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The Tales of Ruysch



It would probably never have occurred to me to construct the nonsensical/non-linear web tale which I am cobbling together out of virtual imagery and Shakespeare's quotes and sonnets, had it not been for the pose library which I was given by storyteller Frigg Ragu in Second Life. Initially I was using these to take photographs of the output of alpha.tribe for display purposes. Even on the very first occasion that I wandered back and forth between them I became aware to what an extent Frigg had managed to capture the expressive language of Renaissance/Rococo paintings within these poses. There was an art historic quality to them which was simply begging to be put to use within such a context. In other words, not "contemporary" avatar photographs in Second Life, but something more along the lines of genre painting.

I had already made a number of quasi-historic outfits for sale in Second Life, but once the idea began to gain hold I started to deliberately create more of them since "the actors" would need to be kitted out in appropriate garb. I also began to experiment with virtual photography and realized very soon that an artificial studio, completely closed off from the outside world would need to be created within the already artificial world of Second Life if these images and videos were to look anything like what I wanted them to look like. So, although shot in Second Life, this is not really Second Life, but a simulated environment housed inside a colossal spherical mega prim in the skies above Syncretia, at an altitude which is high enough for privacy and yet low enough for windlight presets to fully work. This latter is quite crucial since the bulk of the lighting is achieved through a number of custom presets I have created for the studio (and which are completely unusable outside of it by the way).  These are supplemented by countless small light prims placed close to the avatars, particularly around their heads and inside their palms. The walls as well as all the props of this studio are textured with historic genre paintings, which change from scene to scene, since I found out that, for me, there is a particular fascination and magic in juxtaposing the "synthetic" avatar to the "analog" content found in these.

It should also probably be added that I have quite a bit of previous familiarity with Real Life photo studio environments as part of my old job as art director. It was surprising how easily this past experience could be transferred into the virtual studio of my own creation. One in which the props, actors, and light are under my full control. And, even better, Frigg's poses give the scenes which I set up an expressive quality which it would have been quite impossible to achieve with human models, unless one were using highly skilled actors and actresses for the task.

I have to say that I am not a big fan of History. I have no nostalgia whatsoever for days past. In fact, if anything I am heartily thankful that they are precisely that - past! I tend to avoid biographies as well as historic novels and films if I can possibly do so (they tend to bore me to tears mostly...) but there are some exceptions to this overall dislike: Jane Austen's novels, which I must have read at least 20 times over (and will hopefully read a good few times more before I leave this earth); the whole period of Western art ranging from the late Gothic to Classicism. And therein particularly Dutch genre paintings and still lives, including the small but exquisite output of one of the very few professional female painters in art history, Rachel Ruysch. And then, bizarrely enough (since I often cannot understand him straight off the bat, but have to resort to dictionaries and explanatory texts), I really adore Shakespeare.

And Shakespeare's words are what I am basing this somewhat absurd tale in progress upon. It is good to know one's weaknesses and one's strengths: Although I do love a good yarn, I am completely incapable of making one up myself. Thankfully, once I have a story I can work it visually. Years of professional design work have given me the know-how of doing so. And it is no remarkable or rare skill by the way: Any art director worth his or her salt has to know how to set up good visual hierarchies and develop a keen eye for detail. Has to know how to create a story board and know what moments within the "tale" to emphasize.  And yes, a storyboard for advertising eggs or facial cream or dish washing liquid involves no less of a tale than what I am trying to do here.

Currently there are three episodes to which I shall continue to add, so, this is not anywhere near being complete. There is, however, already an ending of sorts since, as Shakespeare says, all Journeys end in lovers meeting, Every wise man’s son doth know. And who am I to argue with old William? ;-).
The next episode I am contemplating right now is Vanitas, for which the sonnet which goes Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye And all my soul, and all my every part; And for this sin there is no remedy seems to provide the perfect context.

I am thinking that there will probably be 12 episodes based upon the months of the year (although this will most probably get added onto given how much in Shakespeare there is to pillage): Some years ago I generated 12 quasi-Renaissance/late Gothic tunes with a no longer existent software named Koan. The idea back then had been to create a web based book of hours along the lines of Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry. This never worked out, I could never get it to be like I wanted it to be, however I did do a lot of studies for this at the time and the 12 sound tracks are part of that and seem to fit into the current undertaking rather well.

One thing to add is what is going on with the avatars in all of this: For the first time since there has been a "tribe" I am logging in almost all of them simultaneously from the two computers that I have at home and that are up to the job (I have more, but they are quite useless for something like this). And I am amazed to see that an unforeseen (re)distribution of roles and a novel constellation of personalities is in the making, almost outside of my control. While Grapho seems to have taken upon himself the role of the worldly older man (although by no means the wise old man); the male "tour guide" for Syncretia, Syncretio Kanya has gone and cast himself in a lead role of sorts: A handful of naughty, mercurial, confused, well meaning yet blundering, but ultimately lovable manhood (with whom I seem to be all too familiar with from my own encounters with the ilk). And then Syncretia Kenin, the female tour guide of Syncretia has turned out to be a complicated, somewhat pathologically inclined problem child. Alpha is remaining resolutely in the background for now, as is Amina - the latter, funnily enough, showing a distinct preference for male parts. And then Xiamara, little Miss "goody-two-shoes", "never-put-a-foot-wrong" is suddenly a jilted heroine? Crying her eyes out? I somehow always assumed that she would be in full control of herself and others in all encounters of a romantic kind. Well - apparently not! (teee heee)... Indeed, so far, only Alpho seems to stick to character, a no-nonsense Furry, given to speaking her mind.
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And one very important thing to say is also this:

At the end of the day, the aim of The Tales of Ruysch is nothing more than to create entertainment for me, it’s assembler. It is a frivolous (21st century - hhh) rococo folly and should not be seen as an ambitiously serious undertaking but rather as tongue-in-cheek play with material borrowed from here and there, ruthlessly chopped up and re-assembled to suit my needs, involving my many avatars as its actors. If anything, a funny sort of a doll's theater.
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Blogged by NWN on April 20th:
http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2010/04/shakespeare-tableaus.html

Thank you Hamlet!
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Cloaca



I have been obsessing about Cloaca since I knew of it's existence - which was precisely 3 days ago.
Not that I want to get overly dramatic and Spenglerian here by screaming "Untergang des Abendlandes"*** or anything like that - but civilizations are also often defined as organisms, yes? And organisms grow old and die. And one of the signs of old age dementia, as far as I am aware, is a fascination with feces.

Now, had this been something that one person had made, financed out of their own pocket as an anti-art establishment statement, it would be a different matter entirely. After all, how is this so very different from Duchamp's urinal some may well ask? Well, the difference lies in the fact that Cloaca cost hundreds of thousands of Euro's to build (it is a very sophisticated and complex robot) and apparently art and culture agencies world-wide were racing with one another to finance it. And now museums are lined up to exhibit it, paying colossal monthly fees (one, right here in my home town being amongst them, if what an acquaintance of mine told me today is anything to go by).

So, no, Cloaca is not one man's brave/humorous stance against what he considers to be a rotten to the core art establishment but a direct product of that very art establishment itself. An establishment which sees art works solely as objects of entertainment and which as far as I can see, is part and parcel of a very old, very tired human race that has lost faith and direction... Sorry, I know this sounds more pessimistic than even pessimistic, but I happen to believe that this is in fact the case. I have been thinking this and feeling it deep inside my bones for a very long time anyway. Cloaca just really brought it home to me one more final time.

And in one way, this is a liberation of sorts as well: To (re)quote the Beatles - "but oh that magic feeling, no where to go...". We are now all free to "be". No more responsibilities. No more plans. No more big ambitions. No more big tomorrows...
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I cannot give this a category as a "good thing" - obviously. It has to remain "uncategorized". There are no categories anywhere on this blog that this would fit into.
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*** I want to make it very clear that when I say Abendland, this is in no way an "anti-western" statement: We are a global culture, possibly with shades and tones of Abendland everywhere nowadays. So, one thing, at least for me, is certain: There is no more "Morgenland". We are all in the same boat, all of us equally affected and/or equally guilty and/or innocent.
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Afterthought: I have focused upon the funding of Cloaca and not the individual who made it, Vim Delvoye, since it is not so much the work itself but the system that supports it and applauds it that is an issue here. So, a thing to consider may also be whether this was not Vim Delvoye's aim also? In other words, are he and I on the same side? We would have been, yes - IF! He had exposed the whole "thing" upon completion. Published all the budget sheets. Declared every penny, endorsement and commendation obtained from every art agency that was ever involved with this. And declared that THAT exposure had been the reason behind Cloaca. As far as I am aware he never did so. Had he done so, and if he ever does so at some point in the future, then yes. We will be on the same side.