Masks. Whether physical or otherwise, have always been a part of humankind’s multi-faceted cultures, and also a part of life itself.
Every day we use masks of one form or another, whether we recognise this fact or not, as a means of projection and / or as a means to try to shape how others perceive us (for example: the manner in which we project ourselves at work, is not the same as how we present ourselves among family; who we are in courtship is not necessarily reflective of who we are going to be in marriage, and so on).
We use these masks so subconsciously, that the majority of times we’re not really aware of them. Even when we are alone, we will often adopt and outlook or frame of mind to mask the anxieties and fears that might otherwise plague us. However, there is another way we use masks: to hide that which we do not wish to see. Whether it is the homeless man asleep on a park bench or the images of war and strife on the television or those fears the come upon us in the night, we mask them out out by focusing our attention elsewhere in the park or in the room or in our thoughts, so we are no longed plagued by what we are seeing / thinking.
It is these latter uses of masks – the tuning out, the looking elsewhere, and on on – that Milena Carbone uses as the central theme to her latest exhibition, called simply Masks, and which is currently open within her personal gallery space at the Carbone Gallery.
I wanted to explore our relationship to the mask, an object that dates back to the beginnings of time mankind … to ask the question of the masks that we do not see as masks; what hides our sight, our anxieties, our fears, ours disgusts; what hides the real that we do not wish to see.
Offering a series of nine images (together with support texts and quote) in the minimalist style that Milena executes so well, Masks explores our subconscious use of masks and projection in a manner that is both stark and richly nuanced, each with layers of narrative to be peeled away.
For my part, I found myself drawn to The Tyranny of Truth, with its triple layering of ideas of courtship, the manner in which “truth” can be used as means to enforce authoritarianism (look at the stance of the figure in white), or an inconvenience to be denied, shied away from (the attitude of the masked figure), together with We’re Fictions and Burned Out.
These latter two in particular framed – and to me – the ideas that whether we are aware of it or not, we frame ourselves in so many masks we risk losing ourselves within fictional projections and that when all has been peeled away of the masks in which we shroud ourselves, nought by a shell of whom we might have been remains. In this, We’re Fictions and Burned Out brought to mind two further quotes which might also frame this exhibition along with the Banksy quote (itself a variation on Wilde’s more famous comment on masks) Milena uses with the exhibition, and those quotes are:
You wear a mask for so long, you forget who you were beneath it.
– Alan Moore
We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.
– André Berthiaume
Masks is a carefully understated exhibition that actually has a lot to say.
There are probably very few of us who have not been shocked by the events in Ukraine that started on February 24th, 2022. The global reaction against Russia’s invasion of the country under entirely false pretexts has in many ways been seismic, involving everyone from governments down to individuals.
Within Second Life, Milena Carbone (Mylena1992) – an artist renown for her use of art to offer political and religious commentary – found herself unable to remain silent on the matter, and has developed a three-part exhibition that is both a direct response to the war in Ukraine and also a wider commentary on global relationships which may well prick at the consciousness (intentionally or otherwise) it may appear to contain; certainly, I know that viewing all three parts caused me to reflect more widely on such things.
The first element of the exhibition is located in Milena’s gallery space within her Carbon Art Studio. It is entitled Paroxysm – a term that might be used to define what should be the reaction of any caring, humanitarian individual to the news of any massive military incursion by one nation state into a neighbour, and the reaction of the people of that neighbour on seeing their worse fears realised as tanks and rocket launchers roll across their border. It charts Milena’s initial reaction to the news, and the reality of the fact that, almost one hundred years after the last rise of unbridled authoritarianism was allowed to go unchecked only to plunge Europe – and eventually the world – into the cataclysm of war, we have once again allowed to bring us perilously close to the brink once more.
In six images produced in a day, Milena offers up both hard truths and also a measure of hope. Those truths include the fact that war has always been a tool of political power, allowing the victor to bend history to their interpretation of matters; all that has really changed is the destructive power laying at the fingertips of those who would wield the machinery of war to suit their ends; the hope is expressed through identifying people’s willingness to fight for their (and our) freedoms, and that a more politically aware globalist movement of younger generations are increasingly able to see through the masks of so-called “great men” who seek only their own aggrandisement and adulation by others (and thus hopefully curtail their rise to power).
The Second element of the exhibition, Fury, is located in the open air setting of Calypso Bay. Again the title might be said to have a dual meaning, referencing they increasingly brutal response of the Russian military in directly and intentionally targeting civilians as their campaign fails to proceed as planned (thus underscoring the truism that no order of battle survives contact with an opponent), and the almost world-wide anger in response to the bombing, shelling and missile attacks direct at the Ukraine civilian populace.
Here, the setting plays as much an important role within Milena’s triptych as the art itself. The café setting, the quaint little shops, the blue skies and beach speak to the idyll of life as we expect it – the ability to wander, shop, share, enjoy, without fear of disruption or hurt – indeed, without the shadow of fear itself. These are all things the people of Ukraine are now denied; no-one is safe, not even the innocent new-born. In this, Fury is presented as a personal appeal to the people of Russia not to stand for what is being done under the false claim of being “for them” – as indeed, many are doing in cities throughout Russia, and at no little risk to themselves.
The concluding part of the trilogy is Apocalypse, located in Dido’s Space within Dido Haas’ Nitroglobus Roof Gallery. It is a personal look at what yet come out of the unfolding situation. To achieve this, Milena uses six images to depict one of more outcomes (“children”), each accompanied by Milena prose to give each form and meaning – although the images themselves are deeply evocative.
As noted towards the top of this article, these three exhibitions not only voice a reaction to the 2022 situation in Ukraine, they also prick the conscience. The Ukraine war has, to a degree, been on-going since 2013/14, although this escalation is markedly above anything previously seen, and has rightly led to the aforementioned global outrage towards Russia and support for Ukraine. But one has to ask, when it comes to the response of Europe, where was it in 2008 when Russia launched an offensive against Georgia?
Back then our response was far more muted, with nations such as Germany and France unwilling to even apportion blame. Could it be that Georgia’s geographic location (as much in western Asia as Eastern Europe, with the “buffer” of the Black Sea between it and Western Europe) helped to make that conflict appear less relevant? Would America have been so vocal in it response, but for the manner in which another would-be authoritarian dictator put it front-and-centre in recent US politics? Or is it that we are finally awakening (once more) to the realisation that not only is war unjustifiable, but the Chamberlain approach to dictators rarely yields positive results, and a stand must be made?
And therein lies the power of art: to challenge; to cause us to question, to re-evaluate, to ask hard questions of ourselves. All of this, as well as a highly personal – one might say visceral – statement makes Paroxysm, Fury, Apocalypse well worth a visit.
Note that all three elements of the exhibition have teleport board to the other two.
Since entering Second Life in 2019, Milena Carbone (Mylena1992) has demonstrated her talent as both an artist and as an agent provocateur in the way she has utilised her art to encourage us to think about matters of import to us all: the environment, climate change, the preservation of wildlife, the nature of our relationship with God and the controversial role religion has played in both that relationship and on the course of our history as a growing civilisation, and the greed that has also played that central role in the unfolding of our history. At the same time, Milena’s work serves as all art should: as pieces that stand as images to be individually appreciated in their own right for the beauty and / or simplicity of appearance and statement.
With the recent overhaul of her gallery space to form The Carbone Studio – a reflection of Milena’s expressiveness in art and dance – Milena opened her latest exhibition Light and Life, a selection of portraits that follow the lines of her more recent works in that that are engagingly minimalist in form whilst offering a depth of meaning and story.
Life and light are – as the introductory notes for the exhibit state – deeply intertwined. Both are born out of darkness, both express all that we have and are – and from whence we came. Between them, they offer us a chance too be renewed each and every day as we awake from darkness as the light of day calls us, and the life of wakefulness returns.
Within the nine images Milena presents in this exhibition is a glorious minimalism that personifies a part of the relationship of light and life: images that express the richness of life as captured through the message of photons travelling through space to be captured by the eye and lens to capture a moment; a memory. At the same time they also speak more broadly to the themes noted above the birth of life from darkness, its growth through the nurturing warmth of light from simple organisms lost in a drop of water through to the complex creatures we are today, able to take joy in each new day, to share, create, to give and receive -even if darkness still sits within some of the poorer more selfish decisions we make as individuals and as a civilisation.
Whether you wish to enjoy Milena’s images and portraits of her avatar and life as she expresses it through it or whether you which to ponder the deeper questions and ideas Milena postulates in her introduction to the exhibit, Light and Life is again, a rich collection of images with an engaging, provocative core theme. It is reached via the main landing point for the Carbone Studio; while there, and before jumping to the gallery space, I also urge you to read Milena’s statement about herself and her art.
No Exit is the title of the latest 2D art exhibition hosted by Dido Haas at her Nitroglobus Roof Gallery. It features the images and words of Milena Carbone, and is very much something of an “accidental” exhibition which still nevertheless offers food for thought – something Milena is prone to do with her art.
I’ll let Dido explain why No Exit might be considered an “accidental” exhibit:
[Milena] initially intended to work on a totally different project. However, this was cancelled due to her RL work as well as to her lack of motivation. So the images shown at the walls of the gallery this month were not created for an exhibition. Instead they were taken from the stream of images which Milena regularly produces for herself.
I made the selection and pointed out to Milena that there were always two characters in each image, .which made Milena think of the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No exit” (“Huis clos” in French). And voila the title for this exhibition was born.
– Dido Haas, explaining the origins of No Exit
The connection between Satre and images is important to understand, because – as if so often the case with Milena’s work, there is a philosophical theme running through No Exit that invites consideration and, by nature of the framing of the play’s own central theme.
The title of the play actual comes from the French legal term “in camera”, denoting a private discussion behind closed doors; within it, three deceased people find themselves trapped in a room with no exit, doomed to face eternity with only one another’s company. Thus they are faced with Satre’s truth that “hell is other people” (L’enfer, c’est les autres), itself a reflection of his fascination with existentialism (perhaps most notably through L’Être et le néant), and of the internal struggle that arises when forced to view oneself from both the point of view (that is solely from how they see you in a particular moment) and the perspective (i.e. how they perceive you and your actions within the broader context of their own cultural and societal influences and personal biases / experiences) of another consciousness.
However, before delving into these deeper themes, I would emphasise that these are images that can be seen and appreciated entirely in their own right and free from any more layer thinking. In fact, I would say they should be seen in this manner before being contextualised within the broader scope of theme and Satre’s world of ontological thinking; there is a beautiful minimalism to every piece that renders it fully as moment of narrative, encouraging us to freely construct a story around it, or to simply appreciate its form, tone, framing and expression.
When Milena’s theme and Satre’s ideas are taken into consideration, these are images that taken on an entirely new depth. Take, for example, XXI Century. On the surface, a simple image of two women with different cultural heritages posing for a photograph – be they friends or relatives, it makes no difference. But, add the title of the piece into the equation, together with the fact one of the women is wearing an al-amira, and a more complex narrative emerges, that invokes thoughts of the manner in which during the first 21 years of the 21 century has continued to see the impact of “otherism” – the ostracising of those whose dress, system of belief and place of origin mark them as “different” and thus not to be trusted or allowed. It’s a negative attitude that has gripped many to the point of being without any exit; yet, were they to step outside of the strictures of peer / societal pressure, then the reality that we are all of one, single unique race would become that much harder to ignore.
Elsewhere, the questioning of self, and other others see is more direct (e.g. within Difference, Asymmetry, and The Invitation (the latter’s use of Black and white being particularly effective in bringing for the idea of differencing outlooks / perspectives that challenge our own). Whilst 7 Billion Bullets most clearly questions our entire attitude towards the preciousness of an individual life.
This image also leans itself to the central cube that sits between the two arms of the exhibition hall. Apparently open from the outside, in stepping in, it becomes a closed room with no exit – a physical representation of the room from Huis clos. Here we are forced to confront the fact that we are all essentially locked in rooms of self – everything we see or experience generates our world-view, making us all, in essence selfish; the imprint of those around us, through their thoughts and actions, rightly or wrongly, shaping our own views and outlooks, thus trapping us in our own hell of thought and convictions.
The words here carry both a startling reality of creating our own hell and – conversely – of allowing ourselves to become trapped in thinking that encourages us to retain that hell. The former is most succinctly stated through the commentary that global ammunition production means that each year, sufficient bullets are produced to wipe out all of humanity. Whether or not one is rooted in “the right to bear arms”, this is a grotesque factoid.; how much better might it be if the money poured into arms and ammunition were to be devoted to green sources of energy, improved food production, medicine and education?
Conversely, the fact that we are trapped within this one world is not an argument against attempting to expand elsewhere. For one thing, we are a naturally expansive race – and right now, we have nowhere else to go – a point of increasing concern given Earth’s finite resources. More to the point, space has more than anything else, given us the means to truly understand the fragility of this world and to actually start to take constructive (if limited) action to curtail damaging activities. For 60+ years, we have simply failed to more properly respond to what as been revealed, trapped as we have become in a materialistic, selfish need to have with no apparent exit – and pointing the finger of blame to a billionaire or two isn’t going to change (much less reverse) that; we – you, me, Milena, et al, are equally as guilty.
Milena is, I understand, absent from Second Life due to those physical world commitments mentioned above, and is liable to remain so for a while. As such, whether or not you are drawn to the philosophical / ontological expressions found with No Exit, or if you would simply like to again experience the attractiveness of her art for its own sake, this is an exhibition well worth witnessing.
The Scale of Love is the title of Milena Carbone’s latest solo exhibition, which is now open at The Carbone Gallery in Second Life. It is something of a refresh of her 2020 exhibition, The Nine Levels of Love, presented at Noir’Wen City, but which I failed to blog about at the time – so I hope this makes up for that oversight.
The central theme of the exhibition is a visual exploration of the various types of love as espoused by the ancient Greeks; but as with the majority of Milena’s work, the canvas she paints within this compact installation is – quite literally – cosmic in scale, and carries with it some religious undertones that indirectly link the piece back to one of Milena’s central themes: the nature of “god”.
To address the art first – as this can be appreciated quite independently of any more complex cogitations if one so wishes. This is set within a marble-walled structure stand nine large format images, each representing a state of love as defined by the ancient Greeks.
Each image interprets the selected ideal of love through a simple statement utilising posed avatars pictured against white backdrops and then processed to be presented in soft, neutral tones and / or monochrome (with a single notable exception). The result is a single frame encapsulation of their subject that has a depth of structure about it that is captivating.
Take, for example, Harmonia, with its two figures joined in form by dance both in the foreground and through their shadows (which in turn have amore nuanced meaning, to which I’ll return in a moment). It perfectly and simply encapsulates the idea of harmonious love – two souls united, able to move as one, sharing outlook and motion, a concord of expression.
The exception to the general approach of soft tones and monochrome – each of which offers a subtle statement on both the positives of love: gentleness, lightness of mood and touch, and the negatives: broodiness, possessiveness – is that of Eros, which Milena defines simple as “flesh love”, but which might be more correctly seen as primal lust, and the form of love the ancient Greeks saw as the most base and frightening, involving as it does a loss of control. To represent this, Milena utilises a sea of red washing around her two lovers, symbolising the heat of passion (and which may perhaps also be looked upon as having more subtle undertones).
The broader aspects of the installation revolve around the origins of love, both as a human concept and as a part of the cosmos as a whole.
The latter involves considerations on the universe as a whole, how everything we can see, everything we know, everything we are, is the result of particles coming together under the force of gravity, the one seemingly immutable and universal force of attraction. Thus, given that love – in all its forms, including its expression through our various religions – is an immutable part of human life, might it not be a continuance of that universal theme of mutual attraction?
Bound with this is a consideration of Aristophanes‘ speech from Plato’s symposium on the origins of human love. Intended as a humorous morality tale, the speech as referenced here is used to draw a further line through the idea of human love being part of the natural state of attraction found in the universe as a whole. At the same time, Milena perhaps offers a subtle reference to the speech through the positioning of the figures in Hormonia, I commented on earlier; note how they appear to be conjoined to form a double-headed, eight-limbed creature as imagined by Aristophanes whilst considering the nature of love.
One might niggle over Milena’s selection of types of love – where is Ludus or Pragma, for example? When considering their definitions, are not her Agape and Charis one in the same, both effectively referencing unconditional love? But the fact is, there are multiple ways to look upon the ancient Greek concepts of love; as such, it’s likely not advised to get too hung up on definitions or individual references.
What is worthy of appreciation is the art itself, even if you don’t follow the broader themes contained within it, because The Scale of Love is beautifully executed. The art is exquisite, while the setting offers a Greco-religious theme suggestive of both a temple and a church that are in keeping with both the focus of the exhibition and its broader themes: the marble and Doric columns echoing the former, the central hall and end rooms echoing the nave and crossing of a church. And in the latter regard, make sure you look down the “nave” from one end towards Agape at the other, and the marvellous way it has been framed (and consider the subtext within that framing).
As always with Milena’s Work, The Scale of Love engages the eye and mind on multiple levels, the art and setting alone making it visually appealing, the themes and ideas contained within them making it cognitively rich.
Update February 2nd: part 2 of American Shot is now open at Nitroglobus.
Opening today at Nitroglobus Roof Gallery, curated by Dido Haas, is the first element in a two-part exhibition entitled American Shot, by Milena Carbone.
Both Nitroglobus and Milena have reputations for presenting and creating thought-provoking exhibitions that challenge perceptions and thoughts; and in this exhibition, we have one of the most expansive and provocative installations I’ve seen within Second Life. For her canvas, Milena essentially takes the entirety of human history, using it to outline the rise of civilisation – notably western civilisation – and the corruptions that have inevitably followed, with a focus on the American Empire.
To say American Shot is richly layered would be an understatement; truth be told it is a complex piece that, for some at least, might make for uncomfortable viewing, given it is exceptionally timely in its presentation, indirectly touching, as it does, on events that have recently unfolded in the United States.
This layering starts with the title of the installation itself. The “American shot” (or plan américain), was a term from French film criticism. It refers to a medium-long (“knee”) film shot used in the early years of cinematography to record a group of characters engaged in complex dialogue, with all of them visible to the camera, thus negating the need for a more complex (and time-consuming at the time) multiple shots that might otherwise be required were close-ups of individuals to be used. It particularly became a staple of early American western movies of the 1930s and 40s, thus earning it the name.
Within the exhibition, the term refers not so much to the framing of the images, but to the idea that, in the history of world shaping civilisations, it is currently the “American Empire” that holds sway – is calling the shots -, although it now appears to stand at a junction in its own history, the paths before it leading either to further greatness for the benefit of humankind, the other leading to collapse and decay.
Further layering comes in the form of presentation: for the first part of the exhibition, fourteen out of 28 images are presented; these will be swapped at around the mid-point of the exhibition’s run for the remaining fourteen. Each of these images offers something of a reflection on humanity and / or the American experience, the commentary within them both clear and subtle.
The “clear” commentary among the first fourteen images is perhaps best exemplified in Million Dollar Priest, an underscoring of the way in which the Christian religion has been subverted over the decades in America through the rise of the “tele-evangelists” with their messages of godliness being invariably tied to the idea of their own personal aggrandizement through the acquisition of wealth through the concept of prosperity theology.
The inclusion of this image also brings into focus one of the themes that can be found throughout Milena’s art: questioning the nature of God and religion. Nor is it the only one of her themes. Also to be found here are thoughts on the collapse of humanity, the roles of science and spirituality, our perception of fiction, reality and consciousness. Some of the pieces also are relevant to the current US situation in their commentaries on the nature of authoritarianism and the role of violence in shaping civilisation – again, notably, but not exclusively, Army of Bataclan.
I’ve selected the latter image both to highlight the the point made above, and because it encompasses another element of the pieces here: a neo-classical linking of modern civilisation with the great empires of the past. These are again both somewhat clear in places, and elsewhere subtle, with some also layered in broader references. The mirage of democracy, for example, reminds us that the democratic ideal has been the goal of western civilisation – but is something that can easily be subverted (as seen with the Rome Empire and, again, the events in the United States of the first week of January 2021).
Much more awaits discovery within this installation, including a a book that helps chart the way through the images and Milena’s ideas in American Shot. Rather than forming a simple expositional piece, however, the book actually forms an integral part of the installation, offering categories for the images that help with their context as well as a story that brings together Milena’s ideas and focus for the installation. It can be found for sale both at the landing point for the gallery and at the café, and I recommend visitors consider purchasing it.
There really is a lot to unpack within this exhibition, as such a visit is highly recommended – as is a return when the second group of images in unveiled (all 28 are contained with the accompanying book), something I’ll be doing later in the month. As such, I’ll finish her by pointing out the official opening takes place on Monday, January 11th at 12:00 noon SLT.