Two creative Second Life© residents, backed by a grant from an educational institution, combined one of their existing projects from 2008, Bogon flux, and the idea of a Petrovsky lacuna (by the Russian mathematician Ivan Pertovsky) and completed in 2010 the project on the sim Spencer Art Museum they named A Petrovsky Flux. The basic premise of this work are clusters of things that are constantly changing and rearranging and surrounding the visitor with a sense of the surreal or perhaps the experience of being in a dream. Together with a handful other immersive art installations like, for instance, The Far Away (AM Radio) and Immersiva (Bryn Oh), A Petrovsky Flux has certainly stood the test of time. One can safely say it has become a Second Life classic. The visionary creators of all these mentioned virtual art projects share a high standard of work reflecting a sophisticated understanding of the creative process within the virtual sphere. Visitors find themselves returning for the artistic experience and, of course, for the immersion.
Scripter and builder collaborators blotto Epsilon and Cutea Benelli are the two brain children behind Petrovsky Flux in Second Life. The project is sponsored by the Spencer Museum of Art of the University of Kansas. Rumor in Second Life has it that blotto Epsilon, who has been a resident of Second Life since 2005, is one hell of a scripter. His co-conspirator, Cutea Benelli, in Second Life since 2007, is the founder of the infamous Grim Bros stores. In a whimsical note card that is provided together with a quite dramatic helmet when one first teleports into the Spencer Museum of Art sim, the two emphasize the importance of protection while exploring the intermittently rapidly shifting parts of the sim, noting that [t]he solid remains of this aggressively fecund process are brittle and failure-prone, so we recommend (and provide) protective headgear. Legitimate reasons for ignoring this precaution include preexisting brain damage and general stupidity (however, please note that in case of the latter, the helmet will make you look smarter). Visitors are also encouraged in the same note card to click things, poke stuff and try to sit on items. When interacting with objects on the sim the participant becomes part of an immersive experience. The Petrovsky Flux project has been part of the Spencer Museum of Art’s permanent exhibits since 2010. With this initiative, the museum has pondered about art in virtual settings, posing questions like How can a work of art created and seen in a virtual environment be meaningful in a real-world museum?, How can such work be shared in a real-life museum?, How does the Museum catalog and document such a work?, and Is Second Life a viable medium for the arts? Of note is also that the University of Kansas is in fact only one of three larger educational institutions showing interest in Second Life virtual art, the other ones are the University of Texas and the University of Western Australia.
When one visits whole sim art installations in Second Life one is more often than not struck by a lack of cohesion. While the objects placed on the sim are usually inspiring and well-crafted, the sum of these parts do not necessarily make up an integrated whole, which leaves an impression of the installation being disjointed. This is not at all the case on A Petrovsky Flux, where resides one might say an organized chaos. Random made-up items, like pink upholstered furniture on large springs, sheep with small helicopter-blade attachments or steam punk inspired large and small pipes with windows, are in a constant state of moving or shifting shape. The movements and shape shifts are not at all predictable, rather completely unexpected and random, consistently taking the visitor by surprise. There are static objects around as well, like a cluster of TVs or a small garden of light bulbs. There is a lonesome wandering chicken. The foundation upon which all of this rests consists of a dark organic seeming dry clay-like ground, interspersed with pockets of water. Wandering around on the Spencer Art Museum sim on which A Petrovsky Flux is installed one can’t help but experience a sense of childlike wonder. No doubt, the tremendous artistic talent, and the immersion that comes with it, is what makes this place shine. But, ultimately, it is the infusion of humor and, yes, the two creators’ obvious love for this build itself that entices a visitor’s return.
Written by Kate Bergdorf
Photography by Helene Lytton