Two Galleries

I recently spent some time wandering around The Leominster Galleries, a new project from Sigmund Leominster, of SL on SL fame. The space exists to showcase Siggy’s personal art collection, with three floors of permanent exhibits and a room for temporary shows, all floating in the air high above the Root Squared sim.

Siggy’s taste seems to be firmly rooted in the 19th century, with the work of William Adolphe Bouguereau particularly well represented:

Bouguereau is an interesting choice; a stalwart of the French Académie des Beaux-Arts, he was acclaimed a genius in his day, but his reputation declined spectacularly in the 20th century, when his work was largely viewed as technically competent, but exemplifying the worst aspects of the ossified Academic style. He was entirely eclipsed by the Impressionists, a movement he had attempted to exclude from the Salon, and which he struggled to understand. More recently reviving the popularity of Bouguereau has become somewhat of a cause célèbre among conservative art critics, who see in his work an affirmation of traditional values tragically displaced (in their view) by modernism.

I don’t know if Siggy is making a political point with his picture selection, or if he just likes the sanitised eroticism that was popular in 19th century bourgeois circles. To be fair, the collection is not entirely composed of tasteful nudes in classical tableaux – there are some tasteful nudes in faux-Arthurian tableaux too, courtesy of the Pre-Raphaelites:

a fair representation of Symbolist works:

and a smattering of Surrealism:

The visit introduced me to several works I hadn’t seen before, since, I must admit, I usually hurry through the 19th century rooms when I visit the big galleries, so it was educational to a degree, but I do wonder what value was added by hosting the exhibition in Second Life, rather than, say, posting it in a blog. I suppose one could invite one’s friends around to make it a more social experience. The exhibits might perhaps be a little more interactive, with links to information about the artists and movements, and some explanation of the curatorial philosophy. The gallery design could be a bit less clinical too, since the modern aesthetic of the plain walls and light wood floor clashes somewhat with the cluttered hanging. A few chairs wouldn’t go amiss either. These are minor criticisms though, and the Leominster Galleries are well worth checking out.

A rather different artistic experience is on offer at The Primtings Museum, where they don’t hang the pictures on the walls, but build installations that allow visitors to place themselves into some iconic images:

(I’m pretty sure that I once sat in a real-life recreation of Van Gogh’s Room at Arles, but this was in Amsterdam, so it might just have been a drug-fuelled hallucination.)

There are dozens of works on display by various virtual artists, including our old friend AM Radio, who reworked David’s The Death of Marat, above. A full catalogue can be found on the Primtings website.

Surrealist paintings provide the inspiration for a large number of pieces, but, ironically, these are perhaps the least successful works in the gallery. The dream-like quality of Surrealism seems to be lost rather than enhanced by being lifted from the canvas and transformed into rather prosaic tangible objects:

I think for these sort of pieces to work they would have to be more immersive than just three dimensional representations of the paintings presented in a box. A sim-scale re-imagining of Un Chien Andalou perhaps, with the opportunity to slice up eyeballs and pull a piano full of dead donkeys around.

My favourite work at Primtings is this replica of Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living:

As befits conceptual art this works just as well in Second Life as it does in reality. The best part is that you can take away a free copy of the formaldehyde tank (though not the shark), and suspend yourself, or your loved ones, in it when you get home.

I did wonder a bit about the copyright status of these two galleries. I think Siggy should be all right, since the artists he features are all long dead, but Primtings might be on shakier ground if Hirst ever finds out they have been ripping him off, so you should probably take it in while you still can.

And finally – Johnny would have a fit if I mentioned Un Chien Andalou without linking to this.

Ferrisburg, Vermont

Award-winning Second Life artist AM Radio has a new work, “The Red and the Wild” on display at the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts.

An empty house and a steam locomotive float eerily on the surface of a shallow sea. A dynamic red mass surges out of, or perhaps into, the upper storey of the building, exploding over the landscape. Cables radiate out from the house, leading to boxes containing mysterious artefacts. In the distance stands a row of water towers, brooding over the horizon.

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What does it all mean? In a Freudian analysis, a house would symbolise the human body, the open window suggesting a female form, while the locomotive and the water towers seem clearly phallic. The scarlet substance may be blood, or perhaps a representation of energy of some kind. Is it emanating from the building, or penetrating it? Are we witnessing an escape, or an intrusion?

I may be over-analysing this. Mr Radio, in the interviews he has given about the piece, says it was inspired in part by “Breakfast at Tiffany’s“, where Holly Golightly visualises her anxiety as a “mean red”. He also mentions that the house is based on one that he remembers from childhood. Looking inside the building reveals that the red has its origin in what looks like a crystal radio set. So maybe there is a message about containing anxiety by constructing your own reality/identity, something that Second Life is well suited to.

Or not. The ambiguity of the piece is a large part of its attraction. It’s like a Rorschach ink blot. My sexualised interpretation tells you more about me than it does about the artist or the work.

I’ve read a couple of pieces about AM Radio, but I haven’t heard him discuss his influences. I would say that his installations give more than a nod in the direction of surrealism, particularly the work of René Magritte. Doorways, windows, locomotives, are all recurring themes.

(As an aside, I vaguely remember seeing somewhere that someone had created an avatar with an apple for a face, after Magritte’s famous image. If I only imagined that, and no one has actually done it, I want to claim credit for the idea right now).

I like AM’s stuff, though I find it mostly intriguing rather than unsettling in the way that the best surrealist works are. I think the Second Life aesthetic is too clean to really invoke that dream/nightmare feeling that you get from someone like Max Ernst.

My favourite is probably the “Lost Highway” segment of “The Space Between these Trees“:

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Doors again. The Doors of Perception perhaps. I should drop some mescaline next time I log on, I might get more of a nightmare thing going.

Live from East 3rd Street

Johnny stopped poring over the blog statistics just long enough to suggest that I do another piece about vampires, or Star Trek, or, ideally, vampires and Star Trek. So we beamed up to the Enterprise sick-bay to recreate this touching scene from “The Man Trap“, the first-ever episode of the original series:

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Johnny is Dr McCoy and I’m his long-lost love – or so he thinks. I’m actually an alien salt-vampire, who lures her victims to their doom by assuming the form of their deepest desire. It ends unhappily for one of us, you can probably guess who.

With that nonsense out of the way I was free to sample some rather higher culture with a visit to “@“, an exhibition curated by the Ars Virtua gallery, that I had read about a month or so ago. The preview on the gallery website promises an examination of “the nature of space, place and the observer, the interplay between the observer and the observed, and the way in which location and “placeness” define or conscribe experience”, which sounded interesting. The show is (or was) presented simultaneously in Second Life and in real life, at the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles, with visitors at each location able to see into the other gallery in real time:

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Or not as the case may be – by the time I visited the non-virtual part of the show had already closed, and I think the video feed from LA must have been frozen, since there was no sign of life.

I ended up spending about an hour at the show, but I came away a bit disappointed. As I have often found in Second Life, the concept outlined in the preview worked a lot better than the actual realisation. For example, here’s the description of one of the pieces: “Oberon Onmura creates, destroys, and re-creates a megalithic tower or beacon which hints visually at the works of Donald Judd. The work creates a rhythm for the space that is pleasing to watch from afar but possible to participate in from up close”, and here’s how it looks:

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To be fair, this picture doesn’t really give a sense of the impressive scale of the work, and you can’t see how it dynamically constructs and deconstructs itself, but even so I think that comparing it with the work of Donald Judd is a bit hyperbolic.

I didn’t feel my hour was totally wasted though, which isn’t something that I can always say after spending time in Second Life. Even if it didn’t fulfil all my expectations the show did, as it promised to, make me think about the nature of virtual space and its relationship with the real world.

After the exhibition I wandered around the neighbourhood, and right next door to the gallery was the House of Night, a vampire-themed dance club. There’s just no getting away from them.

Plunging Necklines

Nosferatu-fever seems to be everywhere these days, what with True Blood, and Twilight, and of course Bloodlines, so I thought I would try to try to secure my very own Interview with the Vampire.

I got myself a nice Mina Harker-style dress, dyed my hair jet-black and headed off in search of some blood-suckers:

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[Dress, boots and accessories from Crimson Shadow, graveyard at Vampire City.]

Typing “vampire” into the in-world search threw up a few leads. The first couple of places I visited turned out to be undead-themed combat sims (as far as I could tell, since the welcome notes I got were in Portuguese), and I also came across several gothic clothing stores, but I eventually got lucky and landed up at the home base of one of the larger Bloodlines clans.

Half a dozen or so tall, dark, caped figures were gathered in the courtyard of a Medieval-style castle. They seemed to be waiting for something to happen, so I went over to take a look. I wasn’t sure about vampire etiquette, so I didn’t say anything at first, but after five minutes of silent inactivity I decided to break the ice.

“Are they going to like, fight, or something?” I asked the man standing next to me, gesturing towards the two heavily-armed figures at the centre of the group, who appeared to be squaring-up to one another. “I don’t know,” he replied, turning to face me. He reminded me of Christopher Lambert in Highlander 3, his trench-coat accessorised with a samauri sword. We got chatting, and he told me he had been in the clan for just a few days, having previously been a Gorean slave-master. “I got bored with all the submissiveness” he said, making me wonder what his expectations of that role had been, “so I decided to get back to my vampire roots.” “You prefer the assertive vampire girls then?” I asked, trying to sound flirtatious, but he wanted to tell me about how far he’d progressed in the vampire fighting ranks, and we ended up talking about our experiences playing D&D, which killed the moment a bit.

I had been led to believe that these Bloodlines fanatics would leap at a girl’s throat at the drop of a hat, so I was a little offended that the crowd seemed more interested in the non-existent fight than me. The awkward silence was broken by the arrival of a junior member of the clan, accompanied by a girl in a decidedly non-gothic spotty dress, who was evidently a new recruit.

One of the combatants, who turned out to be the head of the clan, broke off from the staring contest, or whatever it was, to greet the newcomers. After some small talk it was decided that we should all head off to the Turning Chamber for the Initiation Ceremony. I asked the new girl if she minded me tagging along, and she was cool with that, so I followed the others into the castle.

Now I don’t know what springs to your mind when you hear the words “Vampire Initiation Ceremony”, but I think of vintage Dracula flicks, where louche ghouls overwhelm swooning maidens in scenes of barely repressed sensuality, or, if I’m feeling particularly excitable, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon in The Hunger. At the very least I was expecting some sort of occult ritual, with a soundtrack of sinister Latin chanting.

You may imagine my disappointment then, when I discovered that the Turning Chamber resembled nothing more than a brightly-lit pub basement. The barrels that lined the walls were full of blood rather than beer, but the ambiance was definitely more functional than spooky. The focus of the room was not some unholy altar dripping with virginal blood, but a vending machine dispensing various Bloodlines products. After instructing the convert to buy several items (which cost about L$1000) the clan chief departed, leaving the actual biting to his minions. They didn’t seem to know what they were doing, and it took an age of searching in inventories and unpacking boxes, during which the poor girl had to log out and log in again twice, before her lifeblood finally began to drain away, very slowly. I asked Christopher Lambert how long this was going to take. “I don’t know, this is my first one” he said.

I chatted with the new vampire girl while we waited. What had attracted her to the blood-sucking lifestyle? The fashion sense and the romance it seemed. She was hoping it would get a bit better.

Christopher eventually got round to asking me if I would like to join the clan too, but I politely declined. If I ever give up my virtual soul I want it to be more meaningful than a cold transaction in a characterless cellar. The rich symbolism of the vampire myth deserves more respect.

(I know it’s unfair to dismiss Second Life Vampire culture based on a brief visit to one sim, so I’m open to suggestions of places I should visit for a more satisfying experience. Post them to mail@secondlifeshrink.com, and I’ll review them in a future post, if they’re any good).

Greenies may have invaded some time ago, we hear

Until not very long ago, if you searched Google for “Second Life Shrink” you would find that this blog was in second place on the results list. I’m glad to say that we are now number one (or we were when I wrote this), having overtaken the previous leader, a 2007 post in the long-dead “Technochondria” blog entitled “Greenies invade Second Life; Avatars Shrink to Size of Mice!“.

The post reproduces a press release promoting the opening of the Greenies Home, a sim set up by Rezzable to showcase the then-revolutionary sculpted prim. It’s still on the go, so I decided to pay a visit to our now-vanquished rival, only two years after it opened. Don’t say we’re not topical here at SLS.

Teleporting in, you arrive atop an oversized table in the centre of a open-plan apartment. From there you can start exploring by wandering around the sitting room:

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and the kitchen:

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coming across little green men and various other creatures:

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You get the idea – you’re small, things are big. Exploring is mildly diverting for a while, but everything is static, so it’s more like a novelty museum than a fun park. There are giant hamster balls that you can roll around in, but I couldn’t figure out how to control them before my attention span gave out.

Other attractions include a fairly hip looking performance space, and a shop selling a wide range of Greenie avatars. The doll house in the background above apparently doubles as a fashion boutique, though it was shut for restocking when I dropped by. You can also pick up a free “/me ❤ prim” t-shirt (a real life version of this is available too – this is apparently Rezzable’s new SL monetisation strategy).

The place was fairly crowded by SL standards, with about a dozen people milling about, so I sought out some peace in the garden, where there was, well, more big stuff, including this rather fine dragonfly-powered boat:

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There are a few other things to see at Rezzable, like the Tunnel of Light, a trippy tea-cup ride through a psychedelic light show, which would probably be best experienced projected on to a wall in a darkened room, while stoned.

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Then there’s the ominously-named Carnival of Doom:

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Be careful on the carnival rides, or you might end up in a David Lynch-style Hell:

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Finally, Crimson Shadow, the vampire clothing emporium, where I got my new boots.

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Now I know where to get the vampire outfits, I might try getting into the Bloodlines craze…