12 November 2013

"White Balloon": small experiment

In her latest notice to the Immersiva group, Bryn Oh gave landmarks for a handful of current installations, including one named White Balloon, described simply as a "small experiment" -- no further explanation or attribution. Since I'd already seen most of the other works in her list, I decided to take a take a look. It turned out to be a piece by Bryn.

One could say that there's not much to see. One could also say there's not much new here. One could.

One arrives in total darkness. Old-time music plays on the stream. Turning around, one sees four faint pools of light some distance away (you must have the ambient lighting model on). As one approaches them, one passes through a number of swallows flitting about; they are either black or in silhouette. To the left, a fair walk away, there is a pool of light where Bryn's rabbit-masked woman stands looking at a dark gray balloon bobbing not very high in the air. If you click the woman, it recites one of the short, melancholy love poems typical of many previous Bryn works. At the opposite end, another pool of light, where some pigeons are pulling a large bomb through the air behind them. They coo as you approach.

All of these are old pieces. But I left out one other thing, or rather a nothing, that makes White Balloon powerful and imposing: space.

White Balloon is a huge, dark, nearly empty space. It incorporates a whole sim. Aside from the small sculptures I mentioned, there is nothing inside it. Jagged, dimly lit ridges surround the region. But past the bomb-carrying pigeons, past the ridge, is what looks like an enormous opening onto blinding white light. There appears to be a texture of some sort surrounding it, giving the impression that the entire installation in enclosed in an enormous cavern. Walking out, however, is futile. The opening of the cavern seems to be past the sim's edge, and so one can never leave. More, the blazing white light from the opening provides almost no illumination. In actuality, the enclosing cavern and its opening are an optical illusion, a figment of a cunning windlight. (The huge "opening" is the sun.) But the actuality is irrelevant. One experiences White Balloon as a vast, black, desolate cavern from which one cannot escape. It manages to be agoraphobic and claustrophobic at the same time.

This is the most spare, even minimalistic work I've ever seen by Bryn Oh. In fact, in a sense it's the most pared-down piece I have seen in Second Life -- even more than the hyperformalist works by artists like Oberon Onmura and Selavy Oh. The space wants to be fuller, aches to be fuller. But everything has been stripped out. The three small pieces are isolated in their dim pools of light, any context or connections long ripped away. And even though each of them touches on flight, nothing truly escapes ground level. The swallows fly low, the pigeons are weighed down by the bomb, the balloon bobs in the air but within arm's reach. High and barren as the space is, there is no up. In White Balloon, there is little (f)light.

I considered including a photo in this post, but my efforts failed to capture the feel of the place. Photographing White Balloon even seemed beside the point. One cannot photograph the massive, omnipresent "nothing there" there.

"Almost nothing" is worth seeing in White Balloon. As in negative space, what you don't see is what you see. Seeing nothingness is why one should see it.

1 comment:

  1. I should add, you need to have Region Windlight turned on see the correct lighting. Also it's best to have shadows all on -- if your computer can handle it for at least a little while, set to Ultra.