Eupalinos, architect of an eccentric world

Ricco prepares to jump in the catapult, where a giant eye looks at him

Ricco prepares to jump in the catapult, where a giant eye looks at him

When I made a list of six curious ways to die in Second Life, artist Eupalinos Ugajin suggested I could try an additional means of killing my avatar: by throwing the virtual me from a giant catapult in Avaloir, Eupalinos’s sim. So I did – and that was not the end of the road for me: quite the opposite, it was the starting point for a new journey in Avaloir.

Avaloir's entrance

Avaloir’s entrance

I won’t really try to describe the sim, much less interpret Eupalinos’s creations. Still, I’d like to share some impressions that I have when I visit the place (I’ve been there repeatedly: much more than once, but less, let’s say, than 100 times; ergo, God exists – unless there’s a log somewhere).

A window at Avaloir's landing area

A window at Avaloir’s landing area

The sim is a collection of works by Eupalinos (and maybe that’s why it is called Avaloir, which in French means “floor drain” or “storm drain”). Anyway, it doesn’t have a unit, it’s not a single piece. Yet, it does show some coherence, some congruence, which could be the effect of its elements being conceived by the same artist. And, though that of course plays a part, I’d go further to say that the different pieces dialog among themselves. In other words, it’s as if they were gravitating in an eccentric orbit – as a couple dancing in a ballroom, in which it doesn’t just move around a fixed point, but evolves harmonically.

Dancing and being observed by a cow

Dancing and being observed by a cow

The eccentricity of Avaloir is, thus, the effect of its existence: it’s because the different artworks are there, and because they talk to each other but do not form a single thing, that we can feel their non-centralized coherence and see that they do work together with no need for an anchor point or a unifying meaning.

Ricco runs away

Ricco runs away

Avaloir is, thus, not a tribute to a certain ideal, but a realization, an achievement – which leads me to another reference: the classical character which Eupalinos Ugajin’s name evokes. Eupalinos of Megara, son of Naustrophos, was an ancient Greek engineer who is known to have solved a mathematic-technological problem in order to build, in the 6th century BC, a 1 km tunnel that would bring water to the city of Samos through a mountain (more or less like an avaloir?). The Greek engineer would also inspire a work by the French poet and philosopher Paul Valéry, who in the 1920s imagined a dialog between Socrates and Phaedrus called Eupalinos, Or The Architect.

Ricco floats amidst windows and shadows

Ricco floats amidst windows and shadows

A sculpture that swallos avatars

A sculpture that swallows avatars

In Valéry’s dialog, Phaedrus cites Eupalinos as part of an argument that questions Plato’s theory of Ideas. When Socrates argues that pure men, in terms of intelligence, do not need the sensible world to reach a more elevated state, Phaedrus initiates a long consideration on how Eupalinos’s works allow the architect to both imagine and build beauty, and to actually reach a deeper knowledge of the forms, their mathematics and physics, and of himself, his memories and experiences.

The conversation between Phaedrus and Socrates goes on, but what matters here is that Avaloir shows itself to me as Eupalinos Ugajin’s eccentrically imagined and built architecture. Most of the works seen in the sim are interactive, making avatars part of the experience or transforming themselves into the avatar’s experience. In that sense, they don’t just embrace visitors, but also use visitors as part of their material, they build themselves around and together with their audience. That’s when beauty, or – let’s replace that word by a more open one – art, as conceived by Eupalinos, achieves its potential: not as a contemplation of an imagined ideal, but as the actualization of an involving performance.

Sculpture against a colored floor

Sculpture against a colored floor

As for the catapult, my starting point, it was actually a funny death: above the engine there is a faucet from which you can rez a number of unexpected objects. I chose a giant eyeball, sat on it and put the machine to work. Soon I was launched in the air, in a dizzily fast and furious evolution.

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