Saturday, 30 August 2008

Station Tour: Introduction to the internal spaces 31 August 08

The video clip below is an introduction to the main internal spaces in my Wellington Railway Station build in Second Life. *(Please select 'Older Posts' at the bottom of this text for the video clip). Externally, (I will be including a clip of my interpretation in Second Life of the external facades of the build later) the real life Wellington Railway Station building presents itself as a large, ponderous edifice, with a certain 1930`s industrial weight conveyed through its national community purpose and visual signature. In June 1937, when it was opened, as the plaque on the wall of the ticket office proclaims, the station building was an important part of New Zealand`s engineering heritage, the largest public building in the country and the first major construction to incorporate resistance measures to earthquake. The building presents a stolid, secure and perhaps nostalgic face to those Wellingtonians who still notice its existence (During the course of my research/practice I have spoken to a number of people who speak very fondly of the times spent commuting through the station doors. These people communicate a clear sense of ownership of this place) at the end of what currently is a busy, modern, thriving glass and steel city centre.

However, under closer scrutiny, the corporate monolith of red brick yields up details in its external facades, away from the grandeur of the entrance pillars - the walls and combings under the roof, the window designs and tesselated tile works creating rhythms, patterning and repetition, arresting in their delicacy and subtlty and in the evening, the time I have chosen for my dance and film work, the building is transformed by lighting into a warm, glowing, winter palace. There is also an interesting contrast (like so many buildings) between the front, side and rear faces, typical in their pragmatic, purpose-based personna. In my SL build I am working on these differing spaces and seeking to identify some of the features and qualities which form the gulf between the grandeur of the entrance, with its face toward the parliamentary Beehive and the pragmatism of the platforms and utility spaces at the rear of the building.

The clip shown below begins outside the main entrance, where I have placed three bilboards providing information and requesting assistance for my project. The first is a large notecard dispenser which I have developed into a gargoyle well. In this build I am seeking to balance a range of issues, not the least of which is to build certain structures which are relevant aesthetically to my ideas and functional for practical SL purposes, while at the same time providing visual and conceptual interest for myself and to the public coming through the project site. The Gargoyle Notecard Dispenser is an example. It is a small, somewhat wayward, tongue-in-cheek comment on my feelings surrounding the architecture of the station in real life; the station does not have a gargoyle well, but I feel that it should! The influence of the Duende prompted the design for this particular structure and I enjoy not only the obtuseness of the idea, but the vague mystery of the dispenser concealing the well inside, the surfaces it presents for the quotations and that I can alter the type, colour, tone and level of the water in the well as a signifier of feeling: wells possess a fascination for children and adults alike but this fascination is comprised of dark things emerging from below and a fear of falling into a dark place ...

We move on to the bilboard on Simulacra, a definition on one side and my own comment on this Simulacrum build on the other. In the middle of the entrance is a smaller bilboard inviting the public to make comment and give me feedback on the build on one side - on the other side is a request from me for stories, anecdotes and experiences to be shared about the notion of 'leaving': partings and departures for other places and spaces.

The clip takes us in through the main entrance to the principal space for my dance, filming and building work; the main Concourse which used to be the ticket office of the station. I wanted to show a few details in this clip: how some of the tools in SL work, which enable the building process, communicating through notecards to people when you may be absent and actually conversing through typing with another avatar in front of you, (I do not have voice enabled - another issue). I also wanted to show a little of the lighting effects I have achieved through layering photo/textures which can be so bequiling (yet faithful to the real life architectural structure /sense of) in the build.

The clip is too small in this format to show the written conversation in-life clearly, so my conversation with two avatars in the space is not decipherable. The topic though, was very relevant to my work for the subject of the Duende was discussed, where Johnnie Wendt was talking knowledgably about bullfighting in the community psyche; the sadness of the death in the afternoon balanced by the uplifting stir of wonder at the courage, fortitude and skill of the bull and matador - the poignancy of their relationship which traditionally, was steeped in the pathos which is Duende. I am not a supporter of bullfighting but it does make me wonder, having trodden a number of empty bullrings, how the demise of this part of Spanish culture has affected the national expression and predilection for the Duende and the innate appreciation for how the symbiosis of passion, love and life are inescapably marked by impending death.

The clip closes with Rollo finding a 'sound ball' responsible for the train/platform ambient sounds and re-positioning it to make it more subtle, after which he leaves for the platforms at the rear of the station through the exit layers. I will be including another clip which will begin in this area.

At this stage I am still waiting on permissions to bring my RL videos into the station. I am all set to go. There is the potential for me to move to the new NMIT island of Kowhai next to Koru, where I may have available a larger space to develop my concepts further. In the meantime, I am editing my RL videos from our July 08 dance work, designing 'cutouts' of commuters (some depicted as 'crows' - an enigmatic, dark presence) and exploring compositional possibilities for sensed crowd effects in the station. See my next SL post for this development.

As of today, I have had 120 people through the Station build (census record gratefully accepted from Weltec NZ) and a great deal of very positive feedback. I am endeavouring to create a forum to formalize feedback so that it can be collated and recorded.

Wellington Railway Station Second Life Tour

Thursday, 28 August 2008

'Saudade' - Leaving the Past and Present

'We all experience within us what the Portuguese call Saudade, which translates as an inexplicable longing, an unnamed and enigmatic yearning of the soul and it is this feeling that lives in the realms of the imagination and inspiration and is the breeding ground for the sad song, for the Love Song. The Love Song is the light of God, deep down, blasting up through our wounds'.

The Secret Life of the Love Song - The Flesh Made Word
Two Lectures by Nick Cave

King Mob 91 Brick Lane, London, E1 601. 1999. Key Production, London

'Saudade has no English translation; its translation is dependent on context. It originates from the Latin word, solitatem (lonelinesss, solitude) but developed a different meaning ... Few other languages in the world have a word with such meaning, making saudade a distinct mark of Portuguese culture. It has been said that this, more than anything else, represents what it is to be Portuguese.'

In his book In Portugal of 1912, A.F.G Bell writes:

“ The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.”

'Saudade is different from nostalgia (the English word, that is). In nostalgia, one has a mixed happy and sad feeling, a memory of happiness but a sadness for its impossible return and sole existence in the past. Saudade is like nostalgia but with the hope that what is being longed for might return, even if that return is unlikely or so distant in the future to be almost of no consequence to the present. One might make a strong analogy with nostalgia as a feeling one has for a loved one who has died and saudade as a feeling one has for a loved one who has disappeared or is simply currently absent. Nostalgia is located in the past and is somewhat conformist while saudade is very present, anguishing, anxious and extends into the future.

What sets saudade apart is that it can be directed to anything that is personal and moving.'

The Good Son, a 1990 album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds was heavily informed by Cave's mental state at the time, which he has described as saudade. He told journalist Chris Bohn that "when I explained to someone that what I wanted to write about was the memory of things that I thought were lost for me, I was told that the Portuguese word for this feeling was "saudade". It's not nostalgia but something sadder."

One of the best descriptions of the word saudade was made by Chico Buarque de Hollanda in his song "Pedaço de mim," when he says. "saudade é arrumar o quarto do filho que já morreu." which roughly translates to; "saudade is to tidy the bedroom of a son who has already died."

Saudade is a term ideal, in a sense, to use in my efforts to convey the ineffable nature of the sentiment I am endeavouring to introduce into the phenomenon of 'Leaving' engagements and meetings with people. Saudade is impartial. It is tailored to the parting of lovers, family, friends and strangers - strangers who, once met may no longer be foreign or 'other'. Two weeks ago, I wrote on my Gargoyle notecard dispenser at my Station build in Second Life, the words, 'The Duende for me, speaks of 'Le petit mort' - the little death which resides in many a parting. The demise of connection - the fear of recognition and intimacy failing to outlast time and distance'.

Saudade like the Duende, is also redolent with the fear of loss and that same demise of connection which lies in the act of leaving.

The images in this post reflect that indistinctness of recall which contributes to a sense of longing descending like a mist, not only after a parting, as absence as a reality grows in strength, but also as a presage of impending loss - the inevitability and resignation to the event of parting itself. I will be moving these image-screens around the Station and exploring a range of configurations designed to conceal/reveal figures in this limbo state and its associated feelings - manifesting impending absence and loss of presence. I will also film Rollo and others dancing/moving through these screens as a vehicle to investigate these expressions possibly creating an alignment with 'leaving' as the moving figures fall in and out of clarity.

'Saudade' Station Screens 9

'Saudade' Station Screens 8

'Saudade' Station Screens 7

'Saudade' Station Screens 6

'Saudade' Station Screens 5

'Saudade' Station Screens 4

'Saudade' Station Screens 3

'Saudade' Station Screens 2

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Bodies and Builds as 'Stages' in Second Life

In this post my aim is to put forward some ideas about 'bodies' and 'builds' in Second Life. In 2007 I headed up one of my posts as: 'Missed Conversations in Urban Spaces - the Body as Stage'. Developing my ideas on Indeterminacy, I wrote: '... In a sense, I could say that the environment or 'stage' for my work, rather than a commuter-busy passageway, is more accurately the actual, moving body itself' (20.10.07). This still holds true for me in 2008 and perhaps even more so in the what I will call, real-life-extension world of Second Life.

* The images from Second Life here focus mainly on the building I have done on the Station itself in the early stages, on building tables for the Station cafe and on 'cutouts' of people in the station, (myself filming included); the cutouts are either from my own images imported into SL and made in collaboration with a designer Dura Voss, in-life, or are products (like the Station 'janitors') that I have bought from Dura. I intend to make my own in the future, together with scripted 'sound balls' which contain sounds selected from my video capture in the station. The cutouts are initial forays into populating the station with a rush hour 'crowd'. These cutouts will provide me with the potential to compose a range of crowd streams coursing through the station space in different configurations.

* In this post the letters SL stand for Second Life and RL for real life.

My ideas here are informed by texts from two writers:

Brian Massumi`s (2002) Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Post-Contemporary Interventions), Duke University Press;

Remembering Praxis';
Performance in the Digital Age, (2005) in Text and Performance Quarterly, 25:2 (p. 156-170) by Marcyrose Chvasta.

I quote here from this earlier post: Massumi suggests that the body in movement means accepting the body in its occupation of space and time, as a paradox: that there is an incorporeal dimension of the body itself. Of it, but not it. Indeterminate, coincident, but real and material. Massumi calls this echo a, ‘Fellow-travelling dimension of the same reality’, (Massumi, 2002, p. 5). A legitimate interpretation of identifiable alterity, or the 'other', I believe. Massumi points out in my original quotation, that, ‘In motion, a body is in an immediate, unfolding relation to its own nonpresent potential to vary’.

In other words, it could be said that the body in motion is never, ever, quite fully present. Or that the body is present but within its indeterminacy, the time-based embodiment of ‘body’ has already moved on. This assertion as a concept, is interesting to consider in the context of my ‘in-transit’ dominated practice and offers a framework for speculation about the reasons for what so much of the time are the expression of truncated, disjunct forms of communi
cation in the street. Perhaps speech-in-transit is itself as a result of this, indeterminate. In a sense, one could say that the environment or ‘stage’ for my work, rather than a commuter-busy passageway, is more accurately the actual, moving body itself. Massumi asserts that this disjunct in embodiment – this nonpresent potential to vary, creates a wider re-defining of ontological difference away from a linguistic differentiation which instead, becomes orientated around process, potential and event and directs this into the heart of the body. The body`s potential to vary suggests an alignment which places ‘being’ next to becoming. To re-iterate and re-interpret the substance of the above text then; our ontological existence can be defined by the idea that we are in a continual state of being/becoming – a time-based positioning.

In qualifying his argument, Massumi paraphrases Deleuze in saying that the problem with dominant modes of cultural and literary theory are not that they are too abstract to grasp the solidity or corporeal fabric of the real. The problem is that these modes are not abstract enough to grasp the real incorporeality of what we take to be real.

There are some important points here, relevant to the direction of this post. The state of 'being' which we like to use in defining our positioning in space and time, one could align with a Euclidean stance - corporeal, solid, linear, dependable - in short - 'real' and predictable. Brian Massumi makes a point of eroding this perceptual attitude. His thrust is towards Henri Bergson where he offers a counter-perspective to 'being', which he refers to as 'becoming'. Massumi above, says, ‘In motion, a body is in an immediate, unfolding relation to its own nonpresent potential to vary’. In other words, it could be said that the body in motion is never, ever, quite fully present.' This theory is one of the concepts which underpins my notions of 'Leaving' governing all our actions and encounters with people and places in life.

Marcy-rose Chvasta, in her essay, Remembering Praxis: Performance in the Digital Age, where she questions the current demarcations between live and mediated performance, states that Pierre Levy defines four ontological elements: the real, the possible, the actual, and the virtual. Each of these elements—or ‘vectors,’ in Levy’s terms—operates ‘almost always’ in conjunction with the others. Levy is interested in these vectors as unstable modes of existence. I am interested in these vectors for their potential to determine transformative embodiment. How they may offer a way of understanding how the virtual or ‘possible’ may have a symbiotic role with the real, rather than one which is clearly differentiated. Chvasta asserts that Levy is interested in ‘the process of transformation from one mode of being to another’ (Levy, 1998 quoted in Chvasta, 2005, p.165) which perhaps is the enactment of that symbiosis.

I am also interested in these vectors as descriptors of the ‘possible’ – states of a present which is not passive but dynamic, the present as a state which is always becoming.

Specifically, according to Levy, he engages in the
‘study of virtualization that ascends from the real or the actual toward the virtual’ (Levy, 1998, quoted in Chvasta, 2005, p.165). While the real is orientated in the present, in the temporal and spatial sense of the term, the virtual is orientated in the future. This speaks to me of the virtual residing neither ‘here’ nor ‘there.’ It lies in-between and mediation within performance can be viewed as an instrument which allows us to perhaps more readily recognize embodiment in the virtual in our respective realities. Massumi uses above, the phrase, '... immediate, unfolding relation ...'. This phrase is also appropriate for addressing the questions about the presence in Second Life of both, our bodies (Avatars, as surrogate extensions of ourselves) and those objects with which we surround ourselves in life/in-life. For me, because I believe that the real and virtual are inseparable; two states under the same embodied umbrella, the Euclidean 'real/being' is insufficient. Instead I can clearly relate to Massumi`s 'real' being comprised of so many micro-moments of 'virtual/becoming' manifesting in a constant state of 'unfolding'.

In the following passages, Massumi makes a compelling argument for our occupation of a non-Euclidean
/non-linear state of being/becoming.

The Argument from Inner Space

'The body is composed of a branching network, decreasing in size right down to the level of molecular tubes at the mitochondrial scale. Geometrically, a body is a "space-filling fractal" of a "fourth" dimensionality, between a two-dimensional place and a
three-dimensional volume.

"Our skin obeys the laws of three dimensions ... but our internal anatomy and physiology is living in a four-dimensional spatial world" ... A body lives in three dimensions only at the envelope of the skin. The "Euclidean" space of the body is a membrane. The membrane isn`t closed. It folds in at the mouth, ears, nostrils, eyes, anus, urethra, vagina and pores. The mouth connects through the stomach and intestines to fold back out of the anus. This is one leaky 'box'. It`s closer to a Klein bottle; a two-dimensional topological figure. Even the skin isn`t really three-dimensional. It just acts as if it were. It creates a three-dimensional closure effect by regulating movements into and out of the space-filling fractal it twistedly envelops. Biologically, it`s all an act, a complext nutritive, excretive act: circus of the body.

We do not live in Euclidean space. We live between dimensions". These lines are signal for me. Not only are we enveloped it seems, by theoretical/practical constructs which reflect our movement-based existence in and between time and space but we are also faced with the science of our own physiological makeup presenting a biomechanical exemplar of this construct. To extend this idea, one could say that naturally enough, we build in real life fractal extentions of our bodies - where architectural resolutions used to be so compartmentalized, we have for some time now been constructing 'seamless' environments to promote and cater for flexible living; artificial membranes which lend themselves to human navigation and negotiation with more than osmotic ease. Massumi continues:

Might it still be argued that even if we do not live in Euclidean space, we certainly build in it? Fair enough: we build in Euclidean space in the same sense that we eat in it. To build is to produce a closure-effect by regulating movements in and out (and fractally all around). A building is a membrane.

So I ask, when in Second Life, are we 'living' and building in Euclidean space? Are the foundations of our lives and builds based upon linear, tangible laws? Are the visual manifestations of the Internet based upon Euclidean constructs or are there other possible descriptions and definitions at work? Is Second Life different because it is visually orinentated? Certainly most builds in SL are governed by rectilinear shapes and constant angles. Another description of space, the Riemannian manifold, is a space constructed by deforming and patching together Euclidean spaces. Such a space enjoys notions of distance and angles, but they behave in a curved non-Euclidean manner. There is a murmur here, of pathways around the linear in terms of our ability to operate in this environment - objects, shapes, builds in Second Life can all be constructed in different degrees of transparency so you can see through them and they can also be created as 'phantoms' - you can walk straight through them. 'Virtual' effects in a virtual world. However, the ability to build is still governed by a fixed visual construct in-life. Even though a great deal of building is based upon the importing, application and editing of visual images (Textures in SL) and many of these images are of curvilinear, organic forms, in SL these images adhere and conform most easily to flat, rectilinear planes. Everyone must conform to this construct - as far as I know ...

Massumi tells us that Euclidean space is, '... the relative concreteness of the abstract ...' It is a kind of hingeing interface, a way of managing incorporeal space. He says that, 'To build in Euclidean space is to build in predictability'. But he maintains that, 'A building is a technology of movement - a technology of transposition - in direct membranic connection with virtual event spaces. It functions topologically, abstractly, even though it may have been built under Euclidean laws of the 'real'. He goes on to point out that he is suggesting new paths which might be found to aid the dispelling of what he calls the, 'sterile opposition' between the abstract and the concrete - the subjective and objective. He cites Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: "Look only at the movements" and they will bring you to what really matters with 'matter'. Massumi asserts that movement in this context allows us to arrive at a type of 'backdating' which in turn supports an argument that there is no essential difference between perception, cognition and - hallucination. He creates a mantra at this point: 'involuntary and elicited'. The involuntary and elicited no-difference between perception, cognition and hallucination he says, can be summed up in a single word: imagination.

To accept this meld arriving at imagination requires the appropriate technology. Selecting an effective tool with which to design means that one can recognize certain modulations not only in the forms one is designing, but also how these may stand as signifiers of the designer/builder`s lives. This can be witnessed extensively in Second Life, where the tools for building enable everyone to create (unconsciously or not) reflectors of their own personnas/lives in ways which are far more accessible than in real life. Second Life itself becomes a tool - a vehicle for the imagination, by enabling the blend of perception, cognition and even (perhaps particularly) hallucination to be realized in a myriad of descriptions, counterfeits and simulacra.

Massumi asks, "Is it possible, in addition (to Euclidean building) to build for newness, for the emergence of unforeseen experiential form and configuration, inflected by chance? (There are numerous examples of chance-dominated approaches to expression and problem-solving in the Arts: One well known example is the work carried out over years of collaboration between the avante-garde musician John Cage, the multi-media visual/performance artist Robert Rauschenberg and the choreographer/dancer/director Merce Cunningham.

These artists for many years created works based upon chance - upon not knowing, upon improvisation, upon interrogating accepted norms of managing time, sound and space. The very reactionary and in some cases openly scornful responses from some of their international audiences are also on record. It seems that these audiences were held in thrall to Euclidean understandings of time, sound and space ... These three artists were anything but Euclidean in their approaches to art-making, MB). We know that it is possible to design topologically. This essay has argued that we live topologically. But can we also build topologically? To build topologically would be to accept that the body`s ultimate innards are as effectively incorporeal, as really abstract, as the atom`s. As vitally as food, a life feeds on habits, memories and tropisms.

The living body`s "ultimate" innards are the proprioceptive habits on a level with muscle fibre ... The body is the holding-together of these virtual innards as they fold out, recursive-durationally, in the loopy present, in determinate form and configuration, always provisional because always in becoming".

Returning to the title of this post, as a reflection once again of that real/virtual/blended, unfolding perception construct, one can look around both Real and Second Life and see not only buildings, but bodies as 'builds' and builds, as 'stages'.

Perhaps nowhere else more than in Second Life do people wear their hearts and personna, not only on the sleeves of their avatars, but in their personal builds. So in SL when we build/communicate (these in many ways are one and the same. Both are interactive requiring decision-making and an open, responsive attention) with others, are we simply using a glorified
Photoshop/Email/Skype hybrid? Or is there more that could be said?

Second Life Station Update 19.8.08

This is an update of images from my Wellington Railway Station build in Second Life on the NMIT island of Koru. The main developments here have been a re-structuring of the main entrance and exit to the train platforms. I have moved the screens out in both cases to create more space inside the concourse. The resulting effect is one of greater spaciousness and a closer approximation to the Real Life station space.

I will be creating a new post shortly, with more Second Life images. These will deal with the addition of more crowd cutouts inside the Concourse space and perspectives on the work I have done outside, as well. At this stage I have reached the limit on my prim count for the parcel so I am hoping that I can obtain more. I will also be posting the edits of my most recent dance practice videos.

I am now ready to bring in my videos on the main large screens. I have accomplished this process successfully at my own parcel on the island of Navi. I am waiting at this point for permissions from the owner of the UCOL land on which my build is set, to enable this facility.

Today I carried out my first presentation of my build in Second Life to a Real Life audience. This was to 90 students taking part in this year`s Art and Design Symposium at NMIT. The Symposium is titled 'Diegesis' and the conceptual focus is on Reality - Simulacra. The composition of the group was predominantly from our Degree programme at NMIT with the addition of students from the Blenheim campus and from the Art and Design programme in Timaru. I would like to thank Clare Atkins for her support and assistance at my presentation and the technical support from 'Trax Beaumont'. All much appreciated. I have had positive feedback about my work from the student body and the indications are that the presentation was regarded favourably.

* Please see Older Posts at the bottom of this post for more Second Life Wellington Railway Station images.

Second Life Station Update 19.8.08: Recessing the Entrance - video screens wrapping

Recessing the Entrance 19.8.08

Recessing the Entrance and Exit 19.8.08

Screen Layering 19.8.08

Crowd cutouts update 19.8.08

Crowd screens blended reality 19.8.08

TV screen Exit to Trains 19.8.08