My visual art, sound art and interactive work primarily are created and exhibited in the Virtual World of Second Life. I have created and viewed art there for about 3 years. One of the artists who I have collaborated with and whose work I closely follow is Oberon Onmura. Oberon goes strictly by his avatar name when creating, presenting and documenting his work. Although his dark yet friendly futuristic avatar remains a bit of a mystery, I do know a few things about Oberon from his own open and public disclosure to all. I know he lives in Manhattan. I know he has studied art, music, linguistics and has had a hand in art funding development in New York City and beyond. I also know he is one of the finest artists on the grid.
Coriolis, his new installation, opens today. You can view the work by creating a free account with Second Life and teleporting to it by clicking here. (On a side note, I do wish my spell checker would get up to speed because “teleporting” will be in the dictionary soon, if it is not already in some.) As for definitions let me share part of the note card where the artist defines the title of the show: "In physics, the Coriolis effect is an apparent deflection of moving objects when they are viewed from a rotating reference frame. " (Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coriolis_effect)”
Oberon scripts his objects to generate effects which are directly related to the Coriolis effect with the code of LSL. LSL is the Linden Scripting Language which used for creating interactive content in Second Life. Oberon has self studied and applied LSL in his work. His seamless use of the script language to create interactive art seems to have become somewhat of a muse in and of itself. I have heard him describe something he would like to create and move forward to write the code to make the objects obey his creative commands. Many creators use ready made scripts to do basic things like make things spin, make objects talk, or allow avatars to sit in poses on objects. A basic set of scripts are freely obtained through wikis, and in-world sources. Oberon's scripts are far from basic. They are highly customized for his installations. Oberon's scripts efficiently play off and enhance the the focus of this interactive work as a whole. Good scripting basically is like good make-up: you shouldn't notice it in and of itself, you should just notice that it enhances something which is already beautiful.
When you arrive at Coriolis there is a platform and a chair. It is rather obvious to sit in the chair and from there you journey upward to the actual installation. The chair in this installation is one of the objects which tie the piece together. The installation is divided into four quadrants. Here is Oberon's description of that idea and the content:
"Coriolis" is populated with a bunch of objects which I have come to think of almost as characters. Two of these characters, the aluminum chairs and the flying birdlike objects, exist everywhere throughout the landscape. In addition, each quadrant has objects that are unique to that quadrant:
-- The Mountains quadrant has violently falling cubes which somehow are able to slip through the floor surface and disappear. The Ghost Mountain sings "Concret PH" by Iannis Xenakis (1958).
-- The Yellow Geyser quadrant has jet-propelled cubes which leave particle trails tracing their upward trajectories. They make a great ride if you can catch one.
-- The Cooling Tower quadrant has a spiral of singing cubes which grow transparent until finally they die and are regenerated. The Tower contains additional information.
-- Finally, the Moire quadrant has floating electric pads. Be careful of those!”
Oberon's work is scaled to relate to the native building blocks and measured spaces one encounters in Second Life. His installation Coriolis covers the area of a simulator which is 256x256 meters. The simulator is “owned” by Tidewater Community College in Virginia. The scale of this being a sim sized installation is very important, both as a concept and as an environmental choice. It speaks to the fact that space and objects are divided in mathematical units for distribution and spatial use in virtual worlds. It also speaks to a certain luxury of space so that the objects and exhibit has room to visually breathe.
The space the exhibit occupies is approximately 3500 meters high in the virtual sky. This means there are no competing visuals on the ground and the digital sky and atmosphere become the gallery. This fact, that the slice of the simulator where the work is installed is in the sky enhances the viewers ability to clearly and cleanly visualize the work. It also lends to the surreality of the work. This technique is used by many virtual artists who work on this scale including: Selavy Oh, Comet Morigi, Dancoyote Antonelli as well as in my own work.
The installation, uncontainable in the sky, crosses genres of art and environmental design. I asked Oberon how he views his work in this respect and he responded that: “ it is art because he is an artist but it's landscape primarily but landscape in a virtual environmental space, plus it's a soundscape”. Parallels can be seen to artists like Michael Heiser, James Turrell, Walter Demaria who are artists Oberon cites his work would curatorially connect well with.
It is a treat to have Oberon flex his musical muscles in this installation by incorporating a soundscape. I have talked to him before about music in installations and in general. He concedes that breathy pop music makes his skin itchy and has, on occasion, had to be coerced to turn on the music that goes with an exhibit because he normally has it shut off due to his very defined tastes in music. In short, he is very knowledgeable about sound and music and also has a streak of being a sound snob.
Oberon explained to me that the soundscape he created in Coriolis consists of various sources from plastic bottles to downloaded sounds to white noise. Oberon also incorporates the composition "Concret PH" by Iannis Xenakis (1958). This choice of the composer and the piece itself is very compelling in conceptual parallel and a huge success. I don't know anything about the clearance to use that composition but it would be interesting to learn from Oberon his process or experience with that.
In my brief research I find that Iannis Xenakis was an avant-garde composer who also was an architect and worked under Le Corbusier. He was noted as a man with brilliant mathematical and creative ability. Ok fine, he was a genius. Oberon hits the nail on the head in so many ways with the use of this piece in his installation. First let me describe that to listen to “Concret PH” you have to go to the Mountains quadrant. One of the mountains is transparent with a white patterned texture. Inside the mountain is a slightly glowy green chair. When you sit on the chair the piece “Concret PH” is played once through for the listener.
As “Concret PH” plays, the listener hears percussive electronic sounds which could be likened to the repeated physical collision of a light bulb on a floor or glass shattering or electric windchimes. It is a beautiful, delicate, quirky and slightly obsessive composition which has at once a very physical yet light feel. These electronic crunch and crackly sounds directly parallel to the visual experiences in the installation. One can relate the idea of the physical collision and pattern effect to the way the spiraling cubes jostle and bump when they are interrupted, or the way the chairs topple over when they are nudged by avatars or objects in the exhibit. The repeated, yet subtle scenes of these collisions are illuminated well by the composition and vice versa. The sounds/music/and visuals celebrate similar themes.
But, in both pieces, the visuals and the composition by Xenakis, neither of the collisions are “real.” Xenakis produced “Concret PH” with all electronic sounds and his work is strongly based on mathematical formulas. So in Oberon's work as well as Xenakis' composition the viewer/listener is challenged by analyzing what is “real”. There is also a strong parallel of the artists and how their work is received. Xenakis' work was routinely rejected or pushed back, even by his teachers at times. This holds true with Oberon's work on some levels. His work has been criticized for not having “a story line” or perhaps not being “emotive” enough. I think the beauty of Oberon's work is just that-that the story is about one man's fascination with the possibilities of these digital tools and pushing his personal cognitive limits to create with them.
The experience of hearing “Concret PH” when one sits in the green chair in the Mountain quadrant is one of many chair experiences Oberon creates in his installation. As I write this I feel the overwhelming desire to describe in detail about each of these experiences and to share how I connect them visually, emotively and conceptually to the work as a whole. I can not as it would take a book to fully outline the beauty of how seamlessly these visual “characters” operate as individual visual agents as well as how they work holistically. Oberon creates patterns of connectivity, a structure of order and logic, which is also mathematically based, and overlays this base with elegant and iconic beauty.
Another chair experience which ties the work together as a whole is sitting in the gray aluminum chairs which are scattered throughout the space. When an avatar sits on the chair, they are propelled into a state of raptured floating. Also, when they sit on the chair white floating text appears saying “Misprint Thursday sat here.” The text names the avatar who sat and documents their presence and interaction in the space. It relates very well to our constant and prolific and sometimes annoying updating of our digital status.
In this chair interaction there is a dynamic and unexpected reaction when you sit. There is a simultaneous change of position, pose, movement on a prescribed path and a forced camera view of the avatar. This experience amplifies an investigation of spatial and temporal displacement. One can continue to draw a parallel to Xenakis' work in both music and architecture in this regard as well. As the avatar floats in this suspended pose the path meanders cyclically through the quadrants. If one remains on the pose long enough they will traverse all four quadrants in a tour like fashion.
Again, there are so many more elements like the ones I describe, that I am fascinated with. The entire installation is not a one time view. Coriolis is a piece of huge scale, and equal measure of importance with subtle intricate details waiting to be discovered. It took Oberon upwards of six months and 600 hours to complete this work and that does not even include the years spent learning and developing his own use of the Linden Script Language as well as his ability to manipulate primitives, which are the basic building blocks in Second Life, to implement his creative goals for the piece.
In the body of Oberon's work, each piece portrays visuals that are open for interpretation. The artist is bothered by over interpretation of art, and so I will not try to assert what this installation means. My final reading of the work is that any meaning which the viewer ascertains is a by product of the actual muse: the complexity of the mind.
September 15th, 2010
On the opening of
Coriolis by Oberon Onmura
Additional links and images to be posted soon.
Tags: oberon onmura coriolis iannis xenakis concret ph selavy oh comet morigi dancoyote antonelli misprint thursday michael heiser james turrell walter demaria virtual art soundscape avant-garde