Sunday, June 28, 2015

Jüdisches Museum in Berlin - Obedience - part six

 From the toy room Isaac has packed some things to include on his adventure with his Father.  Various objects including his toy wooden Ram.  In the original story they climb a mountain called Moriah which I have changed to the Moriah Towers apartment building.   The viewer passes a spotlight that follows their movement as though being watched or similar to a spotlight at a prison camp.  They come to the gates and pass through, following their own shadow, then soon arrive at the steps to the apartment complex.  They climb and at the first landing Isaac stops to ask a question of his father

Abraham: “Yes, my son?”
Isaac: “The sky is clouded and there are no stars.  How will we see upon the building?”
Abraham: “God himself will provide the fire, my son.” 

The original from the Bible is below.

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

    Isaac follows his father with complete innocence and trust, as a child would do.  For to a child their Father is God, there is nothing above them. Only a mother who is his equal.  Isaac follows his God obediently while Abraham follows his own both in error it seems.

One of the most important things for me when I build is to experiment and play while I do so.  I have been doing both of those things with light and shadow.. well seriously since the Singularity of Kumiko.  The entire build, for me, heavily focuses on light and darkness and the interplay between them, and the emotional reaction.  The shards of light passing through the steps for example, or further along is a chaotic play with rotating lights and cast shadows.  I have taken two images to show the constant variations as they turn.  Go visit if you wish to see what I mean.  The viewer now passes through a monochrome interpretation of how I imagined a mildly dreamy steampunk version of Heaven as we approach Gods throne room.  There is an Orrey housing planets who slowly revolve around the Sun.  Galileo angered the Pope with his views that the sun rotated, and planets orbited the sun rather than Earth.  For this he was put on
image by Val Kendal
trial by the Inquisition and found guilty of heresy.  He was forced to state that his findings were incorrect and even still was imprisoned, then later put under house arrest.  The Church monitored his travel and communication, censoring his writings and placing them in the index of prohibited books.  

Image by Val Kendal

     The way I approached this project was to try and see it from both a macro and micro perspective.  So on one hand we have the story of a Father and son and a request/demand made by an authority figure.  On the macro level there is the reference to Governments and Churches who wield powers which able them to censor thoughts or send its youth off to wars shrouded in propaganda and misinformation.  The need to question rather than follow in blind obedience. Who is God and who is Abraham and then who is Isaac in our society?  In the end I tried to understand who is God.  Why would he need to test someone in this manner knowing there is not a balance of power from which Abraham could refuse the demand.  The last portion of the build deals more with these questions and that is what I will focus on for the next post.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Jüdisches Museum in Berlin - Obedience - part five

     The next scene is of Isaac playing in his toy room with Abraham arriving to tell his son to come with him on a trip.  Before Abraham is about to speak though, Isaac blurts out something to his father that was on his mind.  I find children's insights into things quite pure and endearing so I wrote a little addition to the narrative which hopefully portrayed that a bit.  As Isaac plays with his toy ram on wheels, he ponders why its horns circle inward with their points safely hidden within the centre, almost as though it would prefer to suffer attacks upon itself rather than hurt another.  Its peaceful and docile nature making it the perfect sacrifice.  I also wanted to show perhaps a hint of how Abraham might see God.  A God who is not simply gentle and caring, but one which possesses the sharp horns needed to fight off evil.  Isaac says to his father upon seeing him at the door..

Isaac "Father?"
Abraham "Yes, my son?"
Isaac: "I love the ram, for its horns are curved in such a way that its points turn upon itself so as to not hurt others."

Abraham "Yet it is the sharp points of a bulls horn that keeps the herd safe from wolves. Come Isaac. Carry with you your wooden Ram for we go together to watch the stars upon a building"

And with this they begin their journey to climb Moriah Towers, which I have changed from a
mountain to an apartment building.

     The design of this scene and others are done so that the composition is strong regardless of where the viewer stands.  I have added some of the eyepath lines to show how they cycle the eye within
the composition from the main view that most take, but also with a side view.  You could also look from the top down or behind Abrahams head towards Isaac and the composition should still remain strong.  But that is the fun of a virtual space where the viewer has freedom to look from any number of angles, the composition now is no longer a fixed one such as in a painting, but requires more thought and creativity in this new environment.

     So what we are looking at with the arrows are the way our eye subconsciously moves within the artwork.  It varies with different people and cultures but it works on most.  The high contrast within each scene creates a strong line between the darkness of the shadows and the lit areas.  Your eye follows along these dark and light borders and are cycled to the main characters reinforcing how they are interacting.   You will notice that the intention is to stop the eye from leaving the scene by rerouting it back to the main focal point endlessly.  The important part though is to make it subtle.  Too much manipulation can make it feel sterile, yet too little can confuse the viewer and make them lose interest quickly.. which then might prevent what you wish to say from being absorbed.  I circled the big wall stain because the eye is also drawn towards unique shapes/colours/lines etc.  You will notice that when you look at the top image your eye will pop over to the wall stain quite frequently as well as the two black spots on the wall.  Abraham even points to it.  It acts as a barrier which stops the eye who then moves down to the face of Isaac.  Oh and the box.  Forgot the box.  The box shows a mini composition which contains just the very high contrast of Isaacs white face against the black shadow behind the door.  This area is cycled within the door frame and Abrahams arm.  It essentially highlights just Isaacs face looking to Abraham his father.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Jüdisches Museum in Berlin - Obedience - part four

The God channel
     I don't think I have said this in a while but I probably should mention that this blog is meant to catalogue the artwork I have created over the last several years using the virtual world as a medium.   Years ago I would be building on the IBM sandbox beside AM Radio or experiencing something by Gazira Babeli.  Having fun in a wonderful creation by Four Yip who was a personal favorite of mine, or seeing work by the superstars of the time with names such as Seifert Surface, Scope Cleaver, Madcow Cosmos and many others.  It was really a positive and exciting time in SL.  I think I have mentioned before that Glyph Graves and I were new around the same time and would often explore and absorb together the new works that would appear.   Sadly I think most of those names are forgotten now as many are lost except in places like Bettina Tizzys Not Possible in Real Life blog
     I remember AM Radio saying to me and my friend ColeMarie that he had simply run out of ideas.  He had burnt out.  Others like my artist friend Aurakyoo Insoo simply disappeared.  Some artists are prolific and are fortunate enough to have many ideas that span years, some have simply one or two magnificent ideas and then are done.  You never really know, and that is kind of why I began keeping track of what I was doing on this blog because one day I will simply burn out too.  I felt that this medium was unique and I loved the idea of possibly being part of a new movement that could one day be spoken about in an art class somewhere.  So anyway, this blog is meant to catalogue my work for someone who stumbles upon it ten years down the road, I just wanted to make that clear as I sometimes fear it could come across as being supremely conceited to have been talking about myself for the last several years or whatever it is.  Ok back to the explanation of the build.

     The viewer turns from the bedroom and not far off is a dark scene showing Abraham watching TV late at night.  In my version Abraham is contacted by God through the television set and told..

Modernized - "Abraham!”And he said, “Here I am,”God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac— and go to the Moriah Towers. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering upon the building I will show you.”

Original - "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." God said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you."  
     One of the things that I felt was important was to not change the narrative from the original to a degree where the modernized version was no longer applicable.   I wanted to simply change the perspective a bit and see if it affected how we would view the story.  So if Abraham, in speaking to the police, were to say that God spoke to him through the TV and told him to kill his son, then he would join a multitude of others worldwide who had been spoken to through a TV.  Those people are generally referred to as being "crazy".  That idea doesn't come up in the Bible because it is not told from a 3rd person perspective of an observer.  I mean its perspective really.  I remember once walking down the sidewalk in Toronto to see a man walking towards me with an axe.  I had my headphones on but I could see him talking out loud and it freaked me out, though I think it probably didn't show.  I wondered if he was a psycho, and thought about crossing the street, but strangely I felt like I would be insulting him if I did that and he wasn't a psycho killer.  I mean like why would you care about that? .. yet in that moment I did.  Anyway it was just some guy who had bought an axe and was walking home with it and I guess  he was talking on a blue tooth.  He was completely unaware of how freaky he looked. 
      Leaving this scene brings the viewer through a room that was, to me, something that suggested a breaking from reality.  I imagined a sane person being told to kill their son by a God, and that they  maintained their sanity while determining to do so.  I envisioned the moments afterwords where Abraham may have sat staring at the TV while his mind rolled and twisted with horror.  That he would stand and perhaps follow some simple routines such as placing the TV remote in its usual tray where it doesn't get misplaced.  He would walk, dizzy and slightly ill, to the kitchen to open the fridge in a daze, registering nothing inside as his mind spiralled in turmoil.  That was the idea of the room but also it is important in a build like this to create some variety for the viewer.  In a painting you shouldn't do the same brush stroke over and over for the entire painting.  You can create some thick paint areas with a giant brush, then thin bits, then a palette knife then something very thin and
runny.  The eye travels over the artwork and sees the texture almost as a landscape.  The eye roams over the surface and can become over stimulated or desensitized if there is too much, so then you create perhaps a area that is just pure canvas with a light wash over it.  The eye arrives here and "rests" before it moves on.  Now the virtual space is a new art medium and naturally you shouldn't try to blindly apply traditional concepts in art over it simply because you don't know what else to do.  But having said that, you need not throw away centuries of communal knowledge either.  This room creates a variation or break for the viewer from the previous two rooms.  It is not essential for the narrative, rather it is important to break up the scenes between the bedroom and TV room with the Toy room (which is the next post).  The room itself has the floating melody of Vera Lynn who sings a World War II song that was popular during truly the time of obedience.  From the Nazi guard at Belsen to the soldier storming the beaches of Normandy.  Abraham ehoes all of these things.

And in other news I just rediscovered my twitter account which I will try to use.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Jüdisches Museum in Berlin - Obedience - part three

initial sketch
     When I reacquainted myself with the story for Abraham and Isaac I felt that it was abstract in such a way that I didn't really connect emotionally with the Father and Son and the events.  To me it was similar to how, when you are learning in school about WWI, the teacher might say "And then at dawn 1000 soldiers climbed out of the trenches and rushed the gun emplacements..."  X amount of land was taken and Y amount of soldiers were injured or killed.  I personally think war could be told through love letters, family pictures and such of those who died and perhaps more importantly of those who lived or continued with loss.   It would change it from a board game to something more tangible and relateable.   I wanted to humanize and modernize the story a bit more. 
     The first scene shows Abraham holding his infant son Isaac and nursing him with his pinky finger while they look into each others eyes.  It is an intimate moment where a Father connects to their
child, unable to feed them, yet knowing the child innocently looks to them for sustenance.   You are their world and they are yours.  My mother once told me a story where her and her brother, as children, were playing by one of those vintage china cabinets made of oak.  She remembers that the
cabinet had cut out scrollwork at the bottom, and that her brother wedged his head under it and then could not get out again.  He screamed in fear and my Mother describes how my Grandmother rushed into the room and literally lifted up the extremely heavy cabinet and held it as her son took out his head.  A seemingly impossible feat done through fear, love and adrenaline.  If it were a bear or wolf threatening her child, she would have fought it with her bare hands without a thought to herself.  Abraham no doubt also had this type of strong connection to his son and I wanted to show just what God was asking of him if possible.
     Too much technical preoccupation in an artwork makes it stale yet, to me, no planning or understanding of the space you work in often creates work that lacks focus or the ability to connect the viewer to the artwork.  My favorite art and artists generally are able to maintain a spontaneous freedom in their work yet have a sophisticated understanding of what they do and why.  There are always those who do very technical pieces that I absolutely adore and others, such as folk artists or outsider artists, who astound me with their spontaneous creations. On the whole I tend to like a balance and that, quite likely, is why my work is balanced that way too.   This next portion, as requested, is the technical reasoning for how this build was composed.  Each scene is a oasis of light in a dark ocean of shadows.  My interest is in creating scenes of stillness with just a hint of motion here and there.  Almost like a snapshot in time that is slowly returning to normal speed.  It is the place between a static painting and full movement such as in cinema.  Ambient sound is important to me for creating mood as well as narrative, interaction and freedom within the virtual space.  Layering of meaning is also quite important to me in that it rewards those who, like me, enjoy looking under rocks and general discovery.  But for me that discovery can not be a simple thing that everyone finds.. the viewer must feel like they have found something that very few unearth.  I believe that intimacy is important, though each build is created in such a way that it is never essential to find the layers.  Some want a casual stroll in the park and some want to go camping.  Both are equal.
      The main purpose of this build is to accommodate the guest at the museum who, in most cases, has no experience with a virtual space, with the controls needed to move and so on.  I have created spaces such as this a number of times in the past for real life events and generally, the visitor will explore for 30 seconds to five minutes.  The reasons for this are many. For example they may be with a friend and can't become immersed, they are too excited to sit for a long time, there are people waiting to use the kiosk and they feel obligated to let others try and so on.  The build itself is too long and tricky for a visitor at the museum, but not for the experienced second life user who has not been ignored.  The museum visitor observes the first scene and then walks towards the next spotlight in the darkness.  This give s the impression of great space and claustrophobia at the same time and the light beacons lead the viewer without having to use ground arrows which break the immersion.  Once they arrive there they are introduced to a new scene that is bordered in darkness thus creating a familiar frame for them to understand and look within.  They explore various scenes and then leave the computer to go into the rest of the museum, the avatar is scripted using the experience tools (with a great script by Caer Balogh) to teleport back to the starting point if the avatar has not moved for five minutes.  This allows each new visitor to start from the beginning and helps prevent the avatar from getting wedged into unexpected places as noobs are so successful at doing.
     The initial scene is composed to cycle the viewers eye within the piece.  Leading the eye from place to place and ensuring the viewer spends some time looking at Abraham and his son.  I have done a post in the past on how the eyepath works within a composition.  It is an interesting technique and if you would like to better understand it then take this link eyepath.  For those who are familiar with it then I have added a picture of the first scene which shows some of the lines the eye takes when exploring the composition.  The scene also has a projector light inside the turning children's lamp and it casts though a cut out of two rabbit shapes and projects them onto the wall.. it also slowly slides over the contours of Abraham and Isaac on the bed (see the machinima below).   I was thinking that this is also a useful way to lead the eye to the main characters.  You watch the rabbit appear on the wall and follow it to the main characters, it then disappears and your eye is now within the main focal point which is the triangulation between the crook of the elbow leading to Abrahams hand, which leads to baby Isaac who looks up to Abraham and so on.  If the eye leaves this area it can be led back with the lines of the lamp and the high contrast line of light on the bed which leads to the leg then back up to the hand supporting Isaac and then to the fingers which lead in to the babies face to start the cycle again.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Jüdisches Museum in Berlin - Obedience - part two

     The first room where the visitor arrives is a necessary evil.  I really dislike text in a build as it begins each experience by breaking the immersion. The viewer is forced to read technical directions on how to set up the windlight (sky or atmospheric effects), projector lighting and so on.  Ideally an immersive experience should begin upon arrival.  Immersion is a constant back and forth of various elements fighting against one another for dominance.  In real life you have all the peripheral stimulus outside the borders of your computer screen to break the immersion for you, such as bills on a table, the radio playing, a phone call or whatever.  In the virtual space we attempt to overcome this with focus capturing elements such as composition, narrative, sound, interaction and various other elements ranging from creating a sense of mystery or even anger or fear in the viewer.  But having said this, you have to rely on the viewer to make an effort to experience the artwork.  For example I was directed to a blog post by someone a while ago reviewing Lobby Cam.  In it they said they didn't feel like discovering the pages which told the story for the artwork, then they proceeded to review it.  I expect they then went to a concert, put in ear plugs, then reviewed that.  I should do reviews of reviews haha anyway.  But what I found interesting is they also wrote about reading some drama of two people arguing, and to her that was quite entertaining.  Let me show why that interested me.
     If you look at the various fairly current TV shows you will see that over time society has been changing as far as attention span goes.  Research into using forms of stimulus to maintain attention has become a huge focus.  So essentially what a show tries to do is pump out a powerful attention seeking effect every x amount of minutes or seconds to ensure the viewer does not change the channel to one of the hundreds of others available as competition.  Reality shows are quite powerful in that they are "real", or appear to be so.  Often they contain extreme emotions such as fighting and shouting, as in the ahead of its time Jerry springer show.   Or we see various judges criticising teens whose emotions are less guarded.   Simon Cowell, for example, was spellbinding and a hero to some due to his ruthless and often calculated and mean spirited attacks upon bright eyed talents who took a chance, even the bad ones, while millions sat at home snickering in an arm chair.  It is not us being mean, that is not on our conscience, we just get to witness it.  Then there is the stress stimulus of cooking competitions where the chef is an asshole as well, because you know, speed cooking on national TV is not stressful enough.  Dr Phil makes people cry each episode and you can even see him leaning forward as he strives to get the TV gold, then when they begin to weep his body language shows him lean back and relax with a very "mission accomplished" look to him.  There was a show I once saw called Cheaters which filmed people as they discovered their wife or husband cheating on them.  They would actually drive them to the motel to see it live so that the emotions would be particularly raw.  It is all emotional voyeurism which the viewer need not experience in their own life.  They just turn the TV off, yet have absorbed a fight or flight type of emotional experience which has injected them with adrenaline.  A type of addiction I expect.
     What this all means to me is that Society seems to have changed into an instant gratification mentality where we have become desensitized by this battle for our attention.  Now it is a battle of extreme stimulus between competitors, and as such we likely will never see a Bob Ross joy of painting paced program for quite a while if ever again.  I don't think it is necessarily because people wouldn't watch it, but rather because the networks probably wouldn't take a chance on it after determining the road to success was extreme stimulus.  These can also be seen as extreme immersion shows as well.

     I have gotten a little bit ranty here, but what I mean to say is that, while TV, and now Cinema, is an established massive battleground with sophisticated research into these philosophies of viewer retention or perhaps mental captivity, the virtual space is still new and unspoiled, yet simple principles of immersion need to be contemplated and perfected.  We can't control all nor should we attempt to, but it is important to be aware and find the balance.
      Linden Lab should provide a specifically designed immersive viewer which has nothing but perhaps a chat bar.  You shouldn't be able to get into the inventory or teleport away, you can't see your AO and once windlight settings are set they can't be altered.  With the Museum show these things had to be done with RLV because the guest, possibly a child, who sits down at the PG museum computer must not be able to teleport away to an adult sim or take off all their clothes etc.  A dedicated viewer such as this would not only allow me to set up an experience for the Museum to use immediately without the technical barriers (they must do the settings on the host computer themselves as currently and I can not save them remotely from my computer) but it would also allow us to bypass the immersion breaking issues that SL currently possesses.  With the advent of the Occulus Rift, the quest for highly immersive environments will become more sophisticated and the platform with the least amount of barriers may be adopted.  I was planning on doing a post on the composition of the build but I got side tracked, so that will start with the next post.  I didn't actually get past my dislike of text.. sigh.