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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Images of Entropy in Second Life

Nitroglobus: Entropy, May 2020

Officially open from Tuesday, May 5th at Nitroglobus Roof Gallery curated by Dido Haas, is Entropy, by EmberPolaris.

In terms of thermodynamics, entropy is defined as:

A measure of the unavailable energy in a closed thermodynamic system that is also usually considered to be a measure of the system’s disorder, that is a property of the system’s state, and that varies directly with any reversible change in heat in the system and inversely with the temperature of the system.

More informally, entropy is referred to as a general running down of the universe into a state of disorder. For her exhibition, Ember presents an almost Shakespearian view of modern life; one in which we might as a well be mannequins, we have so little little say in the fate of the universe as a whole; that all we say and do, all that we build, is merely a stage for the greater passage of life – ours and the universe’s.

Nitroglobus: Entropy, May 2020

It is a stark, but captivating view of things; one that might be referred to as emphasising the futility of life. But there is more here; through the use of mannequins in place of humans, Entropy folds within it question of identity – not only who we are or might be, but also a challenge as to what our role in life might be when framed against the bigger backdrop of the universe’s slow passing.

More then this, through the framing of each picture is a reminder that creation – and creativity – can offer a richness of beauty that far surpasses any darkness that might otherwise be inherent in these pictures: sunlight falling through the scaffolding of an advertising hoarding, Shadows falling across an alleyway or a sudden bright splash of colour amidst the grey; sunlight falling through clouds. 

There is a stark beauty within these pieces that is astonishing; life is present in every image, the use of mannequins as models notwithstanding; a vitality that stands in contrast to the basic meaning of entropy. There is also, conversely, the suggestion of disorder that is entirely in keeping with the precepts of entropy; it surrounds and enfolds the sense of order also suggested elements present in these pictures and their sense of structure and order of life as can be witnessed in the settings for many of these images.

Nitroglobus: Entropy, May 2020

Those Entropy is a richly layered exhibit, offering multiple commentaries on life, the universe, and our place within it, as well as presenting rich images in and of themselves.An excellent first-time exhibition from an artist I hope we’ll see more of in the future.

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Birds and Blue: a Nitroglobus escape in Second Life

Nitroglobus: Birds & Blue

As I’ve oft noticed in these pages, through her Nitroglobus Roof Gallery, Dido Haas presents some of the most evocative, engaging art to be found in Second Life. I’m constantly drawn back to the gallery each month as Dido has the ability to draw out the very best in the artists she invites to exhibit there, gracefully coxing their own inner voices to the fore.

However, Dido is herself a gifted photographer, although it is rare that she places her own art into the spotlight at her gallery. It is in part because of this that the latest exhibition at Nitroglobus is so attractive, because for April she offers a selection of her own work. I say “in part”, because Birds & Blue is very much a joint presentation from Dido (photography) and Harry Cover (ImpossibleisnotFrench – 3D elements).

We’ve turned Nitroglobus into a large pond, with the soothing sound of rippling water. Harry added awesome blue boats, barrels and super cool birds he made specially for this installation … For my part selected snapshots from my blog posts, which I made blue to fit into the mood of this installation, and I’ve added pieces of land (thx Miu) with seats and parasols, waving blue flower beds, rusty wind turbines, a beach hut, an animated rock and more… We hope you like to wander around, ‘cos it’s fun and should be enjoyed as such.

– Dido Haas describing Birds and Blue

Nitroglobus: Birds & Blue

The result is a setting that might be said to be much needed in the current times: big enough to have a wander around and enjoy the sounds and the setting; small enough to suit those who would rather just sit and admire the art and let the sounds wash over them and escape daily worries.

Tinted blue for the theme, Dido’s images further offer a means to relax and forget the worries of the world. Offering wide-open views, oft with coastlines and water, each piece sits as a window through which we can escape, perhaps to join Dido as she appears in many of the pictures, and share in her exploration.

When visiting, make sure you make your way up to the high beach house, where two of Dido’s black-and-white self-portraits offer s contract to the blue tones below.

Nitroglobus: Birds & Blue

A different kind of exhibition for Nitroglobus, but one that is nevertheless richly attractive.

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Questioning the meaning of love in Second Life

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: The Meaning of Love

Now open at Nitroglobus Roof Gallery, curated by Dido Haas, is The Meaning of Love, an exhibition by street photographer Natalia Serenade.

Noted for her vivid use of colour and composition, Natalia notes that her art is centred on physical world photography that are very much images caught in the moment as she roams with her camera, and then mixed together, given life and colour through Photoshop to become statements in their own right.

For the Meaning of Life, Natalia brings together a series of images that offer reflections and comments on love and relationships as they can occur in the virtual realm (but do not always remain there). Such relationships can, as many have learned over the years that Second Life has been around, be deeply rewarding – adding depth and light to our virtual presence, offering love, closeness and comfort that never need to stray out of the confines of this digital medium.

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: The Meaning of Love

Sometimes it is possible for such relationships to reach beyond the digital and into the physical and become even more enriching for those involved. This is something the Lab has sought to emphasise through the video series Love Made in SL. But virtual relationships can also be fraught with uncertainty.

Anonymity allows us far greater freedom than the physical world; this is both a blessing and a curse – a point people can so easily forget when blithely quoting Wilde. “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth” is only half the story. While we may well speak a great truth through the freedom given us by the mask of an avatar, so to does that same mask allow those who would  – if I might use half another famous quote, if slightly out-of-context and this time from Sir Walter Scott – “practice to deceive”.

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: The Meaning of Love

To put it another way, when restricted to the the virtual, how can we ever be sure what we’re being told is the truth? What about those who enjoy the art of deceit and think nothing of using one or more alts achieve their own satisfaction? How can we even be sure such thoughts as these really have a grounding in “reality”, rather than being a product of our own uncertainty / hidden fears?

All of these ideas are explored in the images Natalia presents here: the warming glow of being basked in the happiness of love and of having “found someone”, the first rising concerns that al might not be as it seems, the realities of being manipulated, the uncertainties created by our own thoughts, the deceptions of which we might be guilty in keeping our on-line life and lives hidden from those physically around us. Each image in this collection of thirteen represents an aspect of love and the rewards / risks it brings. Each image richly makes use of colour as much as form  and subject to convey visceral feelings and emotions.

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: The Meaning of Love

It’s an engaging, vibrant exhibit (be sure to mouse over individual pieces to see names / gain context, and one in which Natalia appears to be asking a question – perhaps of herself more than anyone else: is love in SL real, or just – for most at least – a fantasy?

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Rose’s Feelings at Nitroglobus

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Feelings

Currently open at Dido Haas’ Nitroglobus Roof Gallery is Feelings, a selection of self-portraits presented by RoseHanry. It’s a evocative series of 12 images, each one of which has a deceptively simple presentation that nevertheless encompasses a wealth of care, and eye for detail and narrative to offer a startlingly life-like finish that richly imbues each image with Rose’s own life and vitality.

This is something Rose notes herself in discussing her art, stating:

Second Life is more than a game and the avatar is more than a pretty doll. There’s a human behind the keyboard, who experiences feelings and hopes, has a Real Life with the normal issues that life offers, Some are good and some are not so good. Real Life is not detached from Second Life as most people think, or want to make us believe.

In this exhibition I try to show that an avatar is very natural and can show feelings as in Real Life.

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Feelings

And so it is that each of the twelve images within this exhibition offer an emotional depth that is stunning; expression, pose and lighting allow us to see far beyond the avatar. Many not as posed shots, but as candid captures that record a passing and quite natural moment in time (vis: … a beating heart of stone …, … when I wake up, I see you with me …, … when I wake up, I see you with me …, and … maybe if I’d skim the stone …), when the subject is caught by the camera without being aware it was watching.

In others, while as candid, there is a sense that the subject was aware of the camera’s eye, so took a moment to respond to its stare with a deliberate look intended to tease or flirt (… another one bites the dust …) or with a natural response to being caught (as with …2am…, with the defensive drawn-up knees).

Thus, throughout the collection we are presented with images that each has a tale to tell; a tale furthered by Rose’s inclusion of a link to be found in the lower right-hand corner of each image. Clicking on most of these will present you with a note card containing song lyrics reflective of the image and mood, and with a link to the song on You Tube (one simply offers a link to the song itself).

Nitroglobus Roof Gallery: Feelings

For me, the defining element of each picture lies in the eyes. We’re probably all familiar with the old saying, the eyes are the windows of the soul. Here, it is the case that the avatar’s eyes are the windows to the the avatar’s owner herself. Through them, we can perhaps capture the riches of each pictures’ story, even without reference to the accompanying note cards – and I would recommend viewing and considering each picture first before turning to the the note card giver.

A truly fascinating exhibition. One – as with all of those at Nitroglobus – that should not be missed.

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