What, if anything, is the culpability of the watcher?
By making you complicit in the events around the Sacrifice of Isaac and aligning you with a God about which the click of shutters echoes, Obedience asks this very question. You have, quite literally, no power to interfere; the events continue unabated whether there are watchers or not, but select spaces between the narrative dioramas react to your presence. Boxes rise up, music plays, lights flash, an eerie spotlight follows you as you move - all of these things highlight not the story but your presence around it. It was the moment when I realized the light was following me, when I saw how I existed in relation to the half-cone of story behind me, that I felt the haunting effect of watching a tragedy with no hope of interference.
Frequently, visitors lingered in the shadows almost invisible next to the familiar story of Abraham loving, learning, enticing, and almost killing his son. The sheer variety of avatars moving through these dioramas offer their own surreality, especially when there ended up being a slow train of movement from one lighted area to the next with the expected pauses on the edges of light. Bright whites and dark shadows combine for a virtual, almost tangible chiaroscuro effect that expands to envelop each visitor as they pass through. And such a diverse flow of people - from the default avatars of the utterly noobed to couples in little more than lingerie - art aficionados in Second Life are like no others.
Like the importance of light, sound is also central to the story. Many of the sections have an appropriate sound-scape. The tinkly lullaby of the first scene, where Abraham's finger in Isaac's mouth eerily echoes the penultimate interaction between them, is at once comforting and threatening. Abraham's Burning Bush is a television, one which offers up static, commercials, and a husky voice whispering a command. With foreshadowing as thickly laid as the shadows, Isaac tells his father about his love of the ram toy he has, and the curve of it's horns which keeps it from harming others. The echoing repetition of "Holy" can be heard before you enter heaven, but it is only when you get close to the penultimate dramatic scene that you hear the winged female spirit - the only woman in the entire story - whispering, "Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear G-d because you have not withheld your son - your only son."
By far the most active section is this Heaven where a motionless Throne and surrounding, eye-festooned creatures are worshiped by an ever-changing army of winged ken dolls, chalky white save for the gold crown on each head. Only a few of the waiting Presence Choir walk to the throne. Alpha, crouching pensively before his calm approach and graceful bow. Charlie, with his pensive pause and florid genuflection. Echo, casually approaching before going down on one knee. Golf, gesturing expansively to his fellows before striding over and summoning a familiar, blue planet. India, gesturing hopelessly before timidly approaching the Throne and falling to his knees. As visitors approach the final area, their shadows fall over the Choir itself, mingling with the rest. As my visit lengthened, I found myself watching others interact - watching where they stood, what they looked at - as much as I watched the inexorable tide of figures playing out their pattern.
Two other alternating figures play out their own dance, approaching first the disturbing moment of Abraham making good his murderous intentions, then the Throne itself, and then creeping between the static rows of chairs holding the Choir. One, Abecedarian, has a devilish exterior that is constantly shifting in color. The pattern remains consistent each time - red as he surveys the attempted murder and approaches the throne, cyan as he crawls away and crouches to watch the distracted Choir shifting to blue as he crosses in front of them, and then he turns green as he creeps between the two rows only to rush back to red as he runs back toward the Throne. Apprentice is less changeable but oddly more disturbing as, out of all of the moving figures in this diorama, he looks the most like a typical Second Life Avatar. To watch him echo the path of Abecedarian is unnerving - a reminder of how easy it is to enter another avatar's rut.
Standing at the edge of an open view into the most frightening moment of Isaac's life, listening to the incessant click of the camera, I was reminded of the ethical quandaries faced by journalists and documentarians - the question of when to photograph and when to help. There was the story of an imbedded journalist in the Middle East who ended up on a flight rescuing soldiers on the front lines - who photographed as the medics she had spent her time with frantically tried to save the life of a soldier, only to fail. The man making a documentary about war in Africa who photographed the torture and murder of a man, only to learn it was done for his benefit. The question of when, and how, and to what extent people whose job it is to watch should interfere is the lived reality of thousands of people, and thousands more watch when we could act out of self-interest, ignorance, laziness, indecisiveness, or the fear of making things worse.
The story of Abraham and Isaac has always bothered me for the subordination of parental love in such a profoundly violent manner, and the final image of Obedience shows the aftermath of Abraham's actions as Isaac cowers away from him. Unlike the previous scenes, which could be reached by walking from one to the next, this one is found through teleportation - either the candy in Isaac's lunchbox, a ball in the stairwell, or a ball in the apartment that Abecedarian and Apprentice emerge from. Boy, Ram, and Gun exist at a distance from Abraham, who is reaching out as he did on the stairwell up. One wonders is Isaac will ever trust his father again.
And above it all, the watchers watch.
( Full Photoset here. )
Skin: Izzie's, Irene
Hair: Doe, Mota
Ears: .:Soul:., High Elf
Eyes: .:Soul:., RooMee
Eyelashes 1: SLink, Mesh Lashes
Eyelashes 2: Flugeln Brise, 05-A
Wings: Deviance, Sidhe
Hands & Feet: SLink, Hands & Feet
Nails: A:S:S, Golden Threads
Outfit: Nomi, Lolita School Uniform
Shoes: Boom, Halcyon Sandals
Pose: My AO
Location: Obedience - The Binding of Isaac
Light Settings: Sim Default
Water Settings: Sim Default
Photographed by Deoridhe Quandry
Post processing: Cropping