In The Sweet Bye & Bye


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(See First Life to Second Life: Notes on the Design and Development of a Synthetic World Installation, In The Sweet Bye & Bye: An Immersive Memoir for a presentation of the design and implementation process of this piece.)

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In The Sweet Bye & Bye is an immersive memoir, a narrative composition designed to be “read” in three dimensions. It is a fusion of traditional and avant garde genres, that can only be realized in the synthetic world.

The narrative threads and paths are discovered in the overlap of images and texts, and in the compositions of planes and angles that form/transform as the avatar moves in the installation space and through various points-of-view. The narratives are on three levels – personal/family anecdote, communal lore, and allegory.

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In The Sweet Bye & Bye begins my investigation of narrative composition and environment design that is generative,  creating optical/perceptual illusions that illuminate, in the imagination, new ways of seeing elements and understanding their relationships. This generative design concept is enabled by the synthetic world characteristics of multiple avatar points-of-view and intuitive navigation on three axis. In The Sweet Bye & Bye is a narrative with variable sequence and duration, as the visitor avatar orders the elements through navigation, gaze and point-of-view choices. This creates a unique visual/sound experience for each visitor, and on each encounter. With multiple encounters, the visitor discovers more of the content, its depth and richness, and memory, the fourth dimension, adds another layer to the temporal terrain.

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The machinima (in-world motion media), produced in the In the Sweet Bye & Bye installation, presents a simulated walk-thru of the installation, from the avatar (first person) or camera point-of-view. It gives a brief impression of the immersive experience of the visitor-via-avatar. It also serves as primer, for visitors, on reading in three dimensions, disclosing the richness and depth of the piece when viewed from the optimum points-of-view. The sequence of views and paths through the installation are barely a glimpse of the content and possibilities. The sound track of the machinima simulates the layers of voice and ambience in the installation. The machinima is available to visitors at the installation site through a kiosk adjacent to the entrance.

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Design of the immersive installation draws on inspiration and insight from diverse sources, including Charles Mingus’ solo piano compositions, the design concepts of Luxor Temple, Romare Bearden’s collages, and the nomad aesthetic of the Tuareg.The text is by my mother, Dorothy Mallory Jones, poet and historian, with whom I have collaborated on several projects.

The process of developing this installation in the Second Life immersive environment illuminates, for me, the coherence of this body of work as memoir; literally, the text is written by my mother, Dorothy Mallory Jones, derived from her life and insights; many of the images and scenes are personal/family; and metaphorically, memoir as form suggests glimpses, recollections, and ruminations.

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This memoir is unique, in concept and execution, to Second Life, and could not be realized in this way in First Life. It is read in three dimensions, in real time, through intuitive navigation. Its stories are on, and between, floating text/image compositions and luminous murals. Voices move in the space, speaking the text. It is composed, in sequence, duration, and visual composition, by the visitor avatar’s navigation, point-of-view, and gaze. It is more stories than I know. Yet, it is the same story. This concept of reading in three dimensions and composing in layered composite image, through shifting points-of-view and focus of gaze, illuminates new territory for narrative genres native to the synthetic world. Indeed, it glimpses the possibility of thinking about language in new ways, and very old ways (Temple at Luxor).

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There are intentional sight lines in the space where looking through the transparent portions of a panel reveals other compositions and scenes that form new                      compositions, and whose stories and meanings intersect and extend the meaning of the first. If the avatar moves to the other side of the panel, the first story is still there, but the composite field of view has changed, creating a different narrative path. The avatar is free to move around and through the panels, or drift above them, discovering the intentional patterns and sight lines, that illuminate narrative paths, as well as serendipity and surprise.

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“Everything is part of something else.” Romare Bearden

Romare Bearden’s influence on my thinking and vision is foundational. I study his writings and collage work before beginning new work. In his transfiguration of one thing into another I find the essence of Alchemy, revealing the sublime in the mundane. The precision of his compositions, their geometries, is integral to their perception and meaning. Bearden observed that he learned to paint by listening to Earl Fatha Hines play Stride piano. Rhythms are created by the silence between notes. As with Jean Cocteau’s compositions in La Belle et La Bete, what is not there is as important as what is there. From Bearden’s combinations and collisions of scale, perspective, and content I get license to be bold. Finally, one is always aware that the work is about touching Spirit. Other guides and influences include Charles Mingus, R. A. Schawaller de Lubicz, Roy de Carava, Langston Hughes, Claude Debussy, Jean Cocteau, Robert Ferris Thompson, Charles Finch, and Antoine de Saint Exupery. Their genius informs this process, and is the ground.

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“The art of painting is the art of putting one thing on top of something else.” Romare Bearden

In the Sweet Bye & Bye is painting with light, shadow and motion. Translucence,  transparence and refraction are significant elements in my palette .Orson Well’s innovation of extreme deep focus in Citizen Kane is another reference. Through this visual approach, multiple simultaneous narratives are possible, the foreground story, and something(s) else in the background. step into an exploded collage / multiple simultaneous, intersecting narratives

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“Dance For Absent Partners” is one of the murals in the allegory sequence. It depicts The Sisterhood (a mythic trans-generational society) performing a ritual that helps sustain the community. (Signage in the installation explains the scenes of the allegory to visitors.) The foreground figure is avatar-size, approx 2m height. This perceptual scale creates a visceral affect in the visitor, and is a critical element in the installation design. By controlling the aspects of field of view and background, scale and distance references enhance the illusion, and hence the experience, of a full-sized scene. The 2D image becomes 3D.

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In front of the scene, an animation of the dancer with her (spirit) partner floats on translucent membranes. Avatar navigation alters and reveals compositions.

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VIEW THE SCENE

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Another element of the allegory is the iconography of Santeria, presented in a group of paintings of Orisha. The images are placed to associate with particular images, texts, and zones. These images are densely coded in the mythology and cosmology of Santeria, and function in the same way as Hieroglyphic in the Nile Valley. Each image conveys a volume, to those who can read it. In the story of the Orisha are keys to understanding the other associated images and text. A visitor in In the Sweet Bye & Bye, who does not understand the nuances of English language, but who does recognize the Orisha, can find a comprehensible orientation to enter the narrative. The images are inspired by the paintings of Alberto Pozo.

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“All art aspires to the condition of music.” (Walter Pater)

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The bass and piano solos of Charles Mingus are guides in my exploration of the transposition of structure and experience from one form to another, from music to visual/immersive. My intention is to compose visual analogs, in qualities of light and shadow, shape and motion, to cord progressions, tonal changes and rhythms of Mingus’ compositions and performance. The solo piano composition,Orange Was the Color of Her Dress: Then Silk Blues, evokes in me a sense of home, minors and flats. The changes, chord and rhythm collisions  and lyrical sweeps, are narrative progressions through the piece.

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Book of Dreams_4aThe image/text compositions floating as panels in the installation found their first expression in the print portfolio, LISSEN HERE! at 13” x 17”. In the synthetic world manifestation of In the Sweet Bye & Bye they are experienced by the viewer/visitor at the scale originally conceived, 1m x 2m and larger. The layering of images and text on multiple planes creates new compositions with associated elements (sightlines). The visitor perceives multiple simultaneous facets of the same character or situation. These compositions become trans-generational, layering personal/family anecdote, community lore, and allegory.

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Each encounter with In the Sweet Bye & Bye is different for the visitor, as the same navigation, pov, focus of gaze, and duration choices won’t be repeated. With each visit, more is seen and heard, different views discovered, texts (re)read. Memory is revised, and new meanings discovered. Two different avatars, in the space simultaneously, will see and hear different pieces, each putting it together – making meaning – in their own intuitive process.

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A visitor based in Paris, after exploring In the Sweet Bye & Bye for 30 minutes remarked, “I feel I’m in the presence of ghosts.” A confirming comment, as it touches on an essential intention, that the work is an interface between the seen and unseen worlds, that it evokes an experience of Spirit. This is the heart of ritual practice. Among my several guides in this realm is Robert Ferris Thompson and his critique of the African Atlantic expressive tradition (Flash of the Spirit). In this tradition, art practice has three essential qualities and intentions. It is Juridical, it teaches right and wrong, and gives prescriptions for correct living. It is Medicinal, it nurtures and heals. It is Aesthetic, it’s form conveys meaning. In the moment that the visitor perceived “the presence of ghosts”, she experienced the piece as ritual, as the membrane interface between the corporeal and ethereal.

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“A poem should not mean, But be.” Archibald MacLeish

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The process through which In the Sweet Bye & Bye was developed (migration/transformation/convergence/synthesis) has been revelatory and confirming. Moving from the analog/physical/proximal gallery installation FOOTPRINTS, to the ephemeral synthetic world presence In The Sweet Bye & Bye, is a paradigm shift in perception, both for me as artist and for the audience/visitor. The experience of the synthetic world visitor can be more profound, in terms of engagement with the artwork, and the meaning and understanding received, than encountering the same content in the physical realm. There are ideas, concepts and visions that can be realized in the synthetic realm that are not possible in First Life. I am not suggesting that the synthetic environment can or should replace the physical. Kinetic engagement with a space and the superior range of sensing in the body are a different order of experience.

The concept of reading in three dimensions, composing in layered composite image, through shifting pov and focus of gaze, illuminates new territory for narrative genre(s) native to the synthetic world. Indeed, it glimpses the possibility of thinking about language in new ways, and very old ways (Temple at Luxor).

In the Sweet Bye & Bye is also an indication of emerging possibilities for organizing, accessing, manipulating, and presenting a range of content materials. Intuitive navigation, pov, and the ability to rapidly (re)compose the elements can catalyze new understanding and insight. I am engaged with several projects investigating interdisciplinary discourse and collaboration, pedagogy, and art practice in synthetic worlds.

At the heart of my art practice is ritual, the creation of the membrane interface between the see and unseen worlds. In the migration and transformation of traditional knowledge systems into 21st century modes of expression and perception, my quest remains the same, in the process of the making to touch the hem of the Muse. The making of the work is a meditation, a path to discovery. ‘Temple’ comes from the Latin ‘templum’, which is not a space, but a span of time.

SLURL:   http://slurl.com/secondlife/OHIO%20Edu/67/200/33

SL LANDMARK:   OHIO Edu (66, 199, 33)

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