16 April 2011

Maya Paris and Oberon Onmura at Split Screen: Some Thoughts

The two current installations at Split Screen, Maya Paris's "Mind the Gap" and Oberon Onmura's "Second Pool," are connected in physical, interactive, and tonal ways. This is not to say that they are similar works, but that they create a balance, maybe even a sense of completeness.

Most of the physical links are visual or structural. The obvious one is that they both use large pools of water (Oberon's is square, Maya's circular), where much -- or in Oberon's case, most -- of the build is located. There is also a commonality in their use of underwater lights around their walls. The two installations actually have a bridge between them, and a shared landing point; previous builds at Split Screen were more discrete, with separate landing points and a TP for transit. They are quasi-physically connected as well: there is a "tunnel" using a TP between them.* And in a more directly interactive relationship, if you closely watch the wing of Maya's giant dandelion seed that somewhat overhangs Oberon's build, you'll see that when a shaft of light bursts from the water of "Second Pool," a pin in the wing turns briefly blue.

The pool of "Second Pool" is unmistakably urban: a square structure surrounded by park benches, with underwater lights around its perimeter and grilles on the pool floor emitting gasses. There's even a corner fenced off surrounding a dug out area into which some sort of outlet pipe. Strange fish or eels come out of that pipe. But ... what are they doing there? If you bump into one, they'll knock you out of the way, sometimes with quite a wallop: occasionally people have been knocked out of the sim entirely. No city park would permit such creatures. But they aren't aggressive. People have stood on the pool bottom for half an hour or more and never been touched. And where are the fish-eels going? They all swim toward the other side of the pool. Some die in the process; others burrow into the sand, to be seen no more. I don't think any actually reach their destination, whatever it is. One can ask similar questions about the balls and bolts of light that suddenly appear in the water, and the flattish white or light green blob creatures that skim about just under the surface of the water, and sometimes take off en masse into the air, going ... somewhere. The large, rectilinear, translucent "seaweed," which one might at first view as urban public art, begins to look increasingly alien. Has our city been colonized by species from afar, or are we on some other world entirely? But for all its burgeoning strangeness, this pool is at heart a calm, contemplative place.

Perhaps contemplation is not what some would seek in a work by Maya Paris. Whereas "Second Pool" departs from quotidian life, "Mind the Gap" takes pleasure in the most ordinary of things, that common but magnificent weed, the dandelion. Oh, and dunking people into water. And wearing amazing hats. While we're at it, also from floating in the air, though in RL that tends to be metaphoric. There's also a light touch of punning satire, as the words "Off [with their] heads" bursting from some dandelion globes allude to both blowing away dandelion seeds and -- scathingly -- the upcoming royal wedding in the UK. One does blow thick clouds of dandelion seeds everywhere by wearing the "crown" of a super-sized dandelion globe (sealing the satiric link between dandelions and royalty). There is also TP up to a small sky platform with a couple of spheres to sit on and be dropped to pool level, with a safe landing, until you walk away and ... mind the gap! Splash you go into the water. The build isn't "loopy," which is how I described Maya's "Veparella," but it's definitely fun. And yet ... when I'm there, I spend most of my time standing underwater, where there's another feeling. A friend experienced it even more fully: "When the chain took me down," she told me, "I had this feeling of complete relaxation. I don't know why, it just felt very ... relaxing. My mind just suddenly felt like everything else was far away and all that existed was this world that was enveloping me. I actually think it was after the splash that I first felt that. It was just a real out of body kinda experience. I felt so relaxed when I was done exploring, it just really agreed with me." Perhaps there's another connection between "Mind the Gap" and "Second Pool"?

I try to pair artists at Split Screen so that they contrast yet somehow fit together, but I don't ask them to collaborate or coordinate in any way, even though I've thought it might be interesting if they did. Maya and Oberon decided to on their own, after having already started building. I don't know how often that happens, but the results in this case are richly subtle, in a way that allows the visitor's own imagination to create part of the work.

*Truth in commentary: the tunnel idea arose during a conversation I had with Maya when the builds were almost finished, when I wistfully remarked that it would be fun if they could be connected by an underwater tunnel. She and Oberon ran with the idea, using a TP as the closest option.