Paradise Lost in Second Life: Pushing the artistic and technical envelope

paradise-lost-poster-3-rework-1

Having already covered the dress rehearsal and the press preview of the Basilique Performing Arts Company’s adaptation of John Milton’s famous epic poem “Paradise Lost“, I am now in a position to review it in as much depth as I can, given my own limited knowledge and understanding of the Arts and of the historical, political and religious context that influenced Milton to write his epic. Before I proceed any further, though, I could offer a single-sentence summary of the performance: You cannot afford to miss it.

In my previous posts, I described it as the most ambitious and perhaps the most important artistic event in Second Life and virtual worlds for 2014. Having watched the dress rehearsal, the press preview and the official premiere, my assessment still stands and I believe it to be strengthened even further.

Paradise Lost

Gustave Doré, Depiction of Satan, the antagonist of John Milton’s Paradise Lost c. 1866. Image: Wikipedia

Such is the extent to which Paradise Lost, John Milton’s epic poem (first published in 1667), has become ingrained not only in English culture, but also in the English language itself. It has become a phrase that practically everyone who can speak and read English has encountered at one point or another, even if they are unaware of its origins. For its time, it expressed forward-looking, novel ideas and concepts that led many of Milton’s contemporaries to label him a radical: The ideas he expressed w.r.t. marriage, for instance, as shown in his depiction of Adam and Eve’s relationship; or his extremely strict views on idolatry, which led him to also reject the idea of Dei Gratia monarchy.

John Milton’s Satan

But the impact of Paradise Lost on English, American and Western culture goes much further than that; Milton’s depiction of the poem’s characters has also influenced English, American and Western storytelling: Satan, the first major character that the poem introduces to the reader, was the most beautiful of all Heaven’s angels and is portrayed as a tragic figure who describes himself with the famous line “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” His failed rebellion against God for control of Heaven, stemming from his unwillingness to be a subordinate to God and his Son, claiming that angels are “self-begot, self-raised” and thus God is not entitled to rule over them as their creator. Milton portrays Satan as a very arrogant, but also powerful and charismatic character, with a formidable ability to persuade others to do his bidding. Besides his (true to the religious description) cunning and deceptive character, he is able to persuade the angels that followed him to continue their rebellion against God, despite their defeat in the Angelic War. According to Satan, God is a tyrannic ruler and angels ought to rule as gods.

There are parallels that can be drawn between Milton’s Satan and the tragic heroes of ancient Greek drama, but Satan’s hubris makes the behaviours of Greek tragic heroes that trigger the dramatic events pale in comparison. On some occasions in the poem, he seems to play the narrative role of the anti-hero, but it is always clear, at least to me, that he is really the narration’s antagonist. Regardless of this, though, his role has been discussed quite vigorously. For instance, C.S. Lewis sees Paradise Lost as a genuine Christian morality tale, while William Empson and other critics see an ambiguity in Milton’s complex characterisation of Satan.

The way later works portray their antagonists has been heavily influenced by Milton’s “heroic evil” – as Laskya Claren describes him – Satan. He has certain elements seen in the “anti-hero” characters of modern works, and, beyond that, he has all the twisted, catastrophic and fatal charm of a sociopath. I would dare say that the portrayal of Morgoth (initially Melkor) from John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s Silmarillion is practically lifted from Paradise Lost. He deceives Men and Elves alike to do his bidding against the will of Eru Ilúvatar, the demiurge of Tolkien’s universe, against whom Melkor/Morgoth rebelled in Ainulindalë, by successfully disguising and presenting himself as a charming, charismatic bringer of gifts and arcane knowledge. Another author whose work has been influenced by Paradise Lost is Salman Rushdie, whose controversial novel The Satanic Verses adapted important motifs and plot elements from Milton’s poem, including a “fall”, followed by a transformation.

Adam and Eve as seen by John Milton

Milton departs from the biblical account of Adam and Eve’s relationship, temptation and fall; their tale is a domestic one and differs dramatically (for its time) from the “dictated by God” views of womanhood that are seen in all three Abrahamic religions. According to the biblical narration, Adam was innocent and goaded into sinning against God by Eve, who had been deceived by Satan. Ever since then, all three Abrahamic religions viewed women as inherently wicked, foolish and inferior to men in every way – thus, they must be kept under the rule of the Man, to whom they must belong as property. Of course, Judaism was hardly original in this, as the Torah’s unknown authors were merely reflecting and sanctifying the predominant views of patriarchal societies. And, of course, sexuality itself is condemned as evil.

In Paradise Lost, on the other hand, Adam and Eve are seen to be having a complete relationship while still being without sin. They are also portrayed as having their own personalities and passions. Adam and Eve are God’s prized creations and, unlike what we see in the Bible, their relationship is one of mutual dependence rather than one of domination or hierarchy. Furthermore, while Adam is shown to be more gregarious than Eve and possessing higher intellectual knowledge than her, she longs for knowledge, is intelligent herself and thirsts for knowledge – and, more specifically, self-knowledge. Also, while deeply in love with Adam, she sometimes seems to feel suffocated by his constant presence. So, one day she convinces Adam that they should split up and work in different parts of the Garden, which is when Satan, determined to exact revenge upon God by corrupting his prized creation, tempts her.

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You Wear That Face: Exploring identity at the Assis Art Gallery

You Wear That Face, at the Assis Art Gallery

You Wear That Face, at the Assis Art Gallery

After the excellent premiere of Paradise Lost last night at The Basilique (review coming soon and suffice it for me to say for now that you really cannot afford to miss it), I had the pleasure today to catch up with Inara Pey at the Assis Art Gallery, which is hosted by Joaopedro Oh. There, four exhibitions are hosted for April. Three of them are 2D exhibitions; the other one, which caught my attention more, is an interactive 3D exhibit.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Nothing wrong with in-world photographic exhibitions. I love them, and have covered a few in the past. The truth is, however, that I’m a sucker for interactive 3D installations that aim to tell a story or make the spectator think. So, the installation I’m talking about is Blue Tsuki’s You Wear That Face. It is a simple and very effective exploration of identity. Blue describes the installation as follows:

We all wear masks. In SL we present ourselves with a mask every day. In this landscape find a hole in the ocean, armillary spheres of orbiting electrons, shafts of memory and our masks. “You Wear That Face” is a nexus, a vortex, an analogue of neurons and a self-reflexive look at our mask in a sideways dream.

Inara and me at Blue Tsuki's You Wear That Face installation at the Assis Art Gallery

Inara and me at Blue Tsuki’s You Wear That Face installation at the Assis Art Gallery

Blue combines physical elements (primwork) with a particle show that, at least to me, brings back memories of Nino Vichan’s exquisite “When the Mind’s Eye Listens” that I had covered last year. Blue creates a dream-like mini-universe, with you standing above a lavender-coloured ocean that flows into a central vortex, above which you stand when you teleport to the installation. The black sky above is lined with golden armillary spheres of electrons, each one orbited by numerous particles.

You Wear That Face, at the Assis Art Gallery

You Wear That Face, at the Assis Art Gallery

Underneath you, there is a spiral of golden prims, flickering with pieces of a mask. Perhaps, as Inara says, they represent the masks we wear in SL and even in RL – and I wonder if the fragmentation of the mask symbolises our attempt to only show others parts of the masks we wear in order to further our interests and protect ourselves. Around the spiral, there are four rectangular shafts (the “shafts of memory”) and four masks. Each mask is surrounded by swirling, almost fiery particles. These elements of the installation are interactive; you only need to click on them to sit.

You Wear That Face, at the Assis Art Gallery

You Wear That Face, at the Assis Art Gallery

Once you do, you find yourself either placed behind the masks (Blue’s reference to the identity theme) or at the mouth of the shafts, being sucked into a tunnel of memory towards old photographs at the other end. Adding to the atmosphere is a looping song encouraging the visitor to wear that face he wears “when no one is watching.”

You Wear That Face, at the Assis Art Gallery

You Wear That Face, at the Assis Art Gallery

Personally, I really enjoyed this installation. It strikes a nice balance between sparsity and complexity, and makes very effective use of symbolism to convey the artist’s desired message. I strongly recommend that you visit it and have a play with it. Should you also wish to visit the other three exhibitions, the teleporter is a small, upside-down red pyramid at the centre of the vortex of golden mask fragments.

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Mona

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See also:

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-tX

Paradise Lost in Second Life: First Impressions

Last Saturday (March 29th), I was one of the SL bloggers that had the privilege of attending the press preview of Paradise Lost in Second Life, the adaptation of John Milton’s famous epic poem “Paradise Lost” by the Basilique Performing Arts Company. I was already familiar with the way Becky and Harvey approached the poem’s plot, but I’m not going to describe it to you in this post; it would be giving away too many spoilers. After all, in my previous post I gave away some crucial plot elements and a brief look into John Milton’s political and religious views that influenced him to compose this poem.

So, this is going to be only a short review and not a full-featured one. Fittingly enough for the poem’s theme, the theatre for this show is a church – a basilica (hence the “Basilique” name chosen by Becky and Harvey for their art group). For a more technical overview, I think you’d do well to read Inara Pey’s excellent post, as it explains the way Becky and Harvey applied RL theatrical direction techniques to the show. The action takes place not only in front of the audience, but also to the right, to the left and even above the spectators. Harvey said they’re planning to control the audience’s camera (like Tyrehl Byk does in his great particle show Catharsis) and I hope they’ll have the necessary scripts ready by the time of the official premiere, as the show will benefit greatly from this.

God creates Adam. Image courtesy of Canary Beck.

I have gone on record for saying that Paradise Lost is the most ambitious, and probably the most important, artistic event in Second Life for 2014. Everything about it pushes the technical envelope: on-the-fly costume changes (who said RLV is only for BDSM?), choreographed participation of the audience’s custom avatars that also switch between angel and demon, again via RLV, careful coordination of the animations of multiple avatars, scripted windlight changes… And that’s not even taking into account the extremely tasteful rendition of the poem and its characters. The avatars are gorgeously crafted and shaped, perfectly fitting their roles, the eras described in the narration and also their characterisation in the poem. The scenery is very well-designed, and the fade-outs between different sceneries are perfectly timed and executed (to the extent, of course, that each individual user’s computer can handle things). Furthermore, the decision to set the performance against Mozart’s Requiem in D minor proved to fit the atmosphere and the mood of Milton’s poem perfectly.

In all, I highly recommend that you watch this performance, even if it’s the only artistic event you’ll attend in Second Life this year. Even if you’re not artistically inclined. Even if you hear about classical works and turn away. The sensitivity, care, attention to detail, and love that has gone in this production has to be witnessed to be fathomed.

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Mona

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Full disclosure statement: I have been selected to be among the official bloggers for the Paradise Lost in Second Life production. I receive no recompense whatsoever for my blogging work; I cover the event because I believe in the talents and skills of everyone at the Basilique Performing Arts Company, because I liked the concept and because I want to help, with whatever powers I have, to show the creative and artistic potential of virtual worlds.

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See also:

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-tG

“Creating Illusions” by Maloe Vansant at LX Gallery

On Saturday, March 24, 2014, SL photographer Maloe Vansant opened her exhibition titled “Creating Illusions” at the LX Gallery. Sadly, I couldn’t be in two places at once – I was already at the press premiere of Paradise Lost in Second Life (perhaps the most ambitious and significant artistic production in Second Life for this year) and at the reception that followed, so I regrettably missed the opening of the Maloe’s exhibition.

Maloe Vansant's "Creating Illusions" exhibition at LX Gallery.

Maloe Vansant’s “Creating Illusions” exhibition at LX Gallery.

I’ve been following Maloe’s uploads on Flickr for quite some time now and I must say she never fails to impress with her artistry, her skills and her approach to her subjects. Her SL photographs, dream-like, evocative and even eerie in equal measures, conjure images of eroticism, deep emotions and even dark thoughts – desires, fears, anxieties, always with impeccable aesthetics and great sensitivity, through a masterful interplay of light and shadow, selective focusing, tight framing and, where appropriate, judicious application of film grain effect. The exhibition features relatively few photographs, but they do provide a useful glimpse into Maloe’s portfolio and artistic and emotional world.

You can also read an e-booklet with some information on Maloe and what inspires her on Calaméo and, of course, you can purchase her art. I could find no mention, however, as to how long the exhibition will run. I recommend that you visit this beautiful exhibition and also keep an eye on Maloe’s work, past, present and future.

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Mona

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See also:

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-tw

Paradise Lost in Second Life: Dress rehearsal and some thoughts

Poster for Paradise Lost in Second Life; premieres on April 5th, 2014.

I’ll begin with three admissions on my behalf: First of all, I don’t consider myself to be particularly well-versed in English poetry, not least because I’m a citizen of neither the United Kingdom nor the United States – or of any former British colony. I’m better suited to speak about my country’s poetry, with which I am much better familiarised. Second, I’m not well-versed in classical music – in fact, classical music is not something I go out of my way to listen to; my tastes in music are usually far more contemporary and, if you like, more pedestrian than that. Third, I’m not a particularly religious person, although the writings of the Scriptures are not alien to me.

This post concerns the Basilique Performing Arts Company’s show “Paradise Lost in Second Life“, which will premiere on Saturday, April 5th 2014, at 1PM SLT; an invitation-only Press show will take place on Saturday, March 29th at 1PM SLT, and I had the great honour of having been invited to attend and watch the dress rehearsal on Wednesday, March 27th. The show is extremely ambitious and highly challenging, from a technical and artistic standpoint. It is a ticketed event, and there will be twelve performances, each with an audience of up to forty spectators. Tickets can be purchased on the marketplace for L$1000 each, while you can see the performance schedule in this explanatory post by Canary Beck. However, before I tell you more about the show itself, I will need to write a few words about its subject matter, John Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost.

An introduction to the Poem

For a long time, I would hear and even use the phrase “Paradise Lost” without knowing where it came from – it was only fairly recently that I began to understand its origins. Such is the extent to which Paradise Lost, John Milton’s epic poem that was first published in 1667, has become ingrained not only in English culture, but also in the English language itself. For its time, the poem carried forward-looking, novel ideas and concepts that led many of Milton’s contemporaries to label him a radical: The ideas he expressed w.r.t. marriage, for instance, as shown in his depiction of Adam and Eve’s relationship; or his extremely strict views on idolatry, which led him to also reject the idea of Dei Gratia monarchy.

Gustave Doré, Depiction of Satan, the antagonist of John Milton’s Paradise Lost c. 1866. Image: Wikipedia

Milton’s portrayal of the poem’s characters also had a very strong impact on English storytelling: Satan, the first major character that the poem introduces to the reader, was the most beautiful of all Heaven’s angels and is portrayed as a tragic figure who describes himself with the famous line “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” His failed rebellion against God for control of Heaven, stemming from his unwillingness to be a subordinate to God and his Son, claiming that angels are “self-begot, self-raised” and thus God is not entitled to rule over them as their creator. Milton portrays Satan as a very arrogant, but also powerful and charismatic character, with a formidable ability to persuade others to do his bidding. Besides his (true to the religious description) cunning and deceptive character, he is able to persuade the angels that followed him to continue their rebellion against God, despite their defeat in the Angelic War. According to Satan, God is a tyrannic ruler and angels ought to rule as gods.

There are parallels that can be drawn between Milton’s Satan and the tragic heroes of ancient Greek drama, but Satan’s hubris makes the behaviours of Greek tragic heroes that trigger the dramatic events pale in comparison. On some occasions in the poem, he seems to play the narrative role of the anti-hero, but it is always clear, at least to me, that he is really the narration’s antagonist. Regardless of this, though, his role has been discussed quite vigorously. For instance, C.S. Lewis sees Paradise Lost as a genuine Christian morality tale, while William Empson and other critics see an ambiguity in Milton’s complex characterisation of Satan.

Milton’s depiction of Satan has been more than a tad influential in the way antagonists and forces of evil were portrayed in later works; Laskya Claren describes him as a figure of “heroic evil”, and this description is not lost on me. I am certain, for example, that the way Satan is characterised in Paradise Lost has influenced the portrayal of Morgoth (initially called Melkor) in John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s Silmarillion; able to disguise himself as a charismatic, attractive gift-bearer and tutor, capable of persuading Men and Elves to do his bidding against the will of Eru Ilúvatar, against whom he rebelled in Ainulindalë. On the other hand, Sauron from Lord of The Rings was, despite his might, an inferior copy and a one-dimensional shadow of his satanic master, made of pure evil and darkness, with no features that could make him even mildly attractive – in contrast to both Milton’s Satan and Morgoth, who have the twisted, destructive charm of a sociopath. Another author whose work has been influenced by Paradise Lost is Salman Rushdie, whose controversial novel The Satanic Verses adapted important motifs and plot elements from Milton’s poem, including a “fall”, followed by a transformation.

One must also note the nature of the relationship between Adam and Eve and their temptation and fall: their tale is a domestic one and differs vastly from the biblical account, which set the “dictated by God” tone for the way Abrahamic religions viewed womanhood: In the biblical narration, Adam was innocent and goaded into sinning against God by Eve, who had been deceived by Satan. Ever since then, all three Abrahamic religions viewed women as inherently wicked, foolish and inferior to men in every way – thus, they must be kept under the rule of the Man, to whom they must belong as property. Of course, Judaism was hardly original in this, as the Torah’s unknown authors were merely reflecting and sanctifying the predominant views of patriarchal societies. Milton’s narration, on the other hand, shows us Adam and Eve as having a complete relationship while still being without sin. They are also portrayed as having their own personalities and passions. In a further departure from the biblical narration, Adam is not portrayed as having been deceived by Eve; instead, when she relates to him what persuaded her to eat from the forbidden tree, “at first amaz’d, but perceiving her lost, resolves through vehemence of love to perish with her; and extenuating the trespass, eats also of the Fruit“. He knowingly chooses to commit the same sin as Eve, fully aware that what he is doing is wrong and a transgression against God, with his thought not clouded by Satan’s wiles. He declares to Eve that, since she was made from his flesh, they are bound to each other and, therefore, if she dies, so must he. With this, Milton delivers a triple blow to the “orthodox” description of the Original Sin and subsequent religious and societal view of the two sexes’ relationship:

  • He absolves Eve (and, with her, all women) of the stigma that she deceived Adam and is thus (and, along her, all women) the source of expulsion from Paradise and humankind’s subsequent woes.
  • He elevates Adam from the status of the gullible man that was deceived by Eve to that of a hero who knows that he will be lost, yet chooses to be lost, together with the woman he loves.
  • By removing the excuse of “having been deceived by Eve” from Adam and portraying him as knowingly choosing to commit the same sin as she did, he places on Adam (and, with him, on all men) at least the same degree of responsibility for humankind’s expulsion from Paradise and even shows him to be a greater sinner than Eve, because Eve was deceived by the Serpent that preyed upon her vanity, whereas Adam knew that what he was doing was wrong, yet chose to do it.

After Adam and Eve committed the Original Sin, they had lustful, passionate sex, and Adam was convinced that Eve was right in thinking that eating the fruit would benefit them. Shortly thereafter, though, they fell asleep and their sleep was troubled with terrible nightmares. When they awoke, they felt guilt and shame for the first time in their lives. It was then that they both realised how terrible and grave their transgression was, and the harmony of their relationship was marred for the first time by mutual blaming for their situation.

In a further, perhaps even more astonishing, departure from the biblical account, it is because of Eve’s pleas that the two are reconciled and, more importantly, whereas in the Genesis they try to hide from God, it is Eve that convinces Adam that they should own up and beg for forgiveness; and forgiven they were, although they still were expelled from Paradise. Yet, unlike what is written in Genesis, God placed no curse on them. In fact, the Son tells God that their prayers of contrition and repentance are sweeter than any gift Adam could have grown and offered, even before sinning.