bright.

Even for those of us very familiar the the neon glow that flows through our cities, Melu offers us completely new ways of looking at the night signs of a city, inviting us to view them not so much as informational / promotional elements designed to invite or entice, but rather as expressions of art in their use of colour and – particularly with neon lights – flow. Within this is also the hint of narrative – what are the lives being lead behind the glowing windows of high apartment blocks or who might be working within the illuminated of high office buildings.

Art Korner: Melusina Parkin – Shining Streets

Some of the images – consciously or not –  touch on memes and tropes that too often get trotted out about SL – take Shining Streets 2, Shining Streets 3, and Shining Streets 8, for example. Others might be more emotive in the way they encourage memories of visits – real or virtual; or they simply give us pause to reflect on the art of the neon lighting itself, as noted above; an intricate form of lighting with its own form and flow.

There is something else within these images as well. We often talk about the beating heart of a city – the pulsing of life through the veins of its streets as we all come and go about our daily lives, travelling on foot, by car, by public transport, eating, talking, working, laughing, shouting through the hours of daylight. But at night, that pulse of life is changed; we still flow through the streets, we still meet and talk and dine and allow ourselves to be entertained, but only because we have the lifeblood of lights, be they neon, fluorescent, LEDs, OLEDS, incandescent, and so on – that holds back the night and like our ancient, primal times of pre-history, give us the sense of comfort and protection we still very much need.

Within Shining Streets, Melu beautifully reminds us of this: under the bright glow, the high fingers of illuminated windows and the invitations, the lights of our shining streets – always seen, if their artistry is rarely noticed – give us companionship and holds off the darkness that might otherwise leave those same streets not only darker, but also more threatening in their layered shadows.

Art Korner: Melusina Parkin – Shining Streets

All told, Shining Streets is another captivating exhibition from one of Second Life’s most expressive photo-artists, and one more than visiting.

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Ordinary People in Second Life

Vibes: Melusina Parkin – Ordinary People

Melusina Parkin is, as I’ve oft noted, one of the foremost photographer-artists in Second Life. Her work is always rich in content, style and interpretation, always offering the most unique views of our virtual world through composition, angle and focus, here exhibitions carefully crafted around a given theme. This is once again the case with her latest exhibition Ordinary People, which has just opened across all three exhibition halls at Vibes Gallery, curated by Eviana Robbiani, presenting three dozen images captured from across Second Life that brings the uniqueness of candid photography to the platform in both images and subjects. As such, this is, among all of Melusina’s unique exhibitions, one of the most captivating.

Candid photography is the technique of capturing an image of one or more persons without creating the appearance they have been specifically posed; whether or not the subject(s) in the photograph are aware of or consent to the image being captured is entirely secondary to the image itself (although if they are entirely unaware of the photograph having been taken, it might be referred to as “secret photography”). Candid images can be taken indoors or out, and in the latter regard share a strong overlap with street photography (which may not be focused on streets, despite its name, but can often feature people in natural situations within street settings).

Vibes: Melusina Parkin – Ordinary People

In truth, and in regards to secret and street photography, Ordinary People contains a mix of both within its overall theme of candid photography, offering images of people going about their lives, seemingly oblivious to the presence to the camera. However, these is more to be found here; for these are not images from the physical world, be have been captured entirely within Second Life, and their subjects are not avatars but what we might refer to as static NPCs – non-player characters.

Like avatars, they are made of pixels; like statues and mannequins, they don’t talk nor move. They could be seen as objects, as a part of décor, but at a closer look they are revealed to have expression, and their still poses show activity… 

– Melusina Parkin

NPCs occupy a unique place in Second Life. they are neither avatar nor statute, as Melusina notes; and while they are not “alive” in the manner in which we occupy our avatars, nor are the entirely devoid of life; again, as Melu points out, they carry facial expressions that given them a certain depth of life, and their presence within a region or setting, whilst frozen and in the manner of décor, actually brings life to the environment in which they are found.

Vibes: Melusina Parkin – Ordinary People

Thus, the images in this exhibition are very uniquely layered in their composition and presentation. Within two of the gallery halls, the images are presented in black-and-white, and in the third, they are offered in warm colours. The former carry within them the sensation of everyday life: people coming and going from work, out and about sight-seeing, and so on. The latter suggest calmer, warmer moments: taking the time to read the paper, a walk through a garden with a loved one, sitting on a bench and (perhaps) feeding the birds: their colour giving the impression of calm and easy-going conversation.

Then there is Melu’s always considered use of angle, focus and cropping, which here leads to a rich sense of life waiting to be found in many of the images – such as those featuring crowds crossing the street, or the suggestion of activities going on just outside of a frame in which we only see the legs or hands of the subjects, rather than their entire bodies. On top of this comes the care that clearly went into creating each image, from the selection (or creation) of the location through the selection of the characters and their placement, the lighting and the shot itself – all of which gives each of the pieces event more life.

Vibes: Melusina Parkin – Ordinary People

And this sense of life continues within the gallery halls themselves, where many of the characters featured in the pictures have returned to witness the results of Melu’s work. All of which makes for a truly engaging exhibition.

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Melu’s Kinds of Minimal in Second Life

Desideratum Gallery: Kinds of Minimal, Meulsina Parkin

May 16th 2021 saw Desideratum Gallery, operated by Péru (PERU Venom) and Algezares Magic, open its doors to its latest exhibition, featuring the work of one of my favourite artists (and a friend!) Melusina Parkin.

Melusina’s work is unique in its blending of detail, space and minimalism brought together in elegant, crafted pieces that offer a richness of narrative and emotion; pieces that offer insight into life through their framing and focus.

Desideratum Gallery: Kinds of Minimal, Meulsina Parkin

This is perfectly reflected in the perfectly-named Kinds of Minimal at Desideratum. Comprising 25 of Melu’s images, the exhibition presents visitors with a marvellously diverse collection of ideas and themes, all framed by Melu’s skill in using both open space and confined areas and / or angles to capture the attention.

These are pictures that sit as the covers of books, hinting at stories within their depths, together with comments on life and the living – although it is entirely up to us, the observers, to allow our imaginations to unwrap whatever each piece might have to say to us.

Desideratum Gallery: Kinds of Minimal, Meulsina Parkin

Take, for example, Minimal 8. Set within a room it offers a simple view of a hat and cloak, perhaps on a stand, with the hint of shadow beyond, perhaps cast by an open door, suggesting they have just been hung in place. but who might their owner be? And what is this room? A warm lounge to which they have returned after a walk outside? A place of work?  How might it be furnished? The questions are myriad, as are the stories they suggest – including whether or not the cloak and hat are indeed hanging on a stand, or whether there might yet be a figure still wearing them – and if so, who might it be?

Just along the wall is Minimal 6, a piece richly evocative for calling forth a variety of stories – and even songs (anyone for Springsteen’s 57 Channels And Nothing On?) and / or thoughts of everything from the desert mid-west of America, Roswell, trailer parks, and even nuclear testing.

Desideratum Gallery: Kinds of Minimal, Meulsina Parkin

Then upstairs is Minimal 20. Who might live on the top of the steps within the doorway  it features? And who is the figure on the top of post? A repairman who has scaled the footholds that climb it, or a local mischief-maker who has scaled the ladder we can also see in shadow form? Or is it a person at all, or just a trick of the light falling against a pole-topped transformer box or somesuch to cast a human-like shadow?

And that’s the secret to this exhibition: not only are the images exquisitely frame in their minimalist presentation, both in terms of image and in story, offering just enough for the imagination to take flight.

Desideratum Gallery: Kinds of Minimal, Meulsina Parkin

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Melusina’s Lockdown and Hope in Second Life

Melusina Parkin: Lockdown and Hope

Melusina Parkin opened her latest exhibition in Second Life Life on Thursday, January 14th at the Kondor Art Centre’s White Gallery.

Lockdown and Hope is a highly topical selection of art by Melu that takes as a part of its theme  – as the name implies – something that remains on a lot of people’s minds as we roll on into 2021: the situation around the continuing threat of the SARS-CoV-2 virus / COVID-19, and the continuing grind, for so many of us, of being in a lockdown situation that brings limited opportunities to get out, interact with others or do the things we really want to do.

Melusina Parkin: Hope (v) 4 and Hope (v) 5

However, rather than focus just on the negative, Lockdown and Hope also looks to the future and the time beyond the shadow of the virus, when we can all resume largely “normal” lives with their attendant freedoms and activities as the various vaccines spread amongst populations,  allowing us to, if not eradicate COVID-19 entirely, then at least bring it under control and diminish it’s threat.

On the surface, this is an exhibition of two halves: on the lower floor are 18 images that carry the title “Lockdown”, and very much focus on the impositions that have been placed on us as a result of the pandemic situation. Their dominant themes  intertwine feelings loneliness, listlessness, boredom, the need for escape, and / or being cut off from the world. These are presented in Melu’s captivating style of focusing down on just a portion of a scene. It’s a technique I’ve long admired, simply because captured in this way, her images offer the opening lines of a story, leaving our minds to tell the rest based on the title of the exhibition and the point of focus in the image.

Melusina Parkin: Lockdown (v) 3 and Lockdown (v) 4

Take Lockdown (v) 16, as an example (seen in the foreground at the top of this piece). With its focus on the handle of a door, and the shadow on a distant wall cast by the light falling through a window, we’re given an image that clearly speaks to being shut-in. The door, so long a means of keeping others out so we can enjoy our own company, now a barrier to our ability to go out, the door handle caught in sunlight now a forbidden thing, the patterned shadow of an unseen window the calling of a world currently beyond our reach.

On the upper floor is a further set of 18 images that express the idea of Hope: that those freedoms we are temporarily without will return; that we will once again be able travel, to share, to appreciate nature, to enjoy a vacation on some remote shore and or enjoy the simple pleasures of walks along the coast or country roads. In contrast to those on the lower floor, these are offered as more expansive images – open spaces, broad skies, distant horizons – all of which are emblematic of freedom and the ability to roam where we will, and partake of all that life has to offer.

Melusina Parkin: Hope (v) 13 and Hope (v) 14

But there is more here as well; within many of the images on the lower floor offer not only representations of the isolation of lockdown, but also a glimmer of hope for the future. Again, to take Lockdown (v) 16. Whilst standing as a symbol of the need for us to stay isolated from those beyond our immediate bubble (if indeed, we have a bubble), it also offers hope: the very fact that sunlight is falling on the door handle suggests that the day will come when we can again open our doors to others and invite them in without fear, or pass through the door into the world beyond that is promised in the shadow falling on the wall beyond the door; indeed, the very fact that the door stands ajar suggests that time might actually be not that far away.

Elsewhere, Lockdown (v) 9 offers us a view of again being cut off from the things we would normally take for granted – cars parked outside the window with their promise of taking us anywhere we might desire, but for now beyond our reach. However, it also reminds us that despite all the impositions of lockdown, the cars are still there, waiting, and one day we’ll be free to travel wherever we would. Meanwhile,

Melusina Parkin: Lockdown (v) 8 and Lockdown (v) 9

This double focus can also be found in several of the images upstairs. Take Hope (v) 13 and Hope (v) 14 for example. Both offer use the promise of freedoms to be joyed – whilst the presence of the fences, open as one is and as relatively unobtrusive as the other might be in allowing us to see the sky, reminds us that the freedoms we’ll soon resume are not quite here yet, and restraint of action is still required.

From gowns cast across furniture out of possible frustration at being unable to wear them in public to the promise that nights out will yet return (Lockdown (v) 10) to a look towards a time when walks along sandy shores or country roads will again be ours to enjoy, but which is not yet upon us – hence the empty chair and bench Hope (v) 12 and Hope (v) 15); and with tales of separation and togetherness bound within the simple framing of a teapot, cups, decorative hearts and the placement of two chairs (Lockdown (v) 4). All 36 images within Lockdown and Hope have a richness of narrative, marking this as another extraordinary and engaging exhibition from Melusina Parkin.

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