Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The 86 Aspects of Composition: Abstraction

Drawing from Mike Vargas' 86 Aspects of Composition, I'm looking at one aspect a week as it is reflected in the creations of Second Life Photographers and Artists. This week the topic is Abstraction, and the question is:
"To what extent would two people from the same community agree about the meaning?"
When I think about "abstract" in the context of art, I usually thing of the information covered by the Tate's section on Abstract Art or the images and artists at The Art Story. This is a broader question, though - how do you know if you are in the same community? How can you know what can be known between us through the medium of art? Second Life in general trends toward representation perhaps because there is so much left open. In a world where the abstract can be created accidentally, can even be created inadvertently through lack of skill with the medium, what role does abstraction play within art and creation in Second Life?

"Don't" by Miles Cantelou

Finding abstract images within Second Life was itself a challenge, as photography ends up being almost overwhelmingly portraiture with a little bit of landscaping thrown in, and while many artistic creations embrace abstraction through their use of textures, the creations themselves also tend to be representative. Some in world photographers start with an image and then shift and distort it into something else, adding texture, layers, and thinning out the representative elements, like in the image above by Miles Cantelou. Cantelou started with a simple portrait, but framing and texturing layered over it have abstracted both the subject and what the image could be trying to convey. The blue shades and dark edges imply something melancholy which is belied by the slight smile of the subject, and the title and tattoo being "don't" adds a whole other layer. Don't what? Based on what representation remains, the topic could be on voicelessness or the difficulty of communicating, but it's difficult to say.

Inspired by Alia Baroque

Sometimes abstraction comes not in the treatment of the art after the fact, but rather as part of the environment or how the avatar and environment interact.  One artistic display which stands out to me was Gracie Kendal's Ce n'est pas une peinture which had been made up from images of Kendal's offline abstract artwork layered over each other on individual prims and even over the mesh of the Second Life body itself. Another shows up above, where textures and particles combine to make abstract forms even around the avatars which move through it, like in Alia Baroque's image above. The display itself is long gone, but the captured image lives on to mark it's presence. I think Second Life introduces additional levels to abstraction that doesn't exist in a world where there are canvases and paint, and additional levels to the topics of community, similarity, and meaning.

[I live in the gut]
[I live in the gut] by Abigale Heron

What effect does the fact that everything involved in art within Second Life is virtual? Even things which once existed concretely within the outside world have to be translated into an online world. I was struck by soror Nishi's style of tree in Second Life and how two years ago she translated it offline using resin and fishing line. Inworld her style is expansive, textured, brightly colored, and expansive - often covering an entire sim or even layers over layers of a sim. It takes the shapes of plants and places and overlays them with riotous colors and textures which often make use of transparency, adding confusion about distance and direction into her work. Outside of this world, what she creates is pared down, subtler unless being created in paint. It is flat, or square, it's qualities difficult to capture with the equivalent photography, and without the sometimes overwhelming aspects of her creations as something one moves within.

Silhouette by Kalyca McCallen

In addition, it is often these limitations and qualities of the materials we work with which shape the final creation; if stone or wood can have statues hiding within them, what happens when empty space is what is available to carve into? Without paint which will splatter, fall, dribble, and move how does the randomness of art play out? One way that Second Life artists end a build is setting all of the prims associated with it to "physical" and seeing what happens - there is a way in which this transforms the art from static to the event mindset closer to conceptual art, even if the initial creation was meant to be representative.

Art is Geometry: Bangles
Art is Geometry: Bangles by Tizzy Canucci

So far I've brought up several artists and their disparate work - but what about their shared community or lack thereof? Soror Nishi and Gracie Kendal, at least, operate within similar circles even if they haven't personally intersected, but so far as I know Miles Cantelou, Abigail Heron, Kalyca McCallen, and the other 2D artists I've included only share where they locate their art, and Alia Baroque's focus is on building skins and communities through his store in Second Life. In a world where peoples' timezones can literally not intersect, where the possibility of even casual meetings is slight, and where multiple cultures may come into effect on peoples' reasons and means of making art, what can "community" possibly mean?

112115 by Kalyca McCallen

Without centralized facilitation of communication in order to establish and communicate norms, art even on a platform like Flickr is less a conversation and more a cacophony, thousands of different people trying to be heard. I've rarely seen artists discuss their relationships with other artists - though collaborations occasionally occur which highlight the profound differences between different artists, their styles, and what they want to express. Sharing a platform like the LEA Artist in Residence sims or sharing space with other artists at different galleries can offer up opportunities for community, as can events like Art In Hats or Second Life's Birthday Celebrations, but while I'll often run across many of the same people time and time again - sometimes enough that we friend each other and chat now and then - despite my attempts to cover one small corner of art in Second Life through LEA I don't feel connected to any sort of community. There are a few individuals who deride or troll art in Second Life, but by and large they seem to be mocking that people take it seriously or people attempt to organize it, not anything more culturally specific.

**Honey*Soul-Dazzle-Dress@KIRA KIRA -Twinkle star party
Twinkle star party by rica Andel

Given the broadness and unknowability of this community of artists and art appreciators, what conclusions can we make about art's meaning and how that meaning is communicated? Is it as simple as bright things being happy and dark things being upset, or are there more subtle things being created in the simpler, faded, color-based images in Second Life? When I look at each of the images on this page, I feel a different thing - unease, ecstasy, anxiety, fatalism, confusion, grief, bliss, and flow. When you look at them, what do you feel? Are we experiencing the same meaning from each, or is this community too broad for those sorts of things?



  1. I forgot, I remembered, I forgot, I remembered! It's good to see someone else's views on art and such.

    I think your distinctions between different types of the abstract is useful and makes sense.

    Personally, I like the lines, colour palette and intensity of inworld photography. My chosen medium used to be transparencies, and like digital, it is true writing with light. I like that purity. The overlaying of the abstract to disrupt the digital seems to me to be a means of recapturing a nostalgia for the printed photograph, its errors and degradation - a pigment process that artists relate to and appreciate more readily. I'm never sure whether the action of 'dirtying up' the digital too rooted in deliberate action to be truly abstract.

    I have different circles of friends in different spaces - my inworld friends list is quite different from that on Flickr. I don't seek out Flickr friends inworld deliberately, but would always try to say hi if we happen to be in the same place. There is a community, in that sl Flickr users seek out others working in the same area. I'd say Flickr is a cacophony, but then if you look at other photography sites where there is more interaction, it's usually a string of fairly predictable 'wow', 'great shot', etc, and a Flickr 'fave' says the same thing to me but rather more concisely. If there is a problem, its a general Flickr debate - that of people following and being followed by thousands of people, with the aim of boosting likes on the basis of huge numbers of image views. How many people can you follow and genuinely take an interest in everyone's work?

    I would also argue that the sl art world is too consensual and reverent towards artists who produce some pretty predictable work on a regular basis. Furthermore, there is no framework for true art-crit and so there really cannot be a conversation. I was once critical of a big name in sl, and earned a rather condescending blog post from them about me (but not by name) in return. There is a cosiness, and while I should be careful of what I wish for, a little more grit wouldn't go amiss.

    There is one person you mention who cheerful will satirise who she likes, and I would not dismiss her work as mere trolling. There's an interesting article I came across today: . There is one paragraph I agree with: "Good trolling is a form of avant-garde performance art. You need to be talented for it. And if you can do it right, the payoff is totally worth it: Tons of pageviews, happy editors, possibly a job, and the satisfaction of knowing you manipulated a bunch of simpletons into clicking, sharing, and getting outraged at a joke article you wrote." SaveMe Oh has established herself as SL's avant-garde performance artist just as much as Bryn Oh has established herself as the respectable grand-dame of virtual art. The SL art world needs both sides, and a stronger middle-ground would do SL no end of good.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by!

      I agree that there is a nostalgia for the difficulties of previous ages; I'm not sure, personally, how I feel about that nostalgia. I've noticed that people who get too caught up in their reactions to something can file off a lot of the details that made what they liked the thing that they liked. I'm suspicious of nostalgia; I think it glosses over too many things - even in the things I'm nostalgic for!

      Your points about communities - especially the different communities in world, offline, and on flickr - are a good point I hadn't really gotten into. I also think there's an "art community" in general which Saveme Oh is engaged in trolling. I think the general focus on approval within communities makes sense, however, because by and large almost everyone in Second Life is doing what we are doing for free. The history of negative critique is one of moral outrage or payment; it is unlikely Second Life in general should ever be the target of either of these motivations beyond what already exists (e.g. the semi-regular "Go into Second Life and see weird people who have sex" form of journalism).

      Tt would be very reasonable to critique this series I'm making as approval only. I am very specifically selecting art I like and critiquing it from the perspective of "this is what it's doing right." This is for a few reasons:

      1) My life tends to be full of a lot of natural negetivity, so when I'm engaged in hobbies I prefer to keep my focus positive.

      2) I'm trying to learn from each piece of art I analyse. I've learned that focusing on the positive actually helps a great deal as it both shows me what to do and gives me the motivation to act on that knowledge. Focusing on what not to do is a dead end - sometimes a needed dead end, but not in this case.

      3) I don't want to hurt the artists I'm analysing. They've done a very brave thing by putting out something they worked hard on for everyone to see, and I want to honor that spirit.

      This is not me distancing myself from negative critique and objections to things in the contect of Second Life or a broader context, but it is part of the underpinning of this series in paricular and it's goals. When I go in for a negative critique, I want it to either be part of a broader critique where I love almost everything, or I want it to be aimed at a very specific purpose. I'm not interested in critique for critiques sake, per se.

    2. Additionally, I'm not sure I agree with SaveMe Oh as an advant guarde artist. The couple of times I've interacted with her she's literally just attempted to obscure the view of people engaging in something, whch is baseline trolling. Her other displays are mostly implications about peoples' sexuality or character sixed to be large enough to - again - obscure the view of other people. Even her critique of LEA - that it limits its sims only to a subset of people in Second Life (which is, of necessity, true) - is mostly showing up where she knows people don't like her and recording their reactions.

      Trolling, in and of itself, can cause people to question what we take seriously but it is not inherently satire. Satire on the gentle end is about taking the foibles of people and ridiculing them (see: Jane Austen) and on the harsh end is scathing critique through gross hyperbole (see Jonathan Swift). Oh's descriptions and statements too people are much less about their actual qualities and much more about simply saying things about them to upset them (e.g. calling someone who named themselves Hippie "Trump", claiming LEA is about World Domination, comparing peoples' art to Ikea Furniture).

      People are upset by both satire and trolling, but what determines the difference between satire and trolling is not that people are upset (upsetting people is easy) but the qualities of the act itself. We still honor "A Modest Proposal" not because it was a disgusting idea that upset people, but because it was a logical extension of the use of the poor by the rich by making that use concrete through cannibalism.

      Thanks so much for stopping by! Your response really made me think about everything, and I enjoy that a lot.

  2. I should have ticked 'notify me' then I'd have picked up on your response earlier!

    I wasn't intending to criticise your approach in the article - blog posts are about the angle you want to take - more the broader attitude within sl between artists.

    I think you make a good distinction between successful statire and simply being rude. There is an indistinct zone between the two which is often about perspective, but there are areas that are clearly on either side.

    It's made me think too - an opportunity to look at either side of ideas.

    1. Oh, I didn't feel upset at all! Actually, I love having that sort of deep response because it really makes me think, and I think that's important. The whys of what I'm doing are important to me, and are part of what I'm trying to capture in this series.