01 December 2015

The Gathering

Opening today, Tuesday, December 1, at Immersiva, is a new installation by Bryn Oh entitled The Gathering. Assembled loosely around a series of vignettes based on pen and ink drawings, The Gathering showcases the artist's interest in experimentation with light and shadow, materials, experiences (that is, a set of avatar interactions by scripted object), transference of artistic materials between physical and virtual spaces, and the creation of a truly immersive realm, often presented with a playful touch of humor. It's "kind of a great big sketch," she explained.

Before one ventures into the exhibition space, there are several recommended steps or pieces of information to know that will enhance the experience. First, it's best to run one's viewer using advanced lighting model, with shadows enabled, set to sun/moon and projectors. Second, visitors are asked to enable a land-scope "experience," giving temporary and limited control over their avatars — specifically, the experience setting allows rolling balls to teleport you back to the landing point on contact. And third, once in while one might spot a curious orb — a wall walker — and clicking on one of these (or sitting on it) provides the power to walk up vertical surfaces and even on ceilings. In this way — and it can be a little disorienting at first — one can scale the walls to the top of the build, and will find some extra delights, such as an upside down room and a flying chair that provides a spectacular view of the build below.

Setting out from the landing point, the first things visitors will encounter are the aforementioned rolling balls (curiously named after angels, top photo) that plummet down from a high hillside and aren't easy to avoid. They vary from small to enormous, and can be evaded by running (toggled on and off with command-R on a Mac or control-R on Windows), climbing the hillsides, or otherwise using an obstacle for protection — and protection is needed because contact with a ball will teleport you back to the landing point, provided you've enabled the experience. (Hopefully these rolling balls, with their teleportation powers — possibly off-putting to some individuals — won't dissuade visitors from venturing past them to enjoy the full exhibition.) High on the hillside from which the great balls roll, one will spot a cave where a scissor moth (pictured above) greets visitors at the entrance — "A chapel of sorts," Bryn explained, "with a religious sculpture of a ball. These balls are their world here, they appeared and run through their town destroying all along that ravine. So now they worship them."

Before reaching the pen and ink drawing section of the installation — and you'll know when you reach that point — you will also pass through works in which Bryn experiments with materials — with edges and forms that glisten and shine, such as in the second image of Parasol and the octobot — and scripted prims that move to form a house around you (climb to the second floor to get out the back door). And there's a projector room in which there is a special invitation to those who are comfortable with bodily exhibition: one sets the environment to a non-light settings such as Phototools - No Light, removes clothing, and poses in rays of projected light that form works of art, in essence bathing the nude form in whatever is being projected (photo above). "It's an interesting almost psychological experience in a way," Bryn said, "how we identify...becoming nude in a public place and then the projectors also follow the body like a caress too." The sign providing instructions playfully says, "Look to see if anyone is watching. Then take off your clothes," without giving hint as to whether one should have an audience or not.

As is typical with much of Bryn's overall output, the pen and ink portion of The Gathering has an underpinning in the physical world. Commissioned to create a series of illustrations for a coffee table book based on her paintings, Bryn, who had little previous experience working in the medium of pen and ink, had to essentially start from scratch to learn the discipline, studying both technique and the creations of past masters such as George Cruikshank and Edward Gorey. Having completed a curious story of nine scenes in pen and ink, she then set about bringing her images into a virtual space, but chose not to present them simply as flat textures but rather as three-dimensional works that are exploded versions constructed of overlapping layers of prims. The story told by the scenes is a playful one with perhaps a touch of Edward Lear, concerning a private party crashed by a rather curious guest, with wall text providing narrative in poetic form (example above). At the culmination of the story, visitors are treated to a display of the original pen and ink drawings (lowest image).

Much could be said about the way in which Bryn thinks about presenting her work. It would have been simple enough to install the nine vignettes that comprise The Gathering in a traditional gallery space, with the objects simply lined up in a row, presenting a narrative. (And in fact, you can do just that if you collect the scenes on your own — more about that below.) But instead, she created an striking virtually immersive experience, requiring the observer to explore the vast space at the same time, and the environment stands very much on its own as an art object.

At the landing point, visitors will find a gacha machine, which might make more sense placed at the culmination of the exhibition, as what it provides are copies of the scenes and objects exhibit-goers will encounter. One can certainly help contribute to Immersiva's support through purchasing these delightful items, but a contribution kiosk also stands nearby for those who prefer to give directly. A teaser video for The Gathering may be viewed here, and additional information can be found on Bryn's blog here.

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