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Second Life Spotlight - Bryn Oh


Linden Lab

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Second Life can be hard to categorize, but at its core, it is a celebration of creativity. Today we are shining a spotlight on Bryn Oh to kick off a new series of SL creator featurettes. Many Residents are familiar with her work, as she is one of the most talented virtual artists of our time and has spent more than a decade creating art in the virtual world of Second Life.

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The Brittle Epoch by Bryn Oh

What first brought you to Second Life?
I discovered Second Life after reading an article about a person who purchased a condominium in a virtual world for $200,000 USD. A bit like an NFT that you could go into and inhabit, I suppose. Anyway, I had to go see this building and made a Second Life account. I hadn’t really been in multi-user environments much before so it really amazed me to meet people from around the world in real time. I was actually so enthralled that I forgot to even look for the condominium.

What was your first project in Second Life - and is it still accessible?
My first project was a bit strange. One day, as I was exploring, I accidentally created a prim box on the ground. I discovered that I could edit it and played {with it} for a while before logging out. When I returned the following day the box was still there, which gave me an epiphany of sorts. I realized that anything I made could have duration in the virtual space and that I could change the space itself. The ground we stood upon was supplied by Linden Lab but the world itself was created by its users, a type of MUD, MOO or LambdaMOO. I began to build steampunk insects daily and while doing this a couple Residents would come to watch me create each day. After what seemed a long time they told me that they really loved all my steampunk insects, but could I perhaps take some back into my inventory because I was filling up their land. I then realized that I was actually building in someone’s backyard and that people lived in all the houses around me and they, very generously, let me build dozens of robotic insects. I then went to build on an IBM sandbox and met many artists creating there. The person who built beside me on the sandbox really impressed me with an elaborate train he was creating. His name was AM Radio and he was quite popular at the time.


Hand by Bryn Oh

You’ve been pretty prolific in SL over the years -- are any of your past projects still open to visitors?
Most of my work is in my inventory but I have three regions of my artwork that can be visited. There is a gateway region called Bryn Oh where I keep my work Hand. It will stay there for years as it is part of a course on the art of Bryn Oh being taught at York University and needs to remain there for the students. A second region called Immersivist has another work called The Singularity of Kumiko on it currently, but that region will rotate my large scale artwork from my inventory every six months or so. My main region is called Immersiva and it is where my new work The Brittle Epoch is. The Brittle Epoch is actually connected to Hand and Singularity of Kumiko so it’s good to visit them for that reason too.

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Brittle Epoch Oil Painting by Bryn Oh

How have your inworld creations evolved over the years?
Before I came to Second Life I was an artist and oil painter. In art school at OCAD we would study various art styles, schools, and movements, looking at art as it evolved through human history. From cave paintings to modern art. Through this lens I see Second Life, or specifically the persistent virtual space, as a new art medium. When I created paintings I would essentially create a snapshot in time; a 2D moment where I would try to capture the viewer's attention and immerse them using various techniques like colour theory and composition, as well as creating narrative within my imagery.

However, immersion is very fragile and if, say, a baby cries or your phone rings while looking at a painting in a gallery, your attention wanes and the immersion is broken. Suppose we now look at cinema. You have a seat, the lights go dark, and the large screen blocks out your peripheral vision to reduce any distractions. They then turn the sound up high so that you are dominated by your senses. They want your vision to be dominated exclusively by their narrative. Of course, the glowing red EXIT sign always reminds you that you are not “in” the movie but rather “watching” a movie, keeping you from being fully immersed. 

There is a narrative and each scene has its own composition. But with cinema you are a passive observer to the story. You do not interact with, but remain separate from the medium. Once the movie ends you can restart it, but the narrative is fixed as well as the camera movement. If you see a drawer in a room you can’t stop and open it. The experience is fixed and will never change regardless of how many times you watch it.

The goal for an immersive artist, or an Immersivist, is to eliminate as many barriers as you can. My inworld creations in the virtual space have evolved where I look at our medium as a unique and very powerful immersive tool for creating the style of art I am interested in. I want to create art where you are not a passive observer but an active participant in an open ended artwork where you are not led around as in cinema but instead you have the freedom to interact with the environment as you wish to. And when you combine that with VR it is a very powerful immersive medium. Virtual art may be written about in history books one day and these may be the first stumbling steps to a new movement in art not unlike the Cubists, Surrealists, Minimalists and so on.

Perhaps a movement may begin where the artists are called the Immersivists and the movement is born and thrives within the virtual space.

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Brittle Epoch Model in ZBrush

Tell us about some of the other creators in SL that inspire you.
When I first came to Second Life I was impressed by the creativity of an artist named Starax / Lightwaves and then later, as I mentioned, I enjoyed the work of AM Radio. I also came across the work of Glyph Graves and Selavy Oh who both were creating compelling art that often treated the virtual space as its own medium for art as opposed to mimicking real life. Though I think my favorite was the Petrovsky Flux that was built by Blotto Epsilon and Cutea Benelli. It was a steampunk creation that would slowly build itself in modules of hallways and rooms into a form a bit like a giant tree. It built itself randomly growing up into the sky and then at a certain point it collapsed to pieces only to begin anew. To be honest though, there are many artists whose work I enjoy.

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Bronze Sculptures by Bryn Oh

What keeps you coming back to SL?
I am endlessly fascinated by Second Life’s potential as an art medium. Not really sure how to explain but it is very unique as a medium. So the Immersivist artist often creates within a different environment than traditional art is experienced, and thus focuses on different goals. The role of art varies depending on location, for example, in a museum or gallery we are kept separate from the art and often can feel the gaze of security guards on us as we experience the artwork. We are not just separate from the art but greatly encouraged to be so. The art often is placed for the viewer to observe but not interact with, and it is housed in a structure designed to protect the art from both people and the elements such as rain or snow. The art is created and then shaped by the necessities of its own real world environment and needs. When you see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre there is often a crowd surrounding it, and of necessity people must move on to keep the flow of traffic through the gallery space. So, our experience with art is often bound and shaped by the realities of the real world and we shape opinions and feelings based on elements outside the artwork itself.

I design immersive virtual exploratory spaces with the mindset that it is a unique medium free of many constraints. I want to determine what makes it unique over other forms of art. I don’t want to mimic the way art is shown in real life as it is not necessary to do so in a virtual space, and as such I can redefine how the viewer interacts with my art. There need not be gravity nor chairs nor roofs, walls, etc. unless the viewer needs these familiar sights to feel immersed. The viewer is an active participant in the story rather than a passive observer. They have the freedom to explore in an open-ended space in whichever way they choose. I think of immersive artwork itself as a whole rather than individual pieces or components. When I make a sculpture of a ballet dancer in the environment, I don’t see it as a standalone artwork but rather a component of the entire environment. Within my work the visitor is often challenged with tasks. They are not handed the artwork to look at but rather they inhabit it and must put in effort to experience it. The more effort they put in the more they get back, and it is my feeling that someone who works to achieve something in my art will feel a deeper connection to it. This can be in the form of climbing difficult towers in an almost gamified way, to simply looking under beds or in drawers to find hidden notes. The visitor solves problems, detects hidden elements, and explores layers. They become experts in the current work, which in itself is connected to earlier works and upcoming works, creating layers upon layers of understanding and expertise, and these visitors have earned it.

Each viewer interacts with the artwork in their own fashion which often does not mirror the experience of visitors around them. It is shared but unique to each person. In contrast to a crowd seeing the Mona Lisa and walking away with the same {physical} experience as the others around them, the visitor to a virtual space has a unique experience all to themselves and explores at their own pace. Some stay hours and some stay weeks, and in some cases their interactions can influence the outcome of the artwork. It is experiential, interactive and highly immersive. The goal is for people to forget the real world for a time and live within another place that I have created.


Standby by Bryn Oh

Tell us about your most recent work and what impression you hope it makes upon visitors.
My new artwork, The Brittle Epoch, is the second part in a trilogy. The trilogy itself sits within a narrative of dozens of other creations spanning over a decade. The first part, which is pretty important to know, is called Hand. It is also important to be familiar with Standby, a work created for IBM in 2009 or so. The Singularity of Kumiko is referenced in the Brittle Epoch as well. My art in Second Life is one long narrative artwork told through large scale builds, similar to chapters, that can take years to make. The Brittle Epoch took about eight months to create: writing the story, the sound, scripting, building models in Zbrush, and texturing everything within the artwork. And I would like to thank the Ontario Arts Council who have supplied me with four grants to support the creation of these three works and more.


The Singularity of Kumiko by Bryn Oh

My artistic focus is on how contemporary society is affected by technology, ranging between human/machine and machine/machine relationships. Often we believe technology opens channels for people to interact and engage socially. However, the opposite can occur where people become isolated within their own personal bubble. They are separate and witnessing the world from a distance, an online entity with brittle popularity. My work expresses a yearning for meaningful connections within our new technological realm. I build virtual reality environments that explore the juxtapositions between human emotion and machine sentience, but I also want to challenge and create debate through the introduction of various concepts in my work. In the Brittle Epoch we follow children whose perception of our world is blurred between fantasy and fiction, where moral concepts are not black and white but grey and indistinct, much like a winter storm.


The Brittle Epoch

Follow Bryn Oh on her various social platforms to learn more about her work. 
Blog - http://brynoh.blogspot.com
Patreon - https://www.patreon.com/brynoh 
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/BrynOhh 
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/bryn_oh 
Flickr - https://www.flickr.com/photos/bryn_oh 
Youtube - https://www.youtube.com/c/BrynOh

 

We hope you enjoyed learning about Bryn Oh’s experiences creating art in Second Life. Each weekly post will feature a different Resident to showcase the spectrum of experiences and personalities found in our virtual world. If you have created something inworld that you’re proud of, or have had a deeply meaningful experience that could brighten someone else’s day, please sign up! More info here: https://second.life/spotlight-signup

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