Camouflage and questions in Second Life

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Traci Ultsch – Camouflage

November 9th, 2020 sees the opening of the latest exhibition at Nitroglobus Roof Gallery, curated by Dido Haas, and it is a double first for her. The invited artist is Traci (Traci Ultsch), who is an artist in both the physical and virtual worlds, and she is exhibiting  her physical world art in Second Life for the first time – marking this exhibition as the first time Dido has displayed work from outside of Second Life at Nitroglobus.

Camouflage is another provocative selection of art that pokes strongly at the grey matter sitting between one’s ears. Thirteen pieces (plus the titular artwork) are offered, and an initial glance at them might lead one to characterise them as “pop art” – but this would be misleading; these are pieces that are, both literally and figuratively, layered.

The literal layering lies within the technique used to create the pieces on display, which Traci describes thus:

My method of working usually revolves around the collecting of objects (Magazine cuttings, dirt, stones, tape) which are then laid out on glass layers, painted on, layer upon layer until the idea starts to fall apart. At which time, it’s photographed or scanned at the moment of collapse and gone. The moment is cleaned away and all that’s left a captured image of something now gone.

– Traci, discussing her technique

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Traci Ultsch – Camouflage

The figurative element is rooted in the title of the piece, and Traci’s description for the exhibition, which she gives as:

Camouflage is the use of any combination of materials, colouration, or illumination for concealment, either by making animals or objects hard to see, or by disguising them as something else
The idea for this exhibition came from the (not recent) realization that, for quite some time, my life and work has been driven in some way by the desire to lose myself. In both RL and SL I’ve spent many years trying to find a level of ‘exposure’ I’m comfortable with. A lot of these feelings and experiences have fed into my RL artwork and my ‘Second Life’ where I’m beginning to wonder who is really obscuring who.

– Traci, describing Camouflage

Thus, layered within Camouflage are questions of identity (including self-identification), reflection, exploration of creativity as it relates to her ability to express herself to the world(s) at large. These literally are nuanced, layered pieces, that invite the eye and mind to examine closely from title through imagery, a mental peeling of the layers as we visually bring together the various aspects of each piece.

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Traci Ultsch – Camouflage

This idea of layering goes a lot deeper however than purely a reflection of the artist’s own introspection and examination. For anyone who has invested any part of their “self” in their avatar, these are pieces – and questions – with which they will identify: who we are, how our physical world dealings can inform our virtual identity and – equally importantly – how our virtual dealings, outlook and expression can come to inform our physical world life and outlook.

That said, Camouflage offers a broader theme as well. As Traci notes, art is a moment caught in time. Whether a photograph (posed our otherwise), a painting of the countryside or a building, or the Pollock-like splashing of paint on a canvas or whatever other technique is used – all art is, at the moment of capture / completion, an expression of a point in time that can never be truly reproduced again; copied, yes, but not reproduced as a unique statement.

This is particularly true of Traci’s work, which as she notes, reaches the point of near-destruction prior to being scanned, and then destroyed. As such, these pieces are not only expressions of identity and the questions that surround it, they are equally also unique captures of the artist’s sense of self and her governing emotions at a singular point in time, offering us a series of unique insights into her thoughts and feelings.

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Traci Ultsch – Camouflage

Camouflage officially opens at 13:00 SLT on Monday, November 9th, 2020, with music from DJ Ferdy.

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Art and the ecosystem at Nitroglobus in Second Life

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Animals on Earth

The start of October brings with it the opening – on Monday October 5th at 12:30 SLT – another provocative exhibition at Nitroglobus Roof Gallery, curated by Dido Haas.

Nitroglobus remains one of my most-visited (and most written about!) galleries because month in and mouth out, Dido encourages some of the most engaging artists to display their work there, and to do so within the frame of a theme she – or more usually the artist – has set. The result is that each most, Nitroglobus plays host to art that can provoke, evoke, emote, and engage on a level that I personally cannot help but find magnetic.

For October, the gallery is playing host to an installation put together by two artists working together under the banner of Dreamers & Co. They are Nette Reinoir (Jeanette Reinoir) – who is exhibiting her work within a gallery for the first time – and Livio Korobase, and they are  supported in part by drawings from the portfolio of physical world Dutch artist, Redmer Hoekstra.

Entitled Animals on Earth, the installation is designed to encourage us to use this time of enforced pause in our lives courtesy of the SRS-COV-2 pandemic to consider what is happening to the world’s ecosystem – its flora and fauna – directly as a result of mankind’s impact on the planet.

Modern societies have been treating Mother Earth as if it was their property; extracting resources, polluting constantly, changing the landscape, killing the animals and destroying its natural balance.
Since the Industrial Revolution, humanity has killed 83% of all wild mammals and half of all the plants on Earth. Two hundred species of living beings are extincted every single day. We collectively need to change so many things in areas such as the use of plastic, meat consumption, contaminating energies, day-to-day overconsumption and more.

– Statement by the artists

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Animals on Earth

Now to be sure, statistics and figures need context, and those relating to “daily” extinction rates can be called into question, as they tend to be inconsistent. For example, in 2015 the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment concluded that perhaps some 24 species of plant, insect and animal became extinct either regionally or globally every day – but the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity put the figure at “up to 150”, a far larger number, even allowing for the “up to”. Other models present further differing rates, and all appear to be distanced from the fact that historically, we have “only” seen around 800 global extinctions of animals (land, air and marine), during the last 400 years.

However, this does not negate Animals on Earth‘s thematic message. The current epoch – the Holocene – is regarded as encompassing the sixth mass extinction level event (ELE) this planet has seen, the Anthropocene extinction; and event that is still very much on-going, and potentially accelerating. It has its roots in natural climate change as the Pleistocene period, with its rolling waves of ice ages, gave way to the warmer, wetter Holocene period, leading to the extinction of many of the large mammalian species that had acclimatised to the cold, dry ice ages, and an a matching marine megafungal extinction event that brought an end to many marine reptiles and fish due to changing sea temperatures.

But this period of extinctions was influenced by another factor: the rise of humans as organised hunter-gatherers, which gave rise to the first wave of over-hunting, accelerating the demise of many species. It was the start of a trend of human intervention and meddling in Earth’s ecosystem that has continued throughout the Holocene period such that within a few thousands of years, humankind has had one of the most dramatic impacts the Earth’s biomass has witnessed.

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Animals on Earth

From over-hunting, to disrupting natural environment as a result of increasing agricultural needs (notably livestock rearing) through to large-scale urban and other development and its associated infrastructure and waste, humans have significantly altered the world’s biomass in multiple ways,  own of the biggest being the distribution of mammalian life on Earth, which in 2018 was shown to be 36% humans, 60% livestock (notably cattle and pigs) and just 4% wild animals (source: The biomass distribution on Earth, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). Nor does it end there; as the pre-eminent apex predator, human kind is regarded as a megahunter due to our predisposition to hunt and kill creatures pure for “sport” – an act that significantly increases the risk of regional (and even global) extinction of multiple species.

Thus, through our actions, we are directly responsible for continuing the Anthropocene extinction, and thanks to our broader impact on the climate, we are pretty much its primary driver. Our actions are bringing multiple species of fauna and flora and biota dangerous close to the edge of global extinction, we have irrefutably been responsible for many regional extinctions (rendering portions of the world and its oceans no longer habitable by species that once occupied them, even if those species survive to some degree elsewhere) over the last several decades.

It is all of this that Animals on Earth tries to encompass, and it tries to do so not by brow-beating with facts and figures or by doing so by being unduly heavy in its imagery, but by presenting us with images and models and interactive elements that in places fun (do make sure you kiss the frog) and which also serve to get the grey matter working, even if subconsciously.

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Animals on Earth
Flow with the thoughts and you’ll discover nature illustrates the Creator’s powers, whoever he/she is. Most of us, however, fail to appreciate nature because we’re entangled in our fast-paced lives, and life’s problems cloud our minds from grasping its beauty and lessons. Climate change, overpopulation, pollution, unfettered urbanization, and wars cause disasters to the natural environment. Little wonder we see less of nature and more of guns, nukes, and bloodshed in our cities.

Statement by the artists

Rich in colour thanks to Nette’s images, and very interactive thanks to Livio’s models and scenery (be sure to mouse-over things carefully – even  Redmer Hoekstra’s drawing are more than they seem – Animals on Earth encourages the visitor to consider Earth’s biodiversity as represented by the creatures with who we share the world, and presses us to imagine what life would be like in general terms were we to lose them.

With much to see and do – and to mull over / research – Animals on Earth officially opens to music by DJ Gorilla on Monday, October 5th,  appropriately enough, and will remain open through the rest of October.

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Getting Extreme at Nitroglobus in Second Life

Nitroglobus: Extreme by Poupée Anna-Nana (IMaestra) and Nathaniel Jehangir

Tuesday, September 1st saw the opening of the September 2020 exhibition at Nitroglobus Roof Gallery, curated by Dido Haas. Extreme is a joint exhibition by Poupée Anna-Nana (IMaestra) and Nathaniel Jehangir, who are apparently making their first joint foray into exhibiting their photography through the medium of an in-world gallery.

Both artists focus on avatar photography, although Nathaniel also produces landscape images as well. For Extreme, the pair between them present 14 images supported by sculptures by Igor Ballyhoo and the late Nitro Fireguard, bot of which  have been selected by Dido for the way they reflect the central theme of the exhibit.

Each of us has deep-rooted extreme feelings, often based in traumatic experience, that can be hard to control. We often aren’t even aware of these feelings. Sometimes these feelings make us move around in circles, influencing our relationships with others and our own self-awareness. It’s only through self-awareness that we are able to see and free ourselves from these feelings, that we can step out of the ‘circle’. We present these extreme feelings here in our images, each of us in our own way. We are two distinct artists, two different views and ways of interpreting the same themes.

– statement by the artists

Presented as a mix of monochrome colour images, the pictures are offered without further explanation other than their titles, the artists noting that they would prefer those witnessing the pieces to interpret them for themselves.

Nitroglobus: Extreme by Poupée Anna-Nana (IMaestra) and Nathaniel Jehangir

At first, it can perhaps be hard seeing the extremes of experience within some of these pieces. This is not to say they are without emotion or narrative; rather the reverse, in fact, both narrative and emotion are clearly visible in all of the pieces – but within some of them, it may initially appear  both narrative and emotion is more rooted in perennial questions related to our digital lives  – identity (What’s Left and Mask for example), and whether or not we can find love and companionship (Love Me, Be Mine), for example. Others, such as The Frame, The Whisper, the Kill may initially suggest stories of introversion  more than anything else; even those that touch the fringes of what society might regard as “extreme” (notably  Don’t Mess With Me) may not immediately speak of trauma.

But flip your viewpoint with a second look, and look upon these pieces not as the result of past trauma, but rather the propose of trauma about to be visited upon the subject or those they are about to encounter, and a new narrative is revealed. This is perhaps most evident in Don’t Miss With Me, with its threat of open violence directed towards the observer, and the hint of trauma that may come from it. Then, within Monsters, the scratches over breasts and the banding  about wrist suggest the observer is being cast into the role of the traumatiser, while The Kill similarly switches to reveal a man who is about to visit trauma on an unseen third party.

Thus, throughout this exhibition, we’re presented with a nuanced series of images, and kudos to the artists for not trying to overlay our reactions to their work by offering their own expositions.

Nitroglobus: Extreme by Poupée Anna-Nana (IMaestra) and Nathaniel Jehangir

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Claustrophobia at Nitroglobus in Second Life

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Mareena Farrasco – Claustrophobia

Mareea Farrasco is a Second Life photographer whose work covers a broad range, from avatar studies to landscapes – the latter oft processed to resemble paintings – and the literal to the metaphorical, producing images that can contain within them a rich narrative or which offer the confluence of shape and form to present a simple statement or comment.

Many of these elements are presented to us through her exhibition at Nitroglobus Roof Gallery, curated by Dido Haas, with the exception of examples of her landscape work – for reasons that will become clear. Entitled Claustrophobia, the exhibition takes as its theme the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, but from an angle that perhaps has not gained the attention it deserves.

When asked to define “claustrophobia”, most people are liable to go with its more well-known meaning: an abnormal dread of being in closed or narrow spaces. However, the word has another meaning, one not so often considered and that is a feeling of discomfort or discontent caused by being in a limiting or restrictive situation or environment, and it is this second definition that Mareea focuses upon.

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Mareena Farrasco – Claustrophobia

We live, these days, in a confined, pandemic universe of our own, and we are all more or less “claustrophobic”, even without suffering from this disorder in our normal, healthy lives. This exhibition is my metaphoric way to express those feelings, trying to rationalise them, in order to make them endurable.

Mareea Farrasco, introducing Claustrophobia

Now to confess, on first seeing the 14 images presented for the exhibition, I fell into the trap of looking at them through the lens of that more popular definition of “claustrophobia”, and while there are one or two that contain elements that most certainly do convey a sense of physically restricted space and / or a sensation of the walls closing in (notably Claustrophobia (6) and Claustrophobia (7)), I initially felt the exhibit, focused as it is on studies of an individual avatar, could just as easily be called “solitude”, without any need to reference the pandemic.

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Mareena Farrasco – Claustrophobia

It was only when I broadened my consideration to that second definition foe “claustrophobia” that I was struck by the manner in which Mareea has perfectly encompassed it through each of the pieces offered in this exhibit, and seamlessly linked them to offer expressions of how we have been forced into am artificial sense of “claustrophobic distancing” because of the pandemic. It doesn’t matter if we’re home alone or with family, we have been forced to artificially limit our environment and interactions to an extent that expressions of solitude are all we actually have left; circumstance demanding that as constrained as we are, we turn our thoughts inwards.

Seen it this light, all of the pieces here are subtle and evocative explorations of thoughts and feelings that reflect our desire – our longing – for more normal times. At the same time, there is perhaps a deeper aspect to be considered. Whilst physical distancing from friends, colleagues, neighbours and all might well be a requirement for all of us, many of us do at least have family with who we can at least find some release from that sense of isolation – but what of those who live alone? For them, the routine of isolation has potentially been amplified by the pandemic; through Mareea’s images, we perhaps catch a glimpse of all they face.

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Mareena Farrasco – Claustrophobia

Another outstanding exhibition at Nitroglobus that should not be missed.

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Contemplating artificiality and the eternal feminine

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Caly Applewhyte – Ex Machina

Officially opening on Monday, July 6th at noon SLT at Dido Haas’ Nitroglobus Roof Gallery is an evocative, provocative and challenging exhibition entitled Ex Machina, created by Caly Applewhyte.

While her work embraces Second Life landscape images, Caly is perhaps primarily an artist focused on avatar studies, producing pieces that offer stories, and that can be both produced out of an underlying theme and / or nuanced in their content and message. It is in this latter area that the pieces presented within Ex Machina fall.

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Caly Applewhyte – Ex Machina

As individual images, each of the twelve large format pieces stands on its own in terms of narrative. While each has an obvious transhumanist / robotic element to it (the artificial enhancement of the body in the case of the former, the outright replacement of the body in the case of the latter), this is not necessarily the focus for the individual narrative; rather, this comes from the overall framing: the very human tilt of the head, the position of the hand (human or artificial), the cast of a look, etc., all of which serves to offer a story in and of itself.

However, when taken as a whole, it is evident that the transhumanist / robotic element evident in each piece does have a significant role to play in the exhibition’s core meaning. They reside alongside and reflect deeper themes of identity (and/or loss thereof), subjugation, and the psychological / philosophical / religious archetype of the eternal feminine, particularly as it relates to the idea (or myth, as Caly rightly references it) of the idealised female form, something that in turn encapsulates a touch Freud – and perhaps a darker warning.

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Caly Applewhyte – Ex Machina

The first of these ideals  – artificiality, transhumanism, robotics – are evident from the outset, as noted. Within them, we might choose to see questions as to humanity’s future; are we really simply the sum of our frequently all-too-frail parts? Or might our growing ability to manipulate technology, replicate our capabilities robotically and our evolving ability to create artificial intelligence one day lead to us completely transferring the human condition from that of flesh and bone to something we might see as more perfect, in whole or in part?

Such questions inevitably lead to the core focus of Ex Machina: questions of identity, subjugation and the idealised woman and what they may mean in a coming age.

For how better could the archetype of female beauty, grace, purity, and compliancy be expressed than through the creation of the flawless, artificial woman? And much easier might it be to relate to the potential widespread use of AI units than be giving them the idealised female face and form? After all, it is the female who is literally the mother of life, and the female ideal most often used to present the good and the positive.

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Caly Applewhyte – Ex Machina

But – and here’s the rub that Caly expressly raises – the entire idea of the eternal feminine whether rooted in the philosophical, psychological religious, is a male construct, one that has – intentionally or otherwise – constrained women. As humans, we are by nature flawed, just as all men are flawed in one way or another – though looks, abilities, disabilities, etc. However, for women, these flaws so often leave us wanting in the eyes of the (male) beholder, as Caly notes:

This paradigmatic myth, which generates high expectations that will always be disappointing, and moreover tries to trap women in an impossible ideal image, denying their individuality. Real women are thus always perceived as burdens, unfinished business.

Thus, in embodying the feminine in the perfection of the artificial, is there not a risk of further constraining / denying female individuality and value? To put it another way: in giving machines a female appearance, we may well establish a sense of connection to them in their role as servitors and assistants; but might not this also risk a further degradation of the place women have in society – perhaps even increasing things like the Madonna-whore complex (again, it is no coincidence the pieces in Ex Machina have a certain erotic edge to them)?

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Caly Applewhyte – Ex Machina

Complex, nuanced and challenging, Ex Machina is an exhibition intended to get the grey matter working, and it is well worth allowing it to do so, and in taking the time to to peel aside its layered meaning.

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Tranquil Droplets at Nitroglobus in Second Life

Nitroglobus: Bamboo Barnes – Traquil Droplets

Opening on Monday, June 8th, 2020 at Nitroglobus Roof Gallery, curated by Dido Haas, is Tranquil Droplets, an exhibition of art by Bamboo Barnes.

There can be few involved in the art world within Second Life who can be unfamiliar with Bamboo’s work; it is by turns vibrant, evocative, provocative, emotive and so often rich in narrative. A physical world artist hailing from Japan, Bamboo works with digital tools to produce her pieces, her finished works strongly assertive in terms of its presentation, ability to dominate the space it occupies and in the way it demands the attention of the eye and mind.

Nitroglobus: Bamboo Barnes – Tranquil Droplets

There’s hopeless life still seeking for hopes like abandoned walking shadows of people on the street, my artworks are expression of confusion of life, darkness of light and strangeness of love. I create what I see but maybe you won’t, they are about people’s reality and mind.

– Bamboo Barnes, discussing her work

Much of her works is produced entirely outside of Second Life, which presents itself – along with Flickr – as a means for Bamboo to reach her audience. Which is not to say the pieces offered in Tranquil Droplets originated beyond our digital realm; rather the reverse, in fact, as the focus here is very much on avatar faces.

Not that the pieces offered are in any way a “traditional”avatar portrait / study; far from it. Each is presented in Bamboo’s rich, evocative style such that her use of colour, digital highlighting and layering all serve to add depth to the portraits offered. This gives each piece a life of its own, an expressive richness that presents us with a sense of story.

Nitroglobus: Bamboo Barnes – Traquil Droplets

For Bamboo, emotions are a core element of her art, be they those that are invoked by the piece she is working on; those she felt at the time she started working, and / or those evoked by the music she is listening to, as well as those she sees within her subject.

All of this is strongly evident within the 17 pieces offered within Traquil Droplets, each one of which offers unique reflections of both her subjects and of various artistic techniques – abstract, modernist, hints of dadaism / collages, and impressionism, all without ever merely mimicking these styles.

Nitroglobus: Bamboo Barnes – Tranquil Droplets

As Bamboo says, these pieces are like water whose dripping echoes in the silence; once heard, it cannot easily be forgotten, except here, it is that each of these images that continue to live with the imagination long after they’ve been seen, because of their richness of colour, presentation and emotion. In other words, this is a captivating exhibition.

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