Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Ties That Bind

[Images Redacted]

The self-described sardonic jackass Lordfly Digeridoo is known on occasion to betray his declared modus operandi with insightful and entertaining rants on his blog. Easily one of the most prolific builders in Second Life, the portfolio on his site merely scratches the surface of a body of work dating back to SL's earliest days. In fact, last month he posted about a collection of historic photos capturing Second Life's sum total of 108 sims as they existed back in March 2004, and was able to identify many of his own builds in the snapshots.

The post reminded me of my own time spent on the color sims, which for many represent the 'old world' of the grid. While working on the Mauve Infohub I'd occasionally check out the surrounding environs where a simple sculpture on Green called 'The Ties That Bind' (view on map | direct teleport) managed to attach itself to the nether regions of my brain.

We've previously explored the theme of ephemerality in Second Life architecture, how the ability to instantly erase or conjure a build from inventory makes it seem in some senses disposable. Yet at the same time this very volatility leads one to savour the structures as they manifest themselves in the moment, insecure in the knowledge that at any other given moment they could be gone, perhaps forever. Edifice in the physical world, one might suggest, could in fact be easier to take for granted and/or even dismiss, easily shuffled into 'mental inventory' with the comfort of knowing it is going to take significant effort (and copious explosives) for a building to be removed.

Where the comparison falls down, of course, is when we begin to compare the material qualities of the 'stuff' that captures and envelopes real versus virtual space. A real brick wall does a lot of things that a virtual one can't, like withstand being crushed under the weight of the bricks above it, feel cold and rough to the touch, taste like dirt, smell know what I mean. There's a certain completeness to the way in which these materials are 'read' that tends to outweigh the effects of ephemerality described above. Add some recreational drugs into the mix and one might call it a draw.

So what happens when the stuff of virtual architecture stops trying so hard to achieve the sense of gravitas it hopes to gain by incompletely imitating that which we have come to know in the physical world? Arguably it has the potential to make up for these deficiencies, take on its own character, and sit alongside physical architecture on a continuum of spatial experience.

In a small way, this is precisely what 'The Ties That Bind' appears to do, with Lordfly's post nudging me to document it before it disappears.

While not necessarily inhabitable in the same way as other works of Second Life architecture (unless one's avatar happens to be very very small (and a distinct possibility BTW)), the slipperiness of scale afforded by the camera allows viewpoints from within as well as around the sculpture, a diminutive collection of tortured prim ribbons that when considered as a whole come together to form a very complex, evocative, and gestural surface, a victory for raw expression over rational geometry the likes of which not commonly seen in-world.

It achieves its surface qualities through an apparent lack of concern for providing any sort of enclosure or 'envelope', and a seeming disinterest with being a building at all. And yet for me anyway it alights in the imagination as the facade of a distant skyscraper that upon approach transforms into something different altogether. While far less likely to be seen hanging from a rear view mirror, the closest analogue is perhaps the Native American notion of the dream catcher as a filter for unseen forces of imagination, allowing us to pause and perhaps perceive things may have been, or things that may never be.


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