Friday, December 11, 2015

Dreamers by Cica Ghost on LEA24

When I first landed on Cica Ghost's latest creation, Dreamers, I'll admit to being disappointed by the simplicity. I should have trusted her more.

Dreamers: Ground 01

First - where I began.

The landing point is a platform from which you can see the entire floor level under a sky held back by chain linking that arches overhead in front of an orange sky. The sky itself is built in - a moving texture which does its eerie job perfectly. There are a few scrubly trees here and there; the one technical flaw is in layering the texture of the chain link with the textures of the trees - sometimes the alpha occlusion error kicks in, and it looks a little odd. I found right-clicking the chain link did a lot to solve that issue, though, reminding the browser what was behind what.

Everywhere you look there are crows turning their heads and blinking at you. Fields of rusty flowers, their golden faces turned toward the sky, blossom here and there on an otherwise forbidding, stone landscape. Ghost's landscapes always draw from her past, offering up stylistic consistency and a sense that these all exist within the same milieu, and the flowers serve that purpose here offering echoes of Small Town and Balloons. The trees are black and leaf-bare, and are the only tall things in view except for the sixteen stone faces on long stone necks peering up into the sky. I went with the sim default windlight, and it's a soft light with distinct, dark shadows and heat haze in the air; I can almost smell stone baked in the noonday sun disgorging it's heat into the dreamy twilight and keeping off the chill of evening.

Dreamers: Ground 03
"In a surreal world canopied by a magical sky, sixteen figures look upward to dream, and eight eagerly share their visions with visiting explorers."
It was the sim description that gave me the first hint that I was missing something. Sixteen figures look up, and eight speak - clicking on one of them lead me flying up into the sky to a complete different world so colorful I ended up laughing aloud and clapping my hands in delight. Sitting on each figure takes you to a different world high in the sky, a tiny microcosm of a dream as varied as dreams must be.

I recommend checking out one or two a day; I found after three or four I was so overwhelmed I stopped being able to easily get absorbed into the worlds dreamed up in the sky.

Dreamers: Ground 05

Dreamer 1 (1000 Z) - Dream of a 2D 3D World

Landing was like going back in time to the first moment I remember the name Cica Ghost. Second Life is three dimensional, and it's rare that anyone challenges that aspect of it - indeed, more often than not the focus is on verisimilitude more than anything else, from shoes to clothes to vehicles. Ghost challenged that with her two dimensional and yet moving world - line drawings reproduced in charming detail. In so many ways, it defies Second Life standards. Deliberately pixilated, the edges of each image are left jagged and sharp. Despite being layered, each image is flat and vanishes depending on your angle. Despite this, they are imbued with movement - the jagged wind whistles through, the flowers dance, a little girl smiles. What I love most about it, however, is the contrast with the three dimensional, smoothly textured figures which move among a world of line drawings - and the charm of those differences side by side continue to delight me.

The First Dreamer 02

Dreamer 2 (1150 Z) - Dream of Metal Tears


Bright sky and dark everything else - from the giant tree of blocks weeping tears of oil to the darkly textured table with it's chain linked table cloth - make the next dream into a series of silhouettes over gear-flowers reminiscent of Rust. This world has several focii of activity separated by fields of these flowers - a table set for observation, the aforementioned weeping tree, a shell of a car with an image of the last dream inside of it, and a simply ginormous bird guarding three caged and chained eggs. The last Dream was avatar sized but this one is not - save for the chairs tucked here and there, everything is many times the size of a typical avatar. The sense of improbable motion continues but this time in shadow, with few highlights to mark where one thing ends and another thing begins.

The Second Dreamer 01

Dreamer 3 (1243 Z) - Dream of a Narrow Building


The small details make this dream amazing. The giant chessboard that is the second floor of a building is echoed, meters away, in a tiny chess board growing sweet, black star grasses in between the pieces. Trees exist more as general scrawls in that direction, reminiscent of a two dimensional world while existing in three dimensions. Here and there, other echoes of that world play music, let fall with a heartfelt rain, or burst with joy from the ground. The cheer of the symbols is balanced by the dark, still, heavy colors - stars and hears both exist not in the brilliance of color but rather in shades of gray laid over gray. The sky is amazing - gentle shades of blue, purple, and green set into a clear white - and there are any number of poses hidden around and about the area. By far my favorite is at the tippy top of the adorable building; settling into soft pixel grass never felt so relaxing.

The Third Dreamer 03

Dreamer 4 (1496 Z) - Dream of Tiny Houses


Color comes creeping through the grey. It's not just in the sky this time - a sweet lavender with hints of purple, but also in the tiny buildings; the echoes of brilliance become much brighter under a different windlight as well - dim yellows brightening to entire rainbows of color. Here, I was reminded again of the power of windlight even over textures - a misty view can bleach even the brightest colors, but it also adds in mood and subtlety. Careful use of full bright allows some things to stand out from the background, however - the bright bronze flowers spouting in their 2D glory, and a single riding figure spinning around endlessly in front of teasingly closed doors. There's less to interact with here - a couple of perching stumps - but the grouping and variety of colors is increasing.

Fourth Dreamer 04

Dreamer 5 (1371 Z) - Dream of Metal Balloons


I had been trying to stick with the sim windlight, but going forward I'll be experimenting with different hues to capture the gradual increases in color and detail. This is an excellent place to start - the flowers themselves have a lot more variety, both in the mix of green and brown stems and in the brightly colored blossoms all layered over each other. A lot of similar elements remain: the overwhelming metal, the incongruity of objects juxtaposed next to each other, the flourishes of flowers all layered over each other, a spare and square table with two chairs. This one also brings in the wire fencing which encompass the base below, only this time around the floating metal balloons, anchoring them to the ground. The sense of metal as a living, floating, unexpected thing suffuses the whole world; unlike other builds there is very little wood, and most of the tree-like things reveal themselves to be metal as well.

Fifth Dreamer 04

Dreamer 6 (1626 Z) - Dream of a Swimming House


This is a single building surrounded by water, bits of it falling off and floating free while other buts are overgrown with grasses. The only metal is in the recurrence of the wire fence over the top, solid enough in this world to stand on; the rest is brick, stone and wood falling to pieces. There's a good use of simple particles, black stars that float upward slowly before fading away. The straight-back chairs make a reappearance along with some new furniture - a bathtub on a fancy platform, and several pots of flowers. The use of multiple layers, from a low platform leading up to a building to the tiny attic room hiding under the eaves, is very new - there have been layers before, but they were all singular and most of the buildings Cica made couldn't be entered. In Dream Language, Houses usually represent the self; this self is both whimsical and decaying, open to the elements but with hidden spots of beauty in protected areas.

Sixth Dreamer 03

Dreamer 7 (1759 Z) -Dream of a Lonely Balloon


Simplicity is an odd thing in Second Life. The very basis of the grid is simplicity itself - an XY grid with a little room for Z. The first thing build on Second Life was a house, and the second thing was a giant beanstalk one could jump around to climb high in the sky. Even now, the skies over the mainland are littered with houses in the sky, the dreams of hundreds of people seeking to escape each others chaos. I think that by it's very nature, people in Second Life are pushing against this very simplicity. This dream, in a mirror to Second Life's battle with simplicity, is at once very simple and very complex. White, untextured figures walk in seemingly random patterns among the sunflowers. A lone figure reaches out for an equally white balloon. A second lone figure looks on, as every avatar coming to this place must. The landscape fades out into nothing at the edges, and the only color is the brown and gold of limited life. In contrast, the movement of the figures is driven by complicated scripts likely pushed well beyond what their originators dreamed of; the world itself hangs high in the sky on a Z Grid that was originally not conceived of as terribly important; the layers of alpha flowers push through each other for prominence; the entire basis of the sim is a complicated program put forth by Linden Lab itself to offer free space for artists. Even the simplest things may be irreducibly complex under the surface, and such it is with a person and her balloon.

Seventh Dreamer 06

Dreamer 8 (1891 Z) - Dream of Fish in Chain

Size is a relative thing in Second Life, and perspective is always tricky. This was brought home to me in the last dream; when I landed, the fish tank seemed incredibly small, the chains holding it to the ground and sky similarly narrow. Up close, though, two links of chain match up to the length of my Second Life body. It's a startling comparison - and a rare experience outside of a virtual world; I curled up next to a seahorse and was dwarfed. You can fly in these Dreams, and so I followed the chain up to the end where it vanished into clouds; it's like a surrealist riddle, chaining water and air with steel rings. A truly enormous puffer-fish placidly floats around an equally enormous tank with it's dim, misty decorations. Even as I reminded myself of it by flying right up to the glass, I kept losing track of how enormous things were in comparison to my usual Second Life body. The one main challenge was balancing the relative dimness of the tank with the full bright flowers and sand - though perhaps that was the intended effect - two sets of things in entirely different worlds co-existing in a dream.

Eighth Dreamer 04

This Round of Linden Endowment for the Arts Artist in Residence placements should last through the end of the month. Celebrate your holidays in the dreams of many people, all of them yearning for something beyond the chain link fence.

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