Monday, February 4, 2008

Dear Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison: Virtual worlds await you

One week ago, the Not Possible in Real Life (NPIRL) group in Second Life began an initiative to identify and extend invitations to people whom we believe would derive pleasure in discovering the creation tools available to them in this environment. There is certainly a very appreciative - and growing - audience waiting for them here. It is our hope that they will take us up on our shout out and make the pilgrimage to check it out. Today, I welcome this introduction to Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison by guest blogger and NPIRLer Tezcatlipoca Bisiani.

By Tezcatlipoca Bisiani

I first encountered the work of Massachusetts native Robert ParkeHarrison at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park. The exhibition was an accident for me, a casual visit that turned into a long afternoon spent wandering around from image to image and back again. Since then, I have been reminded of them while visiting the best Second Life builds; those rare spaces which, through care and humor, are both intrinsically beautiful and capable of evoking a reflective emotional response. It is perhaps true that the relative rarity of this is what makes them so special, but to succeed in a meaningful way, Second Life needs even more artists of this caliber.

Cloud Burst

Like many artists, the scale of ParkeHarrison's work is an expression of his working conditions. Early work is small and portable, the more recent large: six to eight feet, presented offset from the wall on borderless frames, coated in beeswax. The sheen and the three dimensional frames give a sense of ponderousness to already weighty images... the impression being that these images are artifacts - monuments belonging to a different time or place. It's an effect that is somewhat diminished when you see the images in print or on the web, but the content is nevertheless beautifully evocative, and funny.

As one who makes both art and a living with the digital, I can't help but make my parallels there: "Exhausted Globe" from the Architect's Brother series is an obvious exhortation to conserve, but reminds me of a decent game of Katamari Damacy.

Exhausted Globe

"Patching the Sky," "Reclamation," "Windmaker," "Turning the Spring": All remind me of a long day's pixel pushing, winding the machine to make the illusion happen.

But while the humor and my own read are not accidental, there is a sharp universal poignancy to these images. The suit is one size too small, the struggle to put the pieces of an impossibly broken universe back together is futile. We can laugh only because of the beauty in the effort; the nobility of the Impossible Task. Humor at the polar opposite of Murakami's superflat. These are ecological pleas, but in the most plaintive tones.

ParkeHarrison's images are photogravures, an archaic photographic technique that uses paper negatives. The stage is set with hand built props and backdrops assembled from found objects. ParkeHarrison himself "performs" the image, dressed in the custom made costume. Several images are made, and the negatives are collaged, printed, then worked with paint and finally coated with wax.

That these fantastic spaces are created by hand in a painstakingly manual manner is critical to an understanding of ParkeHarrisons work. "Garden Of Selves," for example, may appear to be a photoshop trick, until you spend time looking closer and realize that not one of the boxes (or men) is the same as the next.

Garden of Selves

This level of detail and staging is not possible alone, and in fact ParkeHarrison is really two people: Robert and his wife Shana, who is an intimate collaborator in the process (in more recent work, the two receive equal billing).

But despite the elaborate effort that goes into creating each image, these are not trick photos except in the most glorious sense of theater. These images are trickster-like, the result of deep effort that reveals more than it conceals, and rewards both careful observation and patience. ParkeHarrison's images grow better with each return visit, and are worthy of every minute of time you spend on them. On a bad day in Second Life, I flip open my copy of the Architects Brother monograph and wish for more builds that share these characteristics. On a good day I find such builds, and spend hours gleefully discovering the gifts left for me by a masterful artist - tiny textured prims, extra effort spent on the handrail of a building, clever use of a simple idea, belabored effort on the curve of a shape. All subtle variations that show that craftsmanship can exist just as strongly in the digital as the analog.


Anonymous said...

This series is one of the best ideas out there! Keep up the brilliant work....and sign me up if you want some help creating an actual invitation package to get these folks in world - how about we ship them a bound book spotlighting things NPIRL, with an invitation signed by SL luminaries? Make it something cool and engaging...kind of like a "time capsule of the future" maybe, get creative folks in SL to throw in pieces and ideas to the package and have a little companion micro Web site?

Just a thought! Time and materials available if you need them...P.S. you're a shining star, thank goodness you're with us already.