07 December 2016

StormEye Reigns Again

Recently Lemonodo Oh invited Douglas Story and Desdemona Enfield to use part of his LEA sim to install one of their works. They chose StormEye, which they first presented in February 2009. In Second Life time that seems like ages ago -- in fact it was somewhat over two years before mesh was introduced. It was a time when artists and "creative types" explored the magic they could perform with prims, scripts, and maybe an animation or two. It was perhaps the pinnacle of the period when people discussed the creation of art that is impossible in real life.

In StormEye, the visitor walks through a slightly undulating corridor as the weather passes from clear and sunny to a thunderstorm and then clear again. The corridor is composed of around an thousand curved surfaces, giving a scalloped effect. On them, video of the storm sequence plays, occasionally there's a burst of lightening, and one can hear rain and thunder. It's a highly immersive experience. If you like, there are pillows here and there, so you can sit and read while the storm rumbles around you. And although you won't actually get wet, near the entrance there are umbrellas available (made by Bryn Oh) to add that final touch to the downpour. (Look inside the umbrella for a couple of Bryn touches.)






StormEye by Douglas Story and Desdemona Enfield (click to enlarge)

The StormEye construction floats above a red sculpty landscape that Desdemona designed with mathematical data. The color derives from a flower photo taken by Doug's typist Dennis Schaefer. For more information, see the website for the original installation at http://slstormeye.blogspot.com.

To experience StormEye, you need to play media (use the camera icon). Originally media in SL required installing Apple's Quicktime player, but supposedly it's no longer necessary. Also, Apple no longer supports Quicktime. However, I had a problem getting the video to play so I had to install Quicktime anyway (from here). If you turn on media and the build just turns white, install Quicktime. Note, Quicktime for Windows has security holes, so if you need to install it on a Windows computer, Apple recommends that you remove it again as soon as possible.

Also, be patient! The entire sequence from clear skies to storm to clear again takes about five minutes. If it isn't raining inside (yes, Doug and Desdemona intended that joke), then take a seat and wait.

If I sounded a bit nostalgic in the first paragraph, I am. Along with the departure of many artists from that period, I think the sense of exploration and the impulse to discover the possibilities and limits of art in virtual worlds have faded somewhat. I'm not sure if that simply means we've more or less found those limits, or that emphasis has shifted to other things (skill with mesh maybe?). The question "What crazy thing can I do here?" is a good one for making art in Second Life.

StormEye will only be open until the end of this month, so don't delay: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/LEA24/120/115/25

22 November 2016

News about Alpha Auer's "from here on there be dragons"

I'm happy to say, Alpha Auer's from here on there be dragons has been selected as and Editor's Pick for the SL Destination Guide.

It has also received a very insightful reviews by Inara Pey and Ziki Questi.

Many thanks!

Alpha's from here on there be dragons will be at Split Screen until 31 January.

20 November 2016

Alpha Auer's "from here on there be dragons" at Split Screen

Alpha Auer's large installations often introduce drawings from the past, mythological elements (sometimes creating her own mythology), and science fiction imagery. Her installations may integrate one, two, or all three of these types of images. Her newest work, from here on there be dragons at Split Screen, is no exception.

The minimalist structure suggests a futuristic building built with basic geometrical forms, with numerous pyramids and a checkerboard floor whose black squares draw from the past by displaying negative images from a 16th century atlas by Abraham Ortelius. The building has two levels which mirror each other.

Throughout this building one finds various dragons and a few fish--the sorts of creatures that lurk in our cultural mythologies, living in a universe beyond our knowledge. Some, in the European style, are winged and reptilian beasts (sometimes associated with Satan). Most however are Chinese, which are more serpentine and (as typically portrayed) hold in their claws a pearl; they are often associated with wisdom and authority. In an unusual twist, the beings are all golden. Their reflections shimmer beneath them.

As Alpha writes of the dragons, "These dangerous wonders reside within our inner selves as much as they reside in external circumstances. Of these it is the inner territory that interests me more - hence the abstraction of the architecture that my, seemingly real, dragons guard. Because what is unknown in the inner self is abstract, but our fear of it is very concrete."








from here on there be dragons (Click to enlarge)

At the landing point, Alpha offers a free avatar, which you can wear as you visit the installation. She is in fact known for her fantastical avatars (see her alpha.tribe shop in-world and in the SL marketplace).

The installation uses a special windlight, which should activate automatically if you use Firestorm. If not, select "[TOR] BIG SUN - Variationz."

Alpha Auer's from here on there be dragons will be showing at Split Screen until 31 January 2017.

17 November 2016

Split Screen included in Kate Bergdorf's "Top SL Galleries" list

I'm very pleased that Kate Bergdorf included the Split Screen Installation Space in her personal list of 2016's top 15 galleries in Second Life. Her list, she writes, is based on her judgment of "the quality of the art shown in the gallery, the curator investment and dedication to the gallery itself and, finally, the uniqueness of the gallery build or space ... [among] galleries that exhibit artists on a rotating basis." Thanks, Kate!

29 October 2016

"Monochrome" by Giovanna Cerise

Giovanna Cerise describes Monochrome, her new installation at LEA, as part of an "exploration of color in all its components and inferences." But it is not abstract art in the manner of, say, Frank Stella -- it is more representational and metaphoric, and even has a suggestion of narrative.

The installation consists of three levels, each devoted to one of three colors: black, white, and red. These are what I call the "dramatic primary colors," well-recognized for their impact and contrast. In addition, the installation principally draws on one of the most basic shapes, the cube -- Second Life's default primitive (what we all call "prims"). Strictly speaking, the forms are often rectilinear rather than strictly cubical, and there also other shapes, but cubes are the dominant visual element.  In sum, Giovanna has pared both her color palette and her structural elements almost to the minimum.

The first level is for Black. For practical reasons the colors are in fact mostly shades of gray, accented by the use of shine. Thin threads wind through the space, occasionally piercing cubes that seem to mark some type of location or distance. Toward the back of this level we find sculptures of three women, whose heads are cubes. One of them holds a cube from which the thread begins. The strand continues to the second woman, who holds it up until it reaches the third woman, whose scissors is ready to snip it short. These figures are versions of the Greek mythological beings called the Fates: Clotho, who spins the thread of life; Lachesis, who determines how long a portion each of us receives; and Atropos, who cuts it off. The eventuality of death may be associated with black, the color-theme of this level.



Black level, in Giovanna Cerise's Monochrome. (Click photos to enlarge.)

A teleport doorway at the landing point sends you to the next level, White. The entire level glows intensely. Off in the expanse is what looks like a city of translucent cubes. It is so large and so undifferentiated, one easily gets lost. In roughly every other cube hangs a large magnifying glass. Viewed from above, there seem to be some images on the surface; I couldn't make out exactly what they are, however. There is also something hanging in the air, glowing so strongly that you can't discern what it is -- but if you lower your draw distance to about 50m, you discover a flow of light. In it, two magnifying glasses intersect, and on the horizontal one you see a turning figure, perhaps dancing. Do the magnifying glasses represent the idea of examining one's life? I'm not sure.







White level, in Giovanna Cerise's Monochrome. (Click photos to enlarge.)

Through another teleport doorway one reaches the final level, Red. Here the structures of the two previous levels collide. The array of cubes from the White level have become dark red and are flying apart; wisps of the Black level's threads scatter about. Underneath them is a soft, rippling, but almost gooey surface. However, this is not altogether a scene of disaster. Out of the flying boxes, something is rising, leading to a new strand ascending to the sky. At its pinnacle there is a book -- like a wirebound notebook held together by the red thread. The rising cubes are a bit lumpy in spots, as if gathering to form shapes; a closer look reveals that they are coalescing into four human figures. Their arms are raised and flung backwards, as though some force is shooting the four figures upwards. Perhaps the book at the top of Monochrome, despite its prosaic form as a notebook, is the Book of Life. There does seem to be a thread (sic) connecting the Fates to the ideas of the examined life and the book of Life.







Red level, in Giovanna Cerise's Monochrome. (Click photos to enlarge.)

Giovanna's Monochrome rewards exploration and associations ("inferences," as Giovanna writes). It will be open until the end of December.


20 September 2016

Preiddeu Annwn: A Puzzling Poem Brought to (Second) Life

This blog post is much delayed, as the sim-sized installation Preiddeu Annwn ("The Spoils of Annwn") opened back in July. I had intended to blog it then, but never managed to. Perhaps that's just as well, however, for after a couple months, a fascinating and beautifully-wrought installation such as this merits a little boost.

Preiddeu Annwn, a collective creation by Prof. Sarah Higley (Hypatia Pickens in SL) and her students at the University of Rochester, visualizes a mysterious medieval Welsh poem of the same title. The poem draws upon a tale, now lost, of an ill-fated sea raid led by the fabled King Arthur upon the netherworld (or in any case, an otherworld). But beyond that, the poem has defied interpretation -- and for that matter translation, as debates continue over words with multiple meanings, possible textual corruptions, and other difficulties.

The installation isn't an altogether literal representation of the poem; given the uncertainties of the text itself, that would be impossible in any event. Rather, some objects in the build portray select images in the poem, other items are related to the poem more associatively, and still others seem to be framing devices to help evoke the poem's tone. So, for example, one verse reads "They do not know the brindled ox, thick his headband." The installation shows us the ox, bridled in thick bands, but in front of it are two huge hands cupping a glowing orb -- an image not to be found in the poem.

The installation is mainly underwater (catching the theme of a doomed sea expedition) and is largely organized as eight wedges around a central hub, one wedge for each of the poem's eight stanzas. Most of the individual pieces occupying each wedge were created by well-established Second Life creators, such as Haveit Neox, whose signature centaurs appear in various locations. A few items and the overall structural elements are by Hypatia. Dogs (and a few wolves) are recurring images. They line the pathway to a floating shipwreck where we find the entry to the main installation, and there, they also appear in a few places in small packs. They allude to a couple of lines in the poem which deride monks ("Monks howl like a choir of dogs" and "Monks pack together like young wolves"); thus monks, although scorn-worthy as dogs, become our guide dogs into parts of Preiddeu Annwn.

Bridled ox behind glowing orb

Centaurs (by Haveit Neox) and wolves
Click to enlarge

The wedges don't occupy the whole of the space: there are places beyond their perimeter, and -- importantly -- sections wholly outside the main area, which visitors should find and explore. For instance, in one spot, little "men of letters" surround a tree where books float about and a monk sits cross-legged; rings of mystical symbols encircle the ground below the tree. Books and related images can be found throughout the installation, starting with the librarian at the landing point -- fitting symbols of monastic book culture during the Middle Ages, but also the magic of books. One piece recites a short poem in open chat.

Dogs point the way to the most important external section, which lies beyond the Door to Hell. Although the Door is situated in the second section (I'm not sure why), I recommend leaving that exploration to last.


Click to enlarge

Be sure to have media playing so you can hear a rendition of the original Welsh in song, and a reading in English translation. Graphically, all shadows should be on as well.

Prof. Higley provides a helpful discussion of the text at http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/text/preiddeu-annwn

A couple of kvetches: The entry to the main installation involves sitting on a tiny island, which can take a few tries because sometimes the rain gets in the way. The installation includes a couple of puzzles which I couldn't figure out (or if I did figure them out, I didn't realize it) -- but I'm lousy at those things, so that may be more a comment about me. Since as far as I could tell all the objects were built either by long-time SL creators or Hypatia, it isn't clear what the students' contributions to the installation were (design ideas?); personally, I'd also prefer an explicit recognition of the creators (one can use Edit to identify them, but a less curious visitor may assume they're all by the students and professor).

Those comments aside, Preiddeu Annwn is a highly intriguing installation, and if you've already seen it, you might find it worthwhile to visit once again.

SLURL: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Sunray/32/20/278

16 September 2016

Travels with Cherry: Fest'Avi 2016

I wrote last year about Fest'Avi 2015, a grand festival in FrancoGrid, one of the many OpenSims in the larger virtual universe. (OpenSims are much like SL.) These festivals are led by Cherry Manga, who for many years was active in SL. Last year's Fest'Avi consisted of an artistically spectacular dance performance, easily worth joining FrancoGrid, but only staged on one date. When Cherry returned to SL recently to build an installation at Split Screen called The Path, she created a glimpse of the coming Fest'Avi ... as it turns out, a tiny glimpse. This year Fest'Avi consists of a complex installation covering a sim and rising over 3000m, and it will be available to visit indefinitely.

One might call the installation a "travel build": you explore it (at least initially) not by walking, flying, or camming, but traveling on a programmed tour which also controls your camera. "The Path," indeed. This approach has several advantages -- you become acquainted with the many different parts of the installation, you don't inadvertently miss any major parts, and the tour provides a sense of narrative or flow. In addition to its artistic value, when you consider how often visitors to installations pop up, look around for three minutes, and then teleport away, having a programmed tour is a sensible way to get people to experience the entire work. Having your camera controlled has its drawbacks, of course, but you can return to explore the installation without the ride (which I recommend, as I missed one or two things myself).

The installation has a huge variety of settings: abstract, geometrical, schematic, spiritual, underwater, planetary, biological, futuristic, architectural, and more. Elven, human, and other humanoid beings (some only partly humanoid) appear throughout the space. One location reminded me of neurons with their network of synaptic connections. There's even a sort of political demonstration in which Cherry recalls the hippie generation. At the end, there's a bonus: numerous boxes of free avatars, some of which appear in the installation. All told, it's quite a trip -- in perhaps the psychedelic sense as well as the typical meaning -- well worth venturing over to FrancoGrid (if you haven't before, see below).








Click to enlarge photos

Although Cherry was the primary person working on the Fest'Avi installation, she credits a large number of people for their contributions (music, animations, some of avatars and objects, etc).

Cherry's work seems to have taken a lighter tone compared to when she worked in SL. At that time she tended toward surrealism which ranged from slightly disturbing or ominous, to the outright desperation of her sim-wide build, Insanity. The work I've seen of hers in FrancoGrid has been sunnier.


How to Get to FrancoGrid and Fest'Avi

FrancoGrid is free, and easy to join. First, go to the FrancoGrid website and click on "Inscription" to sign up. Although the site is mainly in French, the basic sign-up form is in English (you can almost certainly use your SL name).

Next, choose your viewer. The Linden Lab viewer won't work, but you can use Firestorm and many other viewers. These viewers have grid managers so you can pick the grid you want.
  • Some viewers -- Firestorm, Kokua and possibly others -- already have FrancoGrid (and other OpenSims) listed in the grid manager. If so, select it, log on, and you're off! (You'll need to switch back to Second Life again later.)
  • In other viewers, like Alchemy and Singularity, you first set up the grid access information manually. That's pretty easy: basically the viewer just needs this URL: http://login.francogrid.org:80/. You may have to tell the viewer that the grid uses the OpenSim platform.
Finally, once you've logged onto FrancoGrid, teleport to the "FestAvi 2016" sim. (Note the absence of the apostrophe in the sim name.)

Follow the instructions for graphics and sound settings. Look for the arrow on the ground pointing the way to the green poseballs. Once you sit on one, you'll get a message asking permission to take camera controls, which you should accept. When you're ready, click the "Click" sign. You'll get a dialog asking which tour you want. Choose "Complet" (i.e., complete). The tour takes about a half hour.