“Our dreams are a second life.” ~Gerard de Nerval
By Cat Boccaccio
Maybe because I am an SL photographer myself, I tend to be overly critical of the photography I see as I visit Second Life galleries. So much SL photography seems thoughtless, shallow and clichéd– snapshots are not art. So I approached the collaborative effort of SL photographers Jessica Belmer and Corinne Helendale at Palais Orleans with trepidation. Yet here I found well-crafted and intricate pictures that are snapshots of a different kind: intriguing moments which invite the viewer to imagine who these women are, what came before, and what will happen next. As I paused at each of the pictures, my own dreams and conjectures washed over me in warm and pleasurable waves.
The Splendor of Desire is, the artists tell us in their exhibit statement, an “exploration of various scenarios where Desire meets conflict, uncertainty or joy.” They admit that the collaboration surprised them. It was challenging, yes; but it also encompassed some unexpected elements: “We essentially created a third ‘artist’ who was greater than the sum of the two of us… Collaboration took hold of us and brought us to places we never could have reached on our own.”
I visited the gallery in between its two openings (to accommodate both North American and European residents) and met one of the artists, Corinne Helendale. We strolled through the 15-piece exhibit and chatted informally about the art and the process.
Adept at the manipulation of light and shadow, the two artists are also fearless distillers and croppers of images; this results in concentrated, complex works that lure the viewer ever closer. For example, one of the most thoughtful and nuanced pictures in the exhibit, and one of my favorites, is Train in Motion.
“It started with a 700-prim train set we built,” Corinne tells me. “Our original thought was to take the pic from the outside of the train, looking at her on the inside…the train in motion, but she standing still. But the shots were better on the inside of the train. You can see a bit of the train and the seat she’s holding on to.”
Another piece, Rain in Motion, began in the sun, in a field of flowers, with umbrellas. “As you can see, only the umbrellas made it.”
How you interpret these works will depend on what is in your heart.
My own work is usually shot in a simple studio environment, so I was intrigued by the painstaking set-ups and props Corinne and Jessica employed in their SL photographs. Corinne has a little theatrical background and for her props are simply part of the process. For Josephine, Corinne built the doorway, Jessica created the flower arrangements, they both hung pictures on the set walls, and worked together on the background outside, even though it is only hinted at in the finished piece.
“We wanted the main images to be really big, like you might see in a gallery,” Corinne continues, “and we added the stanchions to enhance that.” For a crisper image, even when zoomed up close, the large Josephine image was sliced on a grid. “It is made of 8 separate segments,” Corinne says. “I put 8 prims together, and then put the smaller, crisper images on them. It was a wonderful idea, I thought. But I had to stitch them all by hand; they were too intricate for a stitcher. When the images were exactly the right size for the prim, SL would add a little 1 pixel border so it looked… like 8 separate prims. I had to make the images larger than the prim and ‘stretch’ them, and then stitch each together after that.”
Some of the exhibit pieces tell elaborate stories, moments captured from a greater canvas, and some are less grand, but I like the back stories just as much. A mentor of mine calls it context, and another favorite, Contrition, has context in abundance. Corinne admits that the tale of Contrition grew in the telling…the subjects became characters who told their own stories.
So ultimately, this collaboration has many participants, not the least the subjects themselves.
The Spendor of Desire, by Corinne Helendale and Jessica Belmer, is part of a series of collaborative exhibits at Palais Orleans Gallery, curated by Morgana Nagorski. It runs until September 23.
For slum magazine.