24 November 2013

Rebeca Bashley's "Invisible People"; or, A Cobblestone on the Road to Hell

Rebeca Bashley is a highly talented artist whose work I haven't managed to blog before, mostly due to lack of time. Her recent Colour Key was a particularly striking work, ambiguous and disturbing. Quan Lavender put it well: Colour Key was "surrealistic, challenging, massive and tender, strong and poetic, dark and bright." Rebeca's current installation is Invisible People, located at the Lost Town - La Citta Perduta, and it again demonstrates her skill.

When you arrive, look for the sign announcing her work so you can pick up the notecard. (The notecard is not one of the ones you are automatically offered when you land.) The notecard explains the premise of the piece:
This is a story, presented thru camouflage body art,
about all those people that you pass by
on the streets every day and never notice them...

Lets play?

If you Find all invisible people and send me pictures
(sl, flickr or email invisible.people@live.com)
I will give you a sculpture.

There is 21 sculpture to be discovered in city
part of La Citta Perdutta and only one correct
angle of viewing.
The idea is that you walk through the Lost Town in order to locate these people, who are black on one side and textured on the other. If you then line up your camera just right, that texture matches the background and the people appear translucent, as if they were soon to fade away. A few examples:

Technically speaking, what Rebeca has done is impressive, maybe even brilliant. It's tricky to position the people exactly right; small bits can easily be out of alignment, especially if your computer (or your hand) isn't good at refined movements. I was able to get most of the shots, but there were a few that I couldn't figure out at all. As Rebeca says, there's only one correct way to view the people. Difficult as it can be, however, finding that camera location is rather fun.

Wait -- did I say "fun"? Yes. This is a game. I'm not just being perverse -- Rebeca suggests as much in her notecard: "Let's play?" There's even a prize at the end (a sculpture). But in this game Invisible People becomes ethically problematic. Finding the "invisible people" may be the name of the game, but it's also dead easy. After all, on one side the people are flat black. Can't miss 'em.

The actual game is not to find the people, but to position your camera so that they fade into the background. It's the reverse of the technique we sometimes see in which one must place one's camera so that shattered bits conjoin to reveal an image. Instead, in this game the goal is to make these people disappear.


From the tone of her notecard ("This is a story ... about all those people that you pass by on the streets every day and never notice them") I assume that Rebeca's intention is the opposite -- that she wants us to see people who we usually don't. I expect she'd be aghast to hear what I'm saying; in fact I'd bet most of my readers are shocked and will try to build a counter-argument, because we all want to do the right thing (i.e., see the invisible people) and so we want this installation to achieve its apparent aim. Seriously, I hope someone convinces me I'm wrong. Maybe somebody can persuade me that what the game does is make us see the invisible people in their invisibility, or (a hair more plausibly) that it's an ironic demonstration that we secretly want these people gone -- convoluted arguments that seem geared toward securing a predetermined conclusion rather than assessing the evidence, but perhaps one of them could fly. After all, some art is meant to produce queasy feelings. Or maybe there's another way to rescue the muddled ethics of this piece. If you haven't yet seen Invisible People, I urge you to go and judge for yourself. But it's hard to escape the basic facts of the game. Find the people, easy; make them fade away, difficult, so you win a point toward your prize. In a performative contradiction, the reality is that Rebeca forces us do the contrary of what she says she wants us to do (and what we think we're doing), and guides us to feel that in the process we're doing the right thing.

So now what? What does one say about excellent art that inadvertently (well, I hope inadvertently) makes a very conservative statement? Well, probably just "Try again, please." Creating political art that succeeds both artistically and politically is hard. I raised the same point about The Gaia Theory Project. But given how completely fucked up the world is ... just keep trying. In the case of Invisible People, the artistry is highly successful -- and that's easily the more difficult part. People definitely should see it just for that.

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.

06 November 2013

Attack Party!

Last night an impromptu party sprouted on the little parcel where I live.  Actually these people invaded my parcel and I joined when I logged on.

The foxy babe is Misprint Thursday, and the man with the fan and a tan is Woody Woodpecker (aka Arrow Inglewood).

Misprint vamps it up ... rawrrrr!

Meanwhile I boogied with the other invading spirit.

The hot-hot-hot chick I'm dancing with is none other than the lovely Maya Paris. OK, maybe the banana on her head was a giveaway. Still, soak it up, boys and girls -- this may be the only time in the next three years you see our slinky siren wearing anything other than her Veparella dress! Who knew that she had anything else in her closet ... or that she has a closet? (Actually I knew ... a few years ago a friend spied her checking out the threads at Pixeldolls.)

Martinis were guzzled all around. I told the party-goers that I was going to blog the event but everyone was too drunk to say anything except "Don't you dare, you SaveMe wanna-be!"

Naturally I banned everyone afterwards. I did say everyone ... now I can't get onto my own land.