22 May 2010

Shanghai World Expo: Island Three, Bryn Oh's "no colour"

Island Three uses one of Bryn Oh's customary bleak Windlight settings, making the build considerably more typical of her work than Island One. Nearly everything is rendered gray, olive green, and emotionally loathsome (which is not at all to say that it is loathsome as art). Not only is this world bled of color, one despairs of ever seeing again.

At the sim's landing point, one is confronted by a large, rickety, decrepit metal crescent moon, inside which a victrola plays an old jazz song, "I'm in the Mood for Love." Such songs are often embedded in Bryn Oh's builds; but they carry none of the nostalgia one might expect, nor are they truly ironic. They speak more of a deep distanciation or even alienation from the emotions others experience. Slipped inside Bryn's rusted moon, the song becomes an echo of a broken dream. We aren't looking at "only a paper moon," but a moon for the misbegotten, the cold dead place where we'll see you on the dark side of the moon.

The moon is held by a thin, unsteady-looking frame on wheels being pulled by a robot owl, which on closer look is itself being dragged forward by a small robot mouse. Rather than eating the mouse, the owl seems to have enslaved it. (Artistically, if not thematically, the image takes page a page or two from Dali.)

The sim as a whole is a barren land from which some mountains and steep hills jut, and a few constructions appear as outcroppings.  To the left side of the sim, telephone poles stretch into the distance (Bryn Oh meets AM Radio?) and one finds an office table surrounded by a few chairs and set with a sort of vase-like pod of "milkweed floaters."  Nearby stands a small diorama of a rabbit wearing a gasmask, contemplating the corpse of another rabbit whose gasmask hangs from a piece of metal. What miasma forces them to wear gasmasks, and are we breathing it now? Why was the dead rabbit not wearing its mask? The way its mask hangs neatly from the metal bar, it does not look like an accident. Suicide? (Bryn Oh added the diorama to the sim a few days after I began writing this post; perhaps she will make other changes.)

Closer to the middle of the island, some shopping carts are scattered about (another of Bryn Oh's motifs). A little girl robot stands with a jump-rope beside a lamppost, accompanied by a rabbicorn (both of whom figure in many of Bryn's narratives). There is a kind of intimacy between them, a sense of solace in the barrenness. Not far is the Whisper Tree; using the anim of whispering to the tree sets off no changes, however. In fact the centerpiece of the installation -- almost at the sim's center, in fact -- is actually a tower of shopping carts, with crows swooping menacingly overhead. Suddenly the tower transforms into a lush tree; a nearby lamppost becomes flanked by two palm trees; flowers and mushrooms sprout nearby. Here is where we are granted color.

The transformation is on a straight 8-minute cycle, give or take some seconds; one can also trigger the change by saying "tree" or "vendor" in chat, though there's a short delay. (Why "vendor"??) Island Three is jointly credited to Soror Nishi, and this unexpected vegetation is her work. (Perhaps it would have to be: the content, to say nothing of the temperament, is utterly unlike Bryn Oh's typical creations.)

Aside from the flora and the diorama, these builds are the setting for the machinima "Stay With Me," which was Bryn Oh's entry to Moby's competition to create a video for that song.

At the far corner of the sim, a dark building looms: a reinstallation of "Vessel's Dream" (the machinima is embedded above), Bryn Oh's entry into the 2009 Burning Life festival. You need to cam around extensively in order to see all parts of the build; her machinima helps show the path, but it's no substitute for exploring it yourself.

The dream begins nightmarishly with a fragmented, angular, contorted bird. One proceeds through the building's rooms first through a door, then a hatch, through a tunnel, around some corners, and ultimately past a hidden scrim -- ever more subtle gates, yet ever less disturbingly phantasmagoric settings, until one comes upon the sleeper, kept company by a rabbicorn. The dreamer's mind is open to us, and this open-minded dreamer transports us to his inmost dream, a childhood memory of a girl he once kissed.

Keep an eye out in the first room: you can pick up a painting of a scene from Bryn Oh's "Condos in Heaven" to take home with you, free. (Another example of the intertwining of her work.) I might write about "Condos in Heaven" sometime -- it's the only work of hers that I know of that makes an explicit social critique.  Her shopping carts could be a commentary on consumer culture as well, but so far I haven't encountered anything in her narratives that would confirm that. (Or maybe that's why the trigger to change the trees in Island Three back to shopping carts is "vendor.") Personally, however, I see the shopping carts more as detritus left by the long-gone humans -- useless for robots, whose concerns are mainly emotional and literal survival. Thus "Vessel's Dream" includes the Angler Girl, who must steal batteries to stay alive.

"Vessel's Dream" works more effectively as part of Island Three than do the reinstallations of earlier creations in Island One. It's more consistent with the rest of the sim's overall tone, both emotionally and visually. It's also more integrated into the sim. "Vessel's Dream" forms a pair with the dead rabbit diorama set diametrically across from it, as two framed narratives within the sim's larger narrative. The teleport out of the final room of "Vessel's Dream" deposits you near the diorama, making their connection all the clearer. In this manner Island Three achieves, if not closure, then a sort of recursion that makes it feel complete.

Shanghai World Expo: Island Three, Bryn Oh's "no colour"

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