He stepped into other people’s imaginations and built his own powerful artwork

“Here, in Second Life, a vast virtual canvas where we create what cannot be, what could be, what was and what might be again, I step inside the imaginations of people I’ve never met and whom I may have never even spoken to, understanding something of their inner worlds nonetheless. I am welcome in, I can tarry even when no one is around to guide me through. A part of their mind persists, displaced from its usual boundaries, their visions are all around me, surrounding and summoning and allowing me to decide where and when I will turn.”

(Erik Mondrian, Artist Statement [MFA Thesis])

SL resident Erik Mondrian has recently announced that he had made available on YouTube a series of videos combining vocal recordings of his own writings with footage from different sims in Second Life. The material was filmed as a project for his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) course in Voice Arts & Creative Writing at California Institute of the Arts. Blogger and artist Inara Pey has a more detailed description of the project – and here I would like to concentrate on the impressions that the whole material caused on me, in the hope that these observations may contribute with a more general reception of Erik’s really powerful artwork.

To start with, it’s worth noticing that the combination of (spoken) text and images is essential in the videos, but words and filmed materials do not relate in an obvious way. While what’s said focus on feelings such as love and solitude, or experiences like how one perceives time or deals with anxiety, what we see are, in a strict sense, visual descriptions of sims in SL – and, as such, they are cuts, selections, portions of the space that is being filmed.

One could argue that the footage shown by Erik in each video conveys the same impressions of the text chosen to accompany it. Yet, this observation is only partially satisfying to explain the links between words and images. How can one decide if a certain dark environment that appears on the screen has more to do with guilt and agony or evasion? How to determine if the repetition of an image is more like a time experience or like an anxious overthinking?

If images in Erik’s videos are not mere illustrations for the words, also texts are not just comments on the filmed material. Actually, they help determine the feeling that is transmitted by what one sees – and their effect is then enhanced and maximized by the profound impact that images tend to cause on spectators.

That’s how expectation, on Video 6, purgatory, can be transmitted both by a story of someone waiting in a long line of people and by shootings of Black Bayou Lake. The idea of a certain apprehension comes from the text, while the images punctuate it with somber swampy feelings. Then, the title itself organizes (in a way, only to a certain extent, just enough to underline its sense) the experience of the video as a “being in a limbo” one.

That is more or less how I see and feel the experience of watching this series of videos by Erik Mondrian. And, in the whole, that’s how they make sense to me: as an involvement that reaches its significance not by the simple juxtaposition of words and images, but by the building of a sensibility that overcomes their mere concomitant occurrence.

In a world of musically commented images (one can think of how musical sounds are fundamental parts of many videos and movies), I cannot avoid the feeling that, in Eric’s material, where no music is played, voices and voice effects are his soundtrack. In this series of videos, both the cadence of voices and the way voice is processed mark the rhythm and add to the feeling of the whole edition.

The fact that the footage is made in Second Life is not irrelevant either. Of course, it could be made elsewhere, but not with the same results – and not only because the images would be different, but also because what is filmed is something very particular: as Erik conceives it, it is part of other people’s imaginations – built as immersive environments! And what Erik adds to those immersive imagination environments is something of his own imagination: his texts, together with the way he apprehends (by filming) and presents (by editing) the places conceived by other people.

(In this sense, it was particularly interesting for me to see how his artistic work is made of interactions and interventions on other people’s artistic expressions, such as what we see in Video 8, above, that shows Erik’s particular journey through Rose Borchovski’s installation The Inevitability of Fate – which I have written about).

Erik’s set of videos for his MFA project has been one of the most interesting SL-based artworks that I have seen lately. If my recommendations are worth caring about, I truly suggest that my seven readers go check it as soon as possible (notice that only some of the videos are shown here, and on YouTube one can find their full descriptions, including the SLURLs to the sims where they were filmed).

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