Posted by Bettina Tizzy
Glyph Graves' latest, largest and certainly most stirring installation had many births. Originally conceived in early spring of 2008, it didn't reach fruition due to his busy schedule and limited prim availability. Since that time, however, he has made a name for himself as a notable sculptor in Second Life®, and today marks the public opening of his Strangers Also Dance, the inaugural show at IBM's brand new art and architecture exhibition space, curated by Tezcatlipoca Bisiani (aka Andrew Sempere, Research Designer at IBM's Center for Social Software).
Glyph is an Australian biologist who's virtual self is best known for kinetic, mostly abstract alpha sculptures that emit musical notes and eerie-to-sweet sounds when triggered by an avatar's proximity, though he is increasingly working with partially inverted solid-textured sculpts.
I've been a fan of Glyph's work for some time now and frequently feature his work on my own sim. This winter I happened upon this video by Todd Vanderlin and shared it with him as it reminded me of the behavior of several of his undulating sculptures and their responsiveness to avatars.
Glyph has since incorporated this thinking and included it in his reactive reeds. I mention this because he is an artist that is unusually receptive to new ideas and, like his sculptural work, acknowledges and rapidly evolves with his environment. This isn't to say that he is malleable or excessively adaptive. Rather, he is acutely aware and sensitive to exploration.
Strangers Also Dance is a remarkably immersive installation based on a poignant story that conjoins our Second Life universe with an alternate reality sweetly suffered by jellyfish that ventured too far from their warm gas giant home, becoming displaced in an environment that they find difficult but make the best of.
Importantly, Glyph approached the design of this build and its narrative beginning with its climatic circumstances. The Second Life ground upon which the adventure begins is suitable for humans (aka avatars) but too cold for these extra-SLterrestials and plants. Even so, the landscape is other-wordly. Obeying the laws of natural selection, a delicate pink creature was unable to keep up with its peers and has crystallized, laying dormant until it is visited, and touched, and therefore warmed by the avatar's body.
The avatar is enveloped by the creature, which begins to whisper to its guest:
Freed Alien Jelly: Nothing that will hurt you little one. Your warmth has freed me from the cold down here. Let me show you something few have ever seen... rest now. In your sleep, strange fragments of dreams of swimming in strange clouds come unbidden. Suddenly you feel disturbed as the hard crystalline surface you rested on melts away, then comforted by a sense of gentle enfolding and warm gratitude.
Delicately, a luminous jellyfish breaks free from the crystal, enclosing the avatar and floating upwards, all the while reassuring its capture that it will be gentle until...
... finally, almost tenderly, it deposits its human prize somewhere new, somewhere quite different, on a strange and wonderfully tropical terrain.
Sit on one of the immense tubes and you are one with this new matrix, downloading information as quickly as the creatures can share it.
The time was a memory past
through banded clouds
over hot seas
of cold stars and eternal night
we stayed too long
we could not go back
Released, you begin to explore, learning as you go about their sorrowful plight which they seem to accept with enormous grace. As I listened and absorbed their story, I couldn't help but admire their forbearance. My empathy grew.
"Do you want to know how we felt?" asks Biocrystal darkness. "When we first left the cradle of our world? Remember, our home, always bathed in warm clouds, always immersed in soft light. (Silence) Then dark. (Silence) What light there was, sharp like thorns and cold. (Silence) Enter. And feel."
Technically, there are a number of hallmarks: All sounds throughout the installation are played note by note. The speakers (the green plants) are designed to produce a spatial sense by cascading the notes down prim by prim as well as having them arranged around the sphere. A stereo effect is created by splitting the stereo track into mono components and playing them in opposite prims, which is also swirled by playing the pairs in consecutive prims.
Glyph's cellular automata react to both the avatar touching them and to the state of each of their local neighbors. After they've been touched, the music begins to self-propagate in a repeating pattern, which is different each time.
Since 2006, IBM has played an active role in empowering Second Life content creators with the IBM 6 sandbox which recently doubled in size and is open to all residents on the grid, whether they work for IBM or not. PatriciaAnne Daviau, its manager, has done an admirable job of maintaining a lively and active community there, though I can't help wishing that they didn't force teleports to one central location. It makes it very difficult to share works-in-progress with others who must then go by the coordinates to find their way.
Thanks to Jessica Qin's (aka Craig Becker, CIO Office of Strategic Initiatives) initiative and drive, IBM has moved to advance its presence with the content creation community, and particularly fans of art and architecture, with the launch of the new two-sim IBM Exhibition Space.
Teleport directly from here.