03 June 2010

Shanghai World Expo: Island Four, Marcus Inkpen's "no sound"

Marcus Inkpen's "no sound" sim is dominated by a large tower composed of ramshackle rooms piled on top of each other, somewhat reminiscent of Breughel's "Tower of Babel." You can click the lights on and off in the rooms, creating an appearance of activity and life within the tower, but really it's quite empty.

A road supported by a high bridge (looking a lot like a Roman aqueduct) runs through the tower, but the road has crumbled away at both ends. You can switch the streetlights on and off, again creating an empty sign of life. Inside the building, there's a path slowly spiraling up that leads up to a room with a chair, and another path heading back down to ground level where you find a small courtyard with a dead fountain. The tower's interior reminded me a bit of places in Spain and Italy.

Across the water, facing the tower, is a large old Victorian mansion, perched precariously on a ledge extending from a hilltop. It is empty of furniture -- just a maze of ghostly abandoned rooms. But clearly, it was once as opulent as the rooms of the massive tenement are tiny, crowded and dilapidated. These are the remains of a long dead class divide.

The sim also has a couple of large, twisted, dead trees; but as far as I could tell, not the Whisper Tree found on the other World Expo sims. There are Windlight settings so you can see the ruins in a nice gloomy light. You'll find the setting information in the information card about Marcus Inkpen, contained in the general card about the World Expo sims.

I have contradictory reactions to this piece -- or to borrow a phrase, I have an opinion, but it's wrong.  Maybe I just didn't get it. Did I miss something? It's a ruin. As ruins go, it's relatively interesting, if you're interested in ruins. And apparently many people are: the sim attracts more visitors than the others in the Shanghai World Expo, and the visitors seem more varied as well, ranging from Gorean warriors to a schoolgirl playing an electric bass to a couple of street urchins to a neko with a shopping bag to one of those distressingly anorexic models that clutter SL to a Japanese guy straight out of a manga to a rather ordinary-looking woman who evidently decided this was a good place to try on clothes. I think she was there for an hour, while I meandered about trying to find something that might illuminate why I was there. Something to interact with. Something that teleported me. Something that transformed itself. Something that wanted to eject me. Something that would surprise me. Something. There are a few doors you can open and shut. I found a flower that you can close and then make bloom. I clicked on a huge number of lights hoping to find one that was different. That woman was still there exploring her inventory when I gave up. I went back a few more times to see if I might stumble on something, but no luck. To be blunt, I was bored.

So I mulled over the question, why is it called "no sound"? Well, there's no sound. But thinking a bit metaphorically, I noticed how often it reminded me of something else (Breughel, aqueducts, etc). It has no sound, but it has echoes of other things? Maybe that's what the artist was after? If so, then I'll applaud him -- but in the same soundless vein, I'll do it with one hand clapping.

Okay, well maybe Marcus Inkpen's ruins aren't my cup of tea. Let's get down to brass tacks: what difference does it make what I think? Reality check! As I mentioned, Island Four draws more visitors than the other sims in the Shanghai World Expo. I visited it four or five times hoping to find something to hook me, spending a half hour or more each time -- but not once was I alone on the sim for more than a few minutes. Not once! And isn't that more important than whether I happen to like it? If the sim has succeeded in attracting people and bringing their attention to SL art (of whatever sort), then it has succeeded in a very important way. And if its visitors go on to explore the other World Expo sims, I'll have to applaud with both hands.

But I'm not sure how it can do that. Some of the World Expo sims have pedestals near the landing point where you can get notecards and landmarks for the rest of the sims. Unfortunately, this one doesn't. You can roam around here all day and never know there are four other sims to explore.

Shanghai World Expo: Island Four, Marcus Inkpen's "no sound"

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