28 May 2011

Douglas Story/Desdemona Enfield and Eliza Wierwight at Split Screen through 30 June

Opening Saturday, 28 May, are two new installations at Split Screen: D.Construct by the team of Douglas Story & Desdemona Enfield, and FlowerDrum by Eliza Wierwight.

Doug and Desdemona are noted for their intensely scripted creations, and D.Construct is no exception. It's highly interactive ... and it's fun, too! One selects from a set of pictures of well-known paintings and other images, and in a kind of reversal of pointillism, clicking the picture turns it into colored dots which tumble down to the floor. Click the picture a couple times again, and the picture turns into dots of a different size. In the next set of clicks, the entire picture turns into an Apollonian gasket, a fractal made of circles. Then it all comes apart and you can start over with another picture. Along with all this, there's music by March Macbain (Emily Wilkins) and the dots makes sounds. Walk around in them too. (D.Construct involves the most extensive scripting yet undertaken at Split Screen; I've wondered how far Split Screen could go since it's on a homestead sim, which is less robust than a full sim. Evidently, if the scripting is good, pretty far.)


In contrast to D.Construct's abstract playfulness, Eliza's FlowerDrum is darkly impassioned -- elegant yet visceral. It is inflected with with Japanese and other Asian imagery throughout: clothing, Hokusai's famous Great Wave Off Kanagawa, a video of a butoh performance, various photos, bonsai trees, and more (even including the jarring Tokyo lights of a neon geisha). But this isn't simple Orientalism. On the contrary, these images are more like collected mementos bespeaking a deeper, more direct and poignant connection, gathered and painstakingly positioned within an intimate home-like environment. FlowerDrum is not G-rated: it is intended for emotionally mature viewers, and visitors with adolescent responses will gape but not see. The flower drums pound the erotic pulse of the work. The images are not kama sutra but Liebestod. Indeed, a memento mori figures prominently.

Turn on your media stream! It's an important part of both builds. FlowerDrum is best viewed through Phoenix, since the installation's Windlight setting will kick in automatically; people using other viewers should switch to the "[EUPHORIA] low saturation dull deposit" setting themselves.

D.Construct and FlowerDrum are at Split Screen now through 30 Jun.

22 May 2011

Bryn Oh Gets Gorey ... um, I mean, Gory

Bryn Oh has always had a slight morbid streak. Okay, maybe a thick morbid streak. In her latest build, Anna's Many Murders, she takes her morbidness in a whole new direction, presenting us with a rather disturbed little girl:
Anna tired of body apps
that people used
to fill their gaps.
So with a touch
of profound sadness,
Anna embraced
what we'd call madness.
As people accessorize and modify themselves with electronic gadgets, Anna responds by killing everyone in sight, a narrative the Bryn presents through short verses like the ones above.

Some selected murder scenes. Click to enlarge.

As she often does, Bryn has developed a custom Windlight setting to give the dark, dank feel she wants for "Anna's Many Murders." She gives instructions on how install the settings and other recommendations on her blog and at the site as well.* They add considerably to the effect.

"Anna's Many Murders" has a well-known predecessor: The Gashleycrumb Tinies, by the master of the merrily macabre, Edward Gorey. In it, Gorey recites an alphabet of children succumbing to one amusingly pitiful death or another. Here are a few (click to enlarge):

(The entire alphabet of The Gashleycrumb Tinies has been posted online, probably illegally, here.)

During my first visit to "Anna's Many Murders," I came across Bryn, Colemarie Soleil and one or two other people, apparently waiting to see who might fall off the railroad tracks that are the setting for one of the scenes, and in the same vein as Edward Gorey, Bryn started improvising an alphabet of SL arts mortalities, such as:
c is for colemarie who died of a fit
d is for dividni who was suddenly split
I don't know whether Bryn even knows Gorey's work; it scarcely matters, since this sort of humor is widespread through many cultures and amusing ABCs have been around many decades, probably centuries. Some people are repulsed by black humor (yet how many love "They killed Kenny! You bastards!"). But there's perhaps no more succinct way to capture the true nature of life, which is a mostly messy and miserable affair that has a way of demonstrating how ridiculous we are, with the perverse result of making us enjoy it more. I'm glad to see some in Second Life.

"Anna's Many Murders" reverses a major theme of Bryn's Rabbicorn trilogy ("Daughter of Gears," "The Rabbicorn," and "Standby"), which centered on a robot girl and her friend-sister-protector, the robot rabbicorn, both of them running from the malevolent humans hunting them down. In "Anna's Many Murders," however, the protagonist young girl is human, who sets out to kill people who to one degree or other have become robots. The inversion is itself noted by a painting of a climactic scene in "Standby," which simultaneously invokes the Rabbicorn story and sets it firmly in the past.

But this reading is a bit simplistic: just as the Daughter of Gears was anthropomorphized by having human feelings, Anna has a few robot parts herself. Further, some of her victims don't seem to have much that's robotic at all, like little Timmy, who appears no more modified than Anna is.  In short, there's a tension between what Anna thinks motivates her (exasperation over people's self-cyborgification) and what she actually does. On close inspection, why she's killing becomes an open question. Although she tires of people using body apps, she herself is a killer app.

One striking element in "Anna's Many Murders" is that it is, in a sense, built upside down. The effect is amplified by the gloomy Windlight setting; it really is essential to use it. One lands in an orientation room, and exiting the doorway one walks up onto a meadow. A few promontories are visible in the distance. After roaming it, you pass through the fence gate where Anna's murders begin ("She brained the mailman in the yard / She hit him once, but very hard"), and then cross a somewhat fragmentary walkway, actually a bridge, to enter the house. It's easy to miss how high you are. After viewing a couple of murder scenes you fall through a hole and land on a crumbling railroad bridge. The fall is disorienting -- at first the setting feels like an enormous cavern.

What seemed like a meadow is in fact the top of an extremely high plateau (which one would realize earlier only by paying close attention as you approach the house). The railroad bridge is actually just a short way down from the top, and if you lose your footing, you'll plummet quite a distance. The path through "Anna's Many Murders" continues ever downward, until you reach the true bottom of the build where Anna wades through a marsh to find her freedom, and more murder victims. The degree of spatial imagination needed to build "Anna's Many Murders" and to understand its structure is quite unusual.

Be careful while crossing the railroad bridge, by the way. Bryn tweaks the build now and then, and a few days after opening "Anna's Many Murders" she introduced a whole new sort of interactivity. (New for her, anyway; can't say I've seen it with any other artist.) It's not the only location for this newbie-unfriendly touch!

Another interesting aspect of "Anna's Many Murders" is its theatricality. In several scenes, Anna is in a spotlight. I've included a couple of examples above. The motif helps to separate the storytelling from reality, to keep us from taking the murders seriously. The verses have a similar effect.

"Anna's Many Murders" might be Bryn's most humorous build to date; it might even be her only humorous build to date (I don't go back that far). It's a good change of pace. She seems to be probing into a number of new directions lately, such as the naturalistic marsh setting of "Mayfly" (which opened Split Screen and is incorporated into the end of  "Anna's Many Murders"), her work with sculpties, etc.

*The Phoenix programmers deserve our thanks for making it easy to switch to a different Windlight setting, obtain a new one, and even have a Windlight setting made part of the land options. Maybe Linden Labs will pick up on these ideas the way they eventually added jiggly ... but I'm none too hopeful: there's been a JIRA request for land-controlled Windlight since June 2008.

14 May 2011

CONSTRUCT by Selavy Oh

Selavy Oh has a reputation for artwork that makes unusual use of Second Life capabilities.  In CONSTRUCT, she has created what she describes as a performance, in which she built a cubicle every day for 75 days, forming a three-storied construction, a square of 25 cubes laid out at each one.  (She describes the process in her blog.)

Some of cubicles are static, with perhaps an image on the wall. In some cubes, things happen. Balls may drop to the floor and spill out of the building. Numerous blocks with the number "69" (for the 69th day?) fall up to the ceiling. You might fall through the floor. You might turn parts of the building invisible. You might find yourself ejected. There are two Selavy Oh bots, one named SelavyOh, the other OhSelavy; sit across from one of them, and you'll find yourself in a sync'ed animation in which one of you stands while the other sits, back and forth. One of the rooms has a chair that will give you a camera tour.

Not only do things happen in some of the rooms, but in a sense, the rooms themselves happen. They move. Stay in one place for a while, and eventually cubes change position as you stand. Return for a second visit, and the rooms will be in a completely different arrangement. Even their content seems to alter: you may find new rooms, while others will be nowhere to be found.

There is another level within CONSTRUCT. Some of the rooms present a question, all on the same model. "And what, for example, am I now remembering?" "And what, for example, am I now thinking?" "And what, for example, am I now seeing?" The last, undoubtedly the seed of the others, comes from Wittgenstein's Remarks on Colour:

What actually is the 'world of consciousness'?—That which is in my consciousness: what I am now seeing, hearing, feeling....—And what, for example, am I now seeing? The answer to that cannot be: "Well, all that" accompanied by a sweeping gesture.

Finally, CONSTRUCT presents various forms of self-representation. One cube contains a schematic model of CONSTRUCT itself, which (at least some of the times I went) showed your current position within the build. At other locations, you see the scripts operating the installation. The Selavy Oh bots are another form of self-reference, the constructor placing constructions of herself in her construction. One room contains a box listing artworks antecedent to CONSTRUCT, such as pieces by Sol LeWitt, Vladimir Tatlin, Bruce Nauman, and of course Marcel Duchamp (who named his alter ego Rrose Selavy). You can also pick up a mini-CONSTRUCT to take home with you, with the nine letters of CONSTRUCT switching about the face of a 3x3 box.

One might describe CONSTRUCT as a thinking machine, a machine that thinks, which one can watch as it ponders images, observes its own perceptions, making and unmaking connections unceasingly. To call it a "machine" is not a criticism. On the contrary, there is an significant history of art-machines, not least among them those created by Marcel Duchamp: "Bachelor Machines," optical illusion machines and many others.

CONSTRUCT is a highly self-aware installation, cognizant of its own transience and ongoing transformations, laying bare its own workings, self-aware without being self-conscious.  It is, one might say, a machine for making art -- that is making art -- with LSL scripts as its instruction manual and self-referential imagery as its illustrations.

Click on images to enlarge. [Post reconstructed from a draft after The Great Blogger Crash.]

04 May 2011


A few weeks ago Maya Paris suggested that I apply to put Split Screen onto the SL Destination Guide. Lo and behold, it got in. The effect was phenomenal: over 400 visitors in the first five days. Traffic subsided soon after but remained far higher than before. Judging from their names, many of which ended in "Resident," and also the behavior of a few I observed, a large portion of the visitors were newbies. Someone insisted to me that newbies never go to see art so they must all be alts; possibly this person was joking (didn't sound like it), but that seems unlikely. After all, there's no particular reason for someone to come to see art as an alt, it's not that shameful! Plus one would expect established residents interested in the arts to visit in response to the notices I sent to various arts groups. So it looks like (1) many people actually use the SL Destination Guide (I hardly ever have); and (2) many newbies are in fact interested in art, or at least curious about it. This is great news!

Unfortunately, my observations also suggested that (3) newbies often don't know how to interact with works like Maya's and Oberon's. Well, I should qualify that. Bryn Oh once commented to me that hardly anyone seems to realize that they can interact with artwork. The fact is, there are people who've been in SL for three years and don't know how to edit a prim or even operate their AO. Newbies probably have additional hurdles in the obscure way Viewer 2 does things, let alone the rest of their learning curve; if they don't understand what it means to sit on things, perhaps explanatory notecards won't help them; also, for whatever reason, often they often don't reply when spoken to. (OK, one immediately asked me to suck his dick. On the other hand, someone else decided to friend me and then talk. Go figure.)

I don't quite know where I'm going with this, since I'm not interested in bemoaning straightforward realities, and obviously the notion of dumbing down SL art is absurd. But I wonder a bit about the game element in SL. Much as I detest the notion of "gamification" (still more the word!), people do like challenges with rewards. The UWA art contests seem to have generated a certain kind of energy among artists, and some exceptional art in the process. Is there a way to create a culture in which SL art is also about play and competition for its audience?

In other news, at the last two parties, the Split Screen sim filled and people weren't able to get in (sometimes including the artists). With a limit of 20 people, a homestead sim is pretty easy to close, but I'd prefer not to turn people away -- and since Split Screen shares the sim with residents, keeping them out would create serious problems. For that reason I grabbed an opportunity to rent a parcel on an adjacent sim and make it contiguous with Split Screen. That way, people can spread out onto two different homesteads, doubling my party capacity. The parcel is called Split Screen Event Horizon.