Friday, April 25, 2014

The Golden age of the Russian Avant-Garde

The Golden Age of the Russian Avant-Garde

meatspace exhibit
On Sunday the 27th of April at 1pm second life time, a collaborative Second Life work will open which is part of a larger exhibition being held in the main exhibition hall of Moscow’s Manege Museum.  Peter Greenaway (UK) and Saskia Boddeke/Rose Borchovski (Holland) supported by the British Council have created a unique experience fusing a variety of visual forms.  The virtual world exhibition is featured on four interactive viewing stations within the Museum and was created by Alpha Auer (Turkey), Bryn Oh (Canada), Caer Balogh (USA), Eupalinos Ugajin (France), Jo Ellsmere (USA), Nessuno Myoo (Italy) and Soror Nishi (UK).

The virtual world region is provided by the Linden Endowment for the Arts.
Alpha Auer
     More than 1,000 artworks, borrowed from galleries and private collections around the world, are being displayed as part of the exhibit. The exhibition will spread across 5000 square metres. It will include polyscreen installations made with the help of the most up-to-date projection, light and sound equipment. It will represent a new approach to the history of art, combining film and painting, animation and 3D virtual world technology helping to create a unified atmospheric work, drawing the viewer into the space of Russian avant-garde.

A Russian news segment on the project.

Bryn Oh - Tatlin's Tower
     Constructivism was an artistic and architectural movement in Russia from 1914 to 1924 which dismissed "pure" art in favour of art used as an instrument for social purposes, namely, the construction of the socialist system. The term Construction Art was first used as a derisive term by the painter Kazimir Malevich to describe the work of artist/graphic designer Alexander Rodchenko in 1917, first appearing as a positive term in Naum Gabo's Realistic Manifesto of 1920. Kazimir Malevich also worked in the constructivist style, though he is better known for his earlier suprematism. Some other important artists and designers of the movement are El Lissitzky (art, architecture and graphic design), Sergei Eisenstein (cinema), Wassily Kandinsky (artist - painter), Valdimir Tatlin (artist/architect), Lyubov Popova (artist/stage designer), Alexander Vesnin (architect) and Varvara Stepanova (artist/designer).

Bryn Oh -Boys in the sandbox
     As a part of the early Soviet youth movement, the constructivists took an artistic outlook aimed to encompass cognitive, material activity, and the whole of spirituality of mankind. The artists tried to create art that would take the viewer out of the traditional setting and make them an active viewer of the artwork. Their output covered a wide range of both art and design, as well as architecture - ranging from theater, film and photography, from fashion design to graphic design, as well as to fine art such as painting and sculpture. Alongside involving themselves in designs for the fledgling Soviet industry, the Constructivists also worked on public festivals and street designs for the post-October revolution Bolshevik government.

 The constructivists tried to create works that would make the viewer an active participant of the artwork. This premise was tested in theatre, particularly through the work of Vsevolod Meyerhold, who had developed a 'biomechanical' acting style, which was influenced both by the circus and by the 'scientific management' theories of Frederick Winslow Taylor. Meanwhile the stage sets by the likes of Vesnin, Popova and Stepanova tested Constructivist spatial ideas in a public form.

Nessuno Myoo
     The movement was strongly fostered by the early Soviet regime, particularly by its leaders, Lenin and Trotsky. However, after Lenin's death in 1924 and Stalin's subsequent rise to office, Constructivism came to an end in the mid-1920s. Many Constructivist artists and designers were forced to emigrate from Russia under Stalin's rule, and those who remained had no choice but to succumb to his expectations of art and design as tool for his propaganda machine.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Singularity of Kumiko - an initial explanation

real time projected light with accurate shadow puppet
     For the Singularity of Kumiko the guest was required to customize their viewer settings with which they use to interact with the virtual world.  Second Life is an open source platform and as such there are 3rd party viewers created with names such as Singularity (coincidence), Firestorm and others who have developed what they believe are the best settings for users to interact with Second Life.  There is also the default viewer created by Linden Lab (the creators of Second Life) which all new users begin with.  The virtual world viewers have a wide range of hidden abilities which the average user has no idea how to use.  After experimenting for a while in Firestorm viewer I was able to create a setting which allowed for the atmosphere to appear pitch dark, and within this environment I was able to create a working "flashlight".  This was essential because the viewer had to feel certain emotions when immersed in this narrative.  They had to feel at times lost, anxious and scared.  They had to be able to associate with Kumiko, for she also was confused and alone in the dark.  The complete darkness put many well outside of their comfort zone, but this was necessary and really, shouldn't art do that?
Projected light and shadows in darkness
     The story of the Singularity of Kumiko was told through 14 letters shared between Kumiko and her love Iktomi.  They represented two distinct views on life.  The name Kumiko means endless beauty, while Iktomi is the spider God of technology and invention.  Within the story could be found bottles which held messages in the form of a USB stick, a rolled up note or alternately an antiquated microphone which had the voice of Kumiko narrating her responses to Iktomi.  Kumiko was humanized by using a real audio voice with emotion and inflection, while Iktomi always remained exclusively text. The 3D environment was created in such a way that the headlamp would, at times, stop working thus submerging the viewer in complete darkness, and only by walking toward a distant light, could they find their way.  Such times as these created great anxiety as there was a character named Mr Zippers, whose distorted protectionism of Kumiko was, in some cases, quite lethal. 

   What is lethal?  Well there is a rarely used feature in Second Life which allows the avatar to die.  I have been using this feature for a few years now as I believe, and hope, that it develops a deeper sense of immersion within my narratives as it creates a bit of anxiety.  Users of Second Life greatly associate with their avatars, there exists very deep emotional connections and reactions associated with what happens to their avatar.  If, for example, some stranger stands very close to you, nose to nose, many feel that sense of personal space being invaded and step back.  If someone barges past you, pushing you aside in a shop or somewhere, many can get angry at this treatment.  It is not uncommon for people to fall in love, with other minds, in virtual worlds.  It is a giant psychology experiment really, with few people paying attention to the results.  With this in mind, the death or danger to ones avatar can effectively be used to further immersion.

    The final thing I wish to mention before next weeks post (or possibly in two weeks as I need to post about the Russian Avant Garde exhibit running at a museum in Moscow I am in that is just opening) is the concept behind the Singularity also known as the technological singularity. This is the idea that at some point in the future, computer artificial intelligence will surpass that possessed by the human race.  The consensus seems to be that this will happen around 2045 or so.  The idea is that humans would create a computer mind that grows or evolves exponentially.  The initial AI would  develop means to enhance itself and so would then be constantly improving on its original design, possibly exponentially.  So Imogen and the pigeons and the Singularity of Kumiko both are stories told during that time period.  With Kumiko life is essentially about playing.  Remarkable inventions are written about each day in their media but soon forgotten as newer and more impressive ones appear.  The memory encryption being one such remarkable invention that was just one of many created by the Singularity machine.
     The human race becomes children of this machine, who in itself doesn't fully comprehend the fickle nature of its creators.  It begins by developing inventions for humanity and its decisions initially reflect that it is still close to the original product programmed for humanity, yet with each new iteration of itself that it creates, it becomes more and more distanced from the wants and desires of people.  In the end, as we see in the desolate landscape for Imogen and the pigeons, it determines that the presence of the human race is counter productive to all other life forms on earth.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Imogen and Kumiko - The adverts

Auntie Ethels Strawberry* milkshakes
 All my stories, from Condos in Heaven, The Rabbicorn, Anna's Many Murders and others to The Singularity of Kumiko all reside within the same narrative world.  In order to help create a unifying mood or explanation of this worlds society, I decided to narrate through its advertising.   For I believe you can really get a sense of a society by how it interprets its own people.  Many despise some forms of advertising and its insulting, shallow attempts to manipulate us, but then, there are many more who unwittingly shape their lives around it.

Pink Elly's Mood enhancers
    One of the things I dislike is guilt advertising.  And not always in traditional forms of print but other methods such as, well.. for example here in Canada,  when you go to buy groceries or perhaps some other retail shop they often ask you, as you are about to pay, whether you would like to donate a $1 to feed children somewhere or to save abused animals and so on.  All things you would love to do.  If you say "no sorry I won't give a mere $1 to feed starving children" then well .. you are one evil mofo.  You can feel the judgement of the shoppers in line behind you with their squinty little eyes even if its just in your imagination.    So you give a dollar and then at the very next shopping stop someone wants you to donate $2 to stop a fucking Comet hurtling toward the Earth and you are like.. grrrr there better be a Comet!.. no wait.. I hope there isn't a comet.. no .. i don't know what I want but I probably should pay!

Anyway,  so what I wanted to do was create the advertising in a light hearted manner touching on some of these methods used, yet not preaching.  The underlying messages in some of the advertising is really not so humourous when it depicts the mentality of a society no too far removed from our own.  They can be a bit dark, but also mixed with humour.

 So I will quickly explain a few starting at the top and moving down.

Auntie Ethel's Strawberry* Milkshakes:
The love angle, if you don't love Auntie Ethel's milkshakes then you don't really love your own aunt.   The "Strawberry" comes with a disclaimer symbol * which has a massive list of ingredients that create the taste of Strawberries without actually using any.  This is a real list of ingredients for an existing milkshake, I didn't make that part up.
Slinks Breathing Accessory

Test Monkey #4683

Power Pets

Slinks Shelterball
Duradent Tooth Spray
Pink Elly's Mood enhancers are anti-depressants paired with, and requiring, Television channels to trigger them.  They imply that those people who help you with your problems also pick them for themselves.  They must be OK then.  They actually used to have Doctors do that for old smoking adverts in magazines I have collected.

Retelevise is geared towards the idea of putting ones one desires to the forefront of life, and in this case using a 16 week program whose aim is to addict your child to the television thus freeing up your time to enjoy yourself.  I have literally waved my hand across the eyes of my brothers kids when watching Dora the Explorer with almost no effect on their hypnotic state.

In many of my adverts I have created a company called Slinks which provides a variety of these services.  This next one is the Slinks Breathing Accessory or also known as a gas mask.  They took the angle of taking a very disagreeable and scary requirement of going outside, and attempting to make it fashionable.  If the gas mask is needed due to a toxic environment or due to the possibility of a terrorist attack and so on, they don't want you to associate fear with the product.  So rather lets try and make it more like a purse or something fun.  Lets not make people think about the depressing reasons why they are needed, but rather camouflage the necessity into something they actually want to have with them.

Test Monkey # 4683 is kind of a silly one.  I once read the infinite monkey theorem which states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will eventually type a given text, such as the complete works of Charles Dickens or the Bible.  It plays on things like them claiming they knew TEST MONKEY #4683 was special .. yet despite this they didn't give him a proper name.  Essentially they had an idea that didn't come to fruition so they are attempting to recoup at least a bit of cost.  They creatively use large print at the bottom to suggest the New York Post liked the book whereas the small print accompanying it clarifies that the quote was actually for a different book altogether.   You should be able to click on these images to see them larger if the text is hard to read.

Zinger the Rocket Dog:   Zinger is a character whose story I have almost made a dozen times already only to push it back with each new build.  Zinger is an actual character who first popped up years ago in my artwork Condos in Heaven.  Mr Zippers (the murderous rabbit) is also a power pet.  The idea for Power Pets is that Slinks have found a way to "improve" the common pet surgically with technological advancements.  They have decided that the best way to market their product is by convincing people that normal animals, like a dog or fish are pretty predictable and lame pets.  PowerPets are instead super pets and claim to surpass previous incarnations like the Rabbicorn.

     Also in this advert I mention "Scientypes" who often appear in these write ups.  I have always been a bit remiss in explaining my idea for what a Scientype is.  They are pseudo professionals.  People who pose for pictures in lab coats or by microscopes looking intent and intelligent yet are in fact actors.  A Scientype is a type of Scientist whose unofficial role is to reassure the public into thinking a product is supported and tested by a rather handsome and reliable professional.  It plays on the idea that if someone wears a lab coat in a picture then they must really be a Doctor or Scientist.  Slinks can't legally call them scientists so they made up a new word which was "Scientypes" and the population believes that they are a type of scientist rather than actors.  The idea being that any claims made by Scientypes are opinions masquerading as truths and should the unfortunate event of a lawsuit occur in regards to a product that Slinks offers, then they need only point out that their Scientypes make no claim of being professionals, it is in fact the public who have erringly assumed them to be authorities on the safety of the products offered.

The next invention is the Slinks Shelterball.  In this advert they take on the voice of a hip regular person who makes the case that they would prefer to be blown outside of a nuclear radiation zone by the explosion itself than be stuck in a bomb shelter inside the toxic area.  The Shelterball will only be demonstrated to work or not work in the advent of our worlds nuclear destruction, in which case they likely need not worry about their money back guarantee.

DuraDent Tooth Spray plays on the parents desire not to have to deal with tantrums and melt downs associated with depriving their children of those addictive things they love, which also happen to be terrible for them.  So for this they have a product which coats a child's teeth in a protective layer that prevents them from getting cavities from Soda Pop drinks.  So it bypasses the need for self restraint and ignores the other issues like filling up you kid with sugar and caffeine.  They are solely focused on cavities.  They also encourage you to believe your children will love you more should you use this product.  They also deflect the desire to know what Tar-O-Plast is made from.

Clone Star Body Banks keep an actual genetically enhanced clone of you at a location which can be harvested should you ever fall ill and require an organ or blood transfusion etc.  They actually encourage you to live extravagantly by smoking or whatever, because you now have spare parts.  They don't want you to sympathize with the clones nor even humanize them to any great extent, so they assure you that these clones are having a wonderful time waiting to be harvested.  They claim that your clone lives in a virtual paradise, mingling with the clones of Celebrities and such on an island called Partyville.  The small print does correct this though by stating the clones actually reside in vats, and that Partyville is a fictional location known internally as Clone Garden 46134A.

Positive News Plus+
Positive news plus is a feature you can subscribe to which filters your daily media into news stories which can be more digestible than reality.  So your news feed can be all cat and puppy videos if you like or alternately a close representation of the state of the world.  I vaguely remember  being a young child and watching on the TV the bombing of Baghdad.  It was dubbed "Shock and awe" I seem to recall.  It was very confusing to me at the time as the commentators treated it almost as a spectacle similar to watching a fireworks show rather than the reality of it being a real time depiction of death and destruction.  I think there was actual footage taken from cameras mounted on precision bombs showing their approach and ending in static.   It was very much desensitizing something that really shouldn't be glossed over.  If a decision is made to destroy men, women, children, kittens, architecture and so on of another society, whether right or wrong, then the full implications of that decision should be shown accurately to its people so it is never misconstrued what the decision actually did.  When attempting to destroy an enemy then the elected officials naturally don't want you to associate with them on an emotional level to the extent that we contemplate that they also have adorable children, laughter and cats and dogs identical to our own. Seeing this on TV was what germinated the idea for Positive News Plus+ so long ago and to be honest the advent of instant, worldwide visual media which we have bombarding us daily may hasten this type of filter rather than prevent it.  But then again perhaps it will desensitize us to the extent its not required to filter.  Hard to say.  The next post will be on the Singularity of Kumiko.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Imogen and Kumiko part one

     When you arrived at Imogen and the Pigeons it was to a desolate landscape of collapsed buildings and dormant nuclear silos.  A decayed sign above some rubble read "Rebirth Life Encryption" and inside were several rusted hulks of what appeared to be devices used to save ones consciousness or memories digitally onto a device.  As you walked through what was left of the facility you discover one final working machine whose wheels still slowly revolve.  If you looked inside there was a nameplate fallen down, indicating that the memory stored, of that last human, was of a person named Imogen.  Beside Imogen's machine stood a rusted and worn Singbot resembling a WWII singer named Vera Lynn.  Here she still remained, singing to the last vestige of her final  job as was her programming.
     From here we enter the memories of Imogen as stored on the machine.  We come first to an asylum with a variety of rooms all housing characters who are aspects of Imogen's personality, and eventually we come to Imogen's room itself from where she watches pigeons outside her window each day.
 She sees them not as a pest nor vermin as society does, but rather as a family of sorts whose soft cooing calms her.  In her mental state it is what she desires most, she believes, erringly, that if only she could join them all her sorrows would dissipate with the closeness they would provide.  She determines to camouflage herself and join them on the wires, and it is at this point that Imogen first begins to rewrite or edit her memories as stored on the machine.
     For the crux of translating memories into a digital format of zeroes and ones is that it was now possible to edit that which was previously untouchable.. a memory.  The question now is whether, morally, it is acceptable to change how a life unfolds.  To delete sadness in order to rewrite an outcome that was part of living.  Must we have sorrows and trials in life in order to allow happiness to exist?  Can happiness exist if there is nothing contrasting to compare it to?  For example, if we no longer understood sadness, if it was an obsolete emotion, then would joy cease to exist as well, seeing as it may need the contrast of sadness to have a reference point.  Would it improve a life or simply create a continuous bland one?  That is the question I wonder about.

Kumikos book on Whales
     Imogen leaves her bed and goes on a journey collecting pigeon feathers from which to fashion a costume that she believes will fool the pigeons into accepting her as one of them.  On her bed rests two books.  Both can also be found strewn on the road by Kumikos torn backpack.  Imogen keeps them near.
Imogens bed with books
Sewing a dress
Imogen first finds her sewing machine and fashions a dress in greys, then walks the heights of a building collecting feathers for a shawl.  She then goes to a beauty salon and burns the feathers into her hair.  Her disguise seemingly complete she then has an unwanted memory come to her.  It is of her kitchen in another life, and a floor strewn with blank paper all devoid of children's drawings except a final one held by a magnet to her refrigerator.  A sea of blank paper on the floor never to be drawn upon.

It is a painful memory from which she flees.  She rushes to the alleyway below where her window  lays                                     
and climbs a telephone pole close to her pigeons on wire.  Naturally, not even remotely fooled, they startle and fly away at her approach as her dream is really just a lie she told herself, and now it was coming apart at the seams.  She jumps and for a moment is flying with them, then she falls to the street below, dying yet being reborn.
Ruth Etting Songbot
     At this point she becomes stronger and more aware.  Joining the pigeons was just a fairy tale or fantasy she devised thinking it was what would be her salvation.  Imogen was never a strong person so she didn't first reach for that which she desired most.

     Imogen now knew what she wanted and begins to craft a different ending to her recorded life.  She delves into her own digital memories and begins ripping and tearing them apart, sewing a new reality of sorts.  Her real memories warp or dissipate as she writes them into something new. 

Hair salon
     In the asylum, her psychologist had his patients raise and care for a monarch butterfly with the idea being that the wonder of metamorphosis could bring the patients out of their fugue state.  Imogen incorporates this experience into her new reality.

      The final scene is of the whale from the cover of Kumikos book coming down from the sky gently carrying with it a Monarch pupa from which, through it translucent skin, can be seen the face of a baby.  Imogen reaches up joyfully to take her lost daughter to her breast and together they begin to live within this new memory fashioned by her.  Outside in the real world her machines wheels slowly turn as sand gradually build up around its flanks.  The Vera Lynnbot gently singing.

Fridge drawings
    Now it is for the viewer to decide, if we could, should we edit our own memories if in doing so it creates a life of joy.  Are the events of our lives sacrosanct? Above change or interference? or is that line of thinking simply poetic nonsense.  If we have the power to change our lives into an ideal one with no sadness nor mistakes then why not use such technology?
Collecting feathers
 With Imogen it has brought her contentment and joy, if she doesn't know that she had a previous life then did she?  Does the human race need failure or sadness in order to strive for success and happiness?
The symbolic code

In Imogen and the Pigeons we are introduced to the idea of the moral dilemma of editing ones memories combined with immortality.  For that was the eventual goal of Rebirth Life Encryption.  They saved memories digitally waiting for the day when the machines of the Singularity would devise a way for those lives to be installed into a new body. The precipice to immortality brought on from technology which, perhaps, was available to humanity before its communal maturity was prepared for it.  The Singularity, which I will explain in the next post, eventually allows for miraculous inventions to appear daily all created by AI, who do not evaluate their impact.