28 April 2016

Magnificent Chaos: Eupalinos Ugajin's "Gravity Is a Mistake"

Anyone unacquainted with the work of Eupalinos Ugajin will have no idea of the ecstatic lunacy Second Life can host. His One Day My Cow Will Come, which I blogged about in 2011, is one of my favorites. He's produced many works in the interim, including an installation at Split Screen. He now has a build at LEA21 titled Gravity Is a Mistake, which in my book is a must-see.

Like many of Eupa's works, Gravity primarily consists of a potpourri of small pieces (a few of which have appeared before) with no particular connection to each other as far as I can tell, but of course all sourced from Eupa's particular sense of surrealism and humor. (Not to mention his abiding love of the Russian cult film Kin-dza-dza!, which is why you'll hear someone saying "Kou!" -- also transliterated as "koo" and "ku" -- and see the same word inside what might be an oxygen tank on a cow.) In Eupa's builds it's essential to touch, bump, or grab everything. Often the object will transport or animate you, and sometimes it will make a sound, move your camera, or send you a gift (in the last case, try wearing it right away). Other pieces are amusing in other ways, like a giant ear with a Klein bottle earring. Gravity is structured as a dome with a central corridor, but be sure to cam outside because some of pieces including another Klein bottle) are on the exterior. At the main entrance you should receive a HUD (or if not there, then pick one up at the beginning of the corridor) which has two buttons, one to return you to the beginning of the corridor, the other to rescue you from one of the small works.

At the end of the corridor is a "dragon" which you are supposed to pass in order to reach the library at the end. This is not easy to do. No, let me rephrase that: it's well nigh impossible. There are a few "clues," all of which are totally useless if not outright intentionally misleading. After half an hour of struggling I thought I had it -- I said "Kou" to it, which given Eupa made perfect sense -- but it turned out that this was completely coincidental: something else entirely had caused the dragon to turn around. This I found out when I appealed to Ziki Questi. Really, to get past the dragon you need two clues; what I'll tell you is that French government will undoubtedly strip Eupa of his citizenship for the crime of weaponizing Edith Piaf; and going up the stairs in back of the dragon is useless, but up the stairs is useful. Those clues may or may not be in the right order. If you're still stymied, for now don't worry about it -- currently the library is pretty empty, and Eupa has invited some artists to install something in it. So plan on making a return trip or two. With any other artist its hodgepodge might indicate lack of direction; but with Eupa, and in this work especially, the collection of quirky oddities is almost a vision of the universe. Gravity is magnificent chaos, well worth additional visits.


The Klein bottle earring

The bar ... lots to drink ...

(I haven't a clue)

The "kou" cow

The dragon

Eupalinos Ugajin's Gravity Is a Mistake (click to enlarge photos)

Speaking of other artists, the SL artist most akin to Eupa in playfulness and disregard for realism is Maya Paris (she's more satirical, he's more surrealist and messy). Eupa actually incorporates a tidbit of Maya in his work, but more, if you look along the top of the dome you'll find a teleport to Maya's Le Cactus, a piece inspired by Josephine Baker that Maya created a couple of years ago, which at Eupa's invitation is back for a return engagement.

29 March 2016

More coverage of Rebeca Bashly's "Chronophobia"

During the past few days there has been new coverage of Rebeca Bashly's "Chronophobia," showing at Split Screen until the end of April.

There is an excellent blog post by Inara Pey: http://modemworld.me/2016/03/29/chronophobia-and-mementos-mori-in-second-life/. Her interpretation is a "must-read."

Also there is a machinima by Caitlin Tobias:

Thank you, Inara and Caitlin!

27 February 2016

An update on Rebeca Bashly's "Chronophobia"

I'm pleased to say, Chronophobia was selected as an Editor's Pick on the SL Destination Guide:

Ziki Questi wrote an excellent blog post about the installation: http://zikiquesti.blogspot.com/2016/02/chronophobia.html

And, because many people seemed to get confused at the landing point, Rebecca added a large flying fish skeleton with a sign to point the way:

If visitors still don't understand what to do, the flying fish will eat them. So far everyone seems to be getting the idea :-D

25 February 2016

Rebeca Bashly's "Chronophobia" at (the reopened!) Split Screen Installation Space

Rebeca Bashly is well known for her pensive, sometimes disturbing installations, such as Colour Key and When Life Brings You Apples ... Run! However, she hasn't built anything in Second Life since then -- in fact, not for over a year. She now returns with Chronophobia, open now at Split Screen. It consists of three towering stone pedestals hanging in midair. But they are crumbling away, and every now and then a rock tumbles down to the water below. The top of the pedestals are sundials, each with a different gnomon (the raised column or vane that casts a shadow) -- all of them skeletons. One is simply a torso. Another is a pegasus, rearing up on its hind legs, the skeletons of its wings outspread. The last is a resting couple, the woman reclining in the man's arms.

Rebeca Bashly's Chronophobia
(click to enlarge)

For me, Chronophobia -- the word means "fear of time" -- brings to mind the concepts memento mori ("remember that you shall die"), and tempus fugit ("time flies"). Each gnomon seems symbolic. The meaning of the couple seems fairly obvious. The pegasus has had a range of meanings over the centuries, such as poetry, inspiration, fame, and transcendence from the physical world the spiritual. The torso is a little more uncertain; possibly it represents the heart. But against all these uplifting and loving images comes Time the Destroyer. All that is left are their skeletons, and even the symbols of time (the sundials) are decaying.

Somewhat in keeping with the idea of transcendence, Chronophobia is a "fly" build: instead of walking around, one must fly in order to reach the installation. The recommended windlight is "[NB]-MistyDay-4pm." I recommend playing with the time of day.

This installation also marks the reopening of Split Screen Installation Space as a place for new large art installations, and I'm very pleased that its first new work is also Rebeca's first new build in SL after a long absence.  I'm changing a couple things: I'll only have one rather than two artists at a time, and they'll have three months to build and show instead of only two.

Chronophobia will be open until the end of April.

16 January 2016

Jo Ellsmere's bot performance "Biomechanical" returns to Second Life at Split Screen

For me, the highlight of the Russian Avant-Garde show in April 2014 was Jo Ellsmere's mesmerizing bot performance Biomechanical, inspired by the actor training methods developed by Russian theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874-1940).  It is now returning to Second Life at Split Screen for a limited engagement of roughly six weeks, through February.  Landing point hereBiomechanical is located toward the southwest.

Biomechanical by Jo Ellsmere

One of the videos of the performance online (incorrectly called Biomechanics):

Biomechanical appears among small(ish) works at Split Screen by Alpha Auer, Artee Despres, Bryn Oh, Cherry Manga, Cica Ghost, Eliza Wierwight, Maya Paris, Scottius Polke, Simotron Aquila, Trill Zapatero, and on a sky platform, Miso Susanowa.

Added 18 Jan 2016: There's a new machinima by Tizzy Canucci, embedded below:

03 July 2015

Fest'Avi in FrancoGrid: A Visit to an OpenSim

A friend invited me to go into FrancoGrid (an OpenSim grid) to see a performance called Fest'Avi, created largely by Cherry Manga, who is well known for her surrealistic and often dark installations in Second Life. (She built a piece at Split Screen, part of which is still there now.) Until then the only grid outside SL that I'd been to was InWorldz. OpenSims have technological differences from SL (a bit behind in some ways, ahead of it in others) but they have more flexibility due to their local control and open-source nature, and their cost is decidedly lower. On the other hand, they're also underpopulated. As a result, they're attractive for creating many types of art, but the works can seldom garner a significant audience (Fest'Avi did overcome that). In any case, given what's going on in SL, I went to the performance with somewhat low expectations.

It's a pity that Fest'Avi was a one-time-only event, for the production was extraordinary.

Fest'Avi was fundamentally a dance piece consisting of intense, driving music and rapidly changing scenery and avatars. The sweep of settings and avatars was fascinating, ranging from tiny fairies fluttering on flowers, to mechanical insects, to cyber figures, to demons in hell, to a rumpled elderly couple dancing around the world as tourists, and much more. Both the avatars and the sets were well-designed and executed. It was a particular pleasure to see some of Cherry's work become a stage. My photos scarcely do the performance justice, partly because it was constantly in motion, and so photographing on-the-fly sometimes obscures was happening and of course makes good positioning impossible; also I didn't start photographing until perhaps ten minutes into the show. I took nearly 80 photos, so I can give only a sampling here, but I've tried to indicate how some of the transitions looked. Click the photos to enlarge.

One interesting aspect technically is that other than (I think) Cherry, the performers were not live people, but rather NPCs (nonplayer characters). These are different from bots: the latter need to be run by somebody logged in with a viewer, who must sit the avatars on animating prims and coordinate the timing, whereas NPCs are programmable and operate through the sim without anyone logged in. This is one way in which OpenSims are actually preferable to Second Life. I'm sure Jo Ellsmere, who has to run over a dozen viewers in order to run her performance piece at "Obedience," would have appreciated that alternative (especially when the power went out at her house).

Fest'Avi makes it crystal clear that anyone interested in the arts should pay attention to what happens in the OpenSim grids. Given the cost of land and uploads into Second Life, many artists have moved to the OpenSims, and I think we can expect that to continue. I hope they'll publicize their work through the Second Life arts groups so that they get the audiences they deserve. In the meantime, there is a group called Hypergrid Safari, which people may be interested in joining or at least following. (Regrettably, their expeditions are usually at a time when I'm not free.)

26 May 2015

"Obedience" by Bryn Oh and Jo Ellsmere

The J├╝disches Museum in Berlin recently opened Obedience, an art installation about the biblical Abraham and Isaac story (produced by film director Peter Greenaway and multimedia artist Saskia Boddeke – Rose Borchovski in SL). In conjunction with this show, Boddeke and Greenaway asked Bryn Oh and Jo Ellsmere to create installations in Second Life. Their contribution to Obedience is at LEA1. For anyone unfamiliar with the Abraham and Isaac story, there is a telling of it on one of the walls at the entry point. There is a larger story, however: the tale of Abraham and Isaac is the founding moment of the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (consequently known as the Abrahamic religions). The story often attracts artists interested in the complex relationships between the three religions, the conflict between religious faith and earthly duties, father/son relationships, or societies' sacrifices of their young (as in war). For example, in 1993 composer Steve Reich and multimedia artist Beryl Korot produced The Cave, which incorporated recordings of Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans talking about Abraham and his family. As an essay accompanying the RL exhibition observes, in 1969 Leonard Cohen released a song with his own version of the story, focused on the paternal relationship. (The essay is well worth reading for background on the story's interpretation within the three Abrahamic religions.)

The Second Life installation begins with Bryn's work. It tells the Abraham and Isaac story, but setting it in modern times. We see Abraham caring for Isaac as an infant; later, his television gives him an order from God to sacrifice his son. The mountaintop to which the original Abraham took Isaac for sacrifice becomes an apartment building. On its roof, Abraham pulls Isaac onto his lap and, horrifyingly, puts a gun in his mouth. At the last moment, an angel stops Abraham, as God is now convinced of his faith. In the final scene, accessed by a teleport hidden in the rooftop stairway, Bryn shows us Abraham trying to ease his terrified child. One wonders whether the boy could ever forgive his father. One wonders how the original Issac ever did; many interpretations evade the question by saying he was a willing sacrifice.

Click photos to enlarge

Just before these two last scenes, we come to a bot performance created by Jo Ellsmere. It is linked artistically to Bryn's portion through the appearance of the angel in a grouping to the side of the bot performance. That group, created by Bryn, consists of God surrounded by a lion, an eagle, an ox, and an angel – the symbols of the Four Evangelists (Mark, John, Luke, and Matthew, respectively, although the angel here is female). In this part of the installation, we shift from the Old Testament to the New. The 24 bots, arranged in two rows, represent the 24 elders in Revelations, the last of the New Testament books. The elders, however, seem quite bored as they wait for something; they shift their bodies, stretch, or read to pass the time. The thematic connection between Bryn's and Jo's sections lies in the fact that the Abraham and Isaac tale prefigures the New Testament story of God's sacrifice of Jesus. In addition, one at a time each of the elders in the first row rises from his chair, walks over to God, and bows, kneels or supplicates – bodily enactments of Obedience.

There is an additional figure, Colubrum – the name means "snake" or "serpent" – played by two different avatars who merge and transform into each other. From time to time he steps into the scene with Abraham about to kill Isaac and the setting with God and the elders. His name associates him with Satan, in one of his two versions he has horns, and he frequently hulks, crawls and crouch-walks. I haven't quite figured out why he's there, but he introduces a strong dynamic note into the scenes; when he watches the scenes he appears less a figure of evil than of skepticism, willing to question both the lessons we should learn from the story of Abraham and Isaac, and the elders' rote obedience to God the Father. He himself salutes God.

The entire performance is fascinating, even hypnotizing (as Jo's work so often is), and one must watch it at least long enough to see both versions of Colubrum, if not many times after. Also it's richer with details than first meets the eye. Examine the elders' skin: each one has a different pattern, which shimmers or moves. They wear golden crowns adorned with religious and secular symbols. Beneath their feet, rows of letters in apparently random order slowly scroll downward; the letters are G, A, T, and C, which represent the four main components of the DNA molecule. (In this regard, consider the fact that in many cultures, snakes represent life or the birth of the universe.) And in both parts of Obedience, there are globes or astrolabes, which in this context serve as symbols of God's dominion over earth.

Click photos to enlarge

(Arguably, since this part of the installation concerns the New Testament and its connection to the Old, a representation of the crucifixion as the image of God sacrificing his son would underscore the parallel; but it would surely raise pointless hackles because of the possible impression of proselytizing, it could make the theme heavy-handed, and the section is quite successful without it – probably more so.)

Obedience makes some technical demands. Visitors are asked to use a particular windlight and adjust a few other settings in order to create the enveloping darkness; Firestorm is implicitly the preferred viewer. In addition, visitors should turn on shadows and projectors. People who don't have powerful graphics may have difficulty operating with the shadows/projectors setting. If at all possible, try to work with it because the light and shadows contribute enormously to the installation's aesthetic effect. But if that's simply impossible, at least apply the windlight and other small adjustments, for those are crucial. It's also extremely important to set sound levels as high as possible. Unfortunately the recordings were made a low volume, so I had to set not only the sound slider to max, but also the master slider, and sometimes even my computer's. When watching the bot performance, I recommend turning name tags off (in Firestorm, you can do this either through the Preferences–General tab, or through the Quick Prefs button if you have it).

Also, visitors in the RL installation are able to see the SL installation and walk through it using avatars named Isaak001 (male) and Ishmael001 (female). So you may see those two avatars when you visit LEA1, but you won't make much headway if you try to chat them up.

There are machinimas of the installation by Bryn and Iono Allen.

Obedience runs through 13 September.