The opposition between “wet” (and its variations, such as “humid” or “moist”) and “dry” has been attached to a number of meanings – and sometimes, more interestingly, to various systems of classification – throughout history and in different societies. Classic medicine philosophy, at least in some of its versions, observed from Antiquity to the Modern era, attributed to the four fundamental body fluids (or humors) two pairs of alternate qualities: thus, blood would be warm and moist, yellow bile would be warm and dry, black bile would be cold and dry, and phlegm would be cold and moist. The same qualities can be observed in some of the varieties of the theories of the four temperaments. According to Claude Lévi-Strauss, “the dry” and “the damp” also correspond to a binary opposition that help Amerindian societies organize thought. Furthermore, they could work as a way to classify societies themselves if we were to consider Clifford Geertz’s work on the impact of the difference in access to water between Southern Bali and Morocco.
Dryness and humidity have also been present in Second Life, as guidelines to design some sims. I won’t try to perform a systematic characterization of those sims here – I would just like to stress that desert and flooded landscapes have been often seen in SL. Although some of these places have been gone, others are still there – and on this post I’d like to draw attention to a couple of them: Dryland (at Mado), by Anita Witt, and 2304 Rain (at Sankt Moritz), by Squonk Levenque.
Dryland is an art gallery with some different exhibitions (photos and installations). It is built as a desert, but not a natural one. The remains of old ships on the dry soil are the evidences that Dryland was born of a disaster, a desertification process that led to destruction and desolation.
Actually, Dryland is inspired on an environmental disaster happening in our days: the shrinking of the Aral Sea, which once was the fourth largest lake in the world and, because of the diversion of its waters and the widespread use of chemicals in the area, is now disappearing at a fast pace. Where it used to be, one can now find a heavily polluted zone and a landscape of abandoned ships.
Alongside this connection with an actual problem of our time, Dryland can also be related to a variety of sims in SL which are built on the ideas of destruction and abandonment. In opposition to an idealized present time of nice and warm beaches with beautiful houses that “just look like the ones in Malibu”, the place is based on devastation and misery derived from human intervention on a natural scenery. In other words, instead of implying a continuum between humankind and nature in a harmonic way that creates a pleasant ambiance for people, the desert desolation of Dryland states an opposition between humans and their surrounding environment. In this context, signs of hope, such as a small portion of water supporting life or the installation “Woops…..a baby”, by pallina60 Loon, are magnified by contrast.
2304 Rain, on the other hand, cannot be described either as an environmental disaster produced by the opposition between humans and nature or as an idealized harmony between humankind and natural environment (such a pair of opposite ideas could be presented, in a more Lévi-Straussian analysis, as a set of binary alternative ways in which culture relates to nature: as some sort of complement to it, in some circumstances, or as an antithetic element, in other cases). Far from such a dichotomy – unless, maybe, if you want to submit it to a heavy work of interpretation – it instead invites you to travel from the more or less realistic cabin at its landing point to a more surrealistic landscape of huge musical instruments, a chessboard and an immense wooden puppet, passing by a series of monumental monolithic columns – all under the rain.
2304 Rain is also a collection of objects or elements which are out-of-place – not necessarily surreal, but displaced. The monoliths, for instance, can be seen side by side with a scarecrow. Also, it rains inside the house at the landing point – and not everywhere, just at some part of it, but exactly where you can see a table and two chairs.
It is particularly noticeable that, differently from what I have seen in the majority of the flooded sims that I have visited in Second Life, at 2304 Rain it actually… rains – while on the others one would see a place still taken by water but not submitted to actual precipitation anymore.
I would say that it is quite stimulating to visit Dryland and 2304 Rain one after the other. The contrast between both sims only seems to make them even more interesting.