19 March 2014

The [Void]

We've all had those nights when we couldn't sleep: we were worried or simply couldn't shut our brains off, tossing and turning, half-awake, not sure whether or not we just dreamed for a moment, looking once and a while at the clock, knowing we're going to feel terrible in the morning—and we do. Now imagine if that went on for days, for weeks, then for months and even years. That's where artist Storm Septimus begins with her project at LEA27, The [Void]. "Everyone gets insomnia for a short while, but to live with it for years...well I just can't imagine," she told me as she related how a friend of hers suffers terribly from insomnia, and that his plight was the inspiration for the installation. "He doesn't sleep for days sometimes, then just literally drops...He gave me the idea for this place with his rather abstract talks when he is exhausted. He described it as drowning in a void, where he didn't know what was real or not."

You'll notice as you first arrive that it's a very dark, murky place, as if we're somewhere between wakefulness and slumber. Video screens flash information at us in some half-awake sort of way: pictures and words related by Storm's friend when he's at his most exhausted. You might spot some faint strings or ropes on drifting across the ground, and these might help you start on way: follow them. (Later I realized they're the electrical cords for the monitors.) It can be maddeningly difficult to see (this is not an installation to visit if you're short on either time or patience), but eventually you'll spot a field of poppies (above)—flowers long associated with sleep, and famous for their scene in The Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy falls into a potentially permanent snooze.

If you've been clicking on things (assuming you can find them!), you might discover that hearts and keys are important, and eventually you'll zip down from the the darkness you've been visiting, high in the sky, to the sea level, another part of the build, and you'll spot many of the same elements. A teleport link at one spot on this level will plunge you even further down, below the sea, where it's the darkest of all and almost impossible to make your way, although you'll still find that familiar field of flowers. "It's like hell down there," Storm commented, "but a very pretty one." There is one small location in the installation, the highest of all and not easy to find, where some light does penetrate the scene (lowest image).

"I know each of you who visits this place will take away your own meanings, thoughts and feelings, as you rightly should," Storm says in the exhibition notecard, but adds, "It is in fact a reflection of a personal hell." In this regard she succeeds admirably. Be sure when you visit to use the landing point above—if you simply arrive at the sim by flying in or clicking on the map, you'll miss the true entrance and won't receive several important notecards. And if you're using a browser that doesn't automatically accept parcel windlight settings, the choice here is AnaLu-Outdoor City Night, and the water setting is [NB] Hidden Depths—just think not much light at all. Although I really tried to get around in this almost pitch blackness, I must admit I grew frustrated enough a couple times that I brightened the scene get some orientation, and even Storm quipped, "We all cheat and change the windlight here." You might want to bring a flashlight.

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