Flash Fiction Island, overseen by Vaneeesa Blaylock, officially opened on SLEA’s Region 1 January 1st 2021. Due to close February 28th, this review is a celebration of a remarkable participatory and collaborative arts residency at SLEA and a last chance call to appreciate the remaining exhibits before the region is handed over to the next grant artists, Rage Darkstone and TerraMerhyem. To do so, you might have to bring a diving suit for reasons to be revealed later.
First, a bit of background. Medici University once had a virtual presence in no less than four of the former LEA regions with the aim to be a “student-driven, non-accredited, graduate arts university. There are no fees of any kind. We empower you to write your own curriculum, take charge of your own learning, and achieve advanced qualifications debt-free” (Medici University). Grant Awardee Vaneeesa Blaylock was a significant figure in one of its faculties, “Practice Based Research in the Arts”. In a continuation of Medici University’s long-standing tradition she brought the campus to SLEA Region 2 in the form of the Herculini Crater situated close to Naples, Italy.
On arrival, you land at a pier from which you are able to take a boat to Flash Fiction island, the primary project of this residency. The bumper boats are particularly fun, especially when others are around to bump into. The island and its ocean environment contain ten circular platforms. After the project launched, members of the art community were invited to create a piece of art on one of the platforms based on a given theme for the week, the first being Impossible in RL (real life). The artists had three days to complete their creation before writers visited to compose a piece of Flash Fiction based on one of the installations that inspired them. The stories were then shared later in the week.
Flash Fiction can be viewed as a short short story, perhaps even as short as six words. The point is that it should still have the structure of a story with a plot and character development. The genre of flash fiction has progressed into subgenres, including the interestingly named dribble and drabble variants (50 and 100 word stories respectively). Its history has evolved from fables to contemporary stories restricted by Twitter character limits. At Flash Fiction Island new themes each week gave rise to new builds and new Flash Fiction.
Medici University hosted interim collaborations in which community members were also invited to participate.
For Diaspora, Xue Faith asked:
“Imagine an announcement that Second Life is shutting down. You have only a few hours to collect the memories and bits of SL culture that mean the most to you. What do you pack? What do you squeeze into your suitcase to remember the world, the people, and the activities that once were your life in Second Life?”(Xue Faith, Curator of the Gallery Xue at the Herculini Crater)
Nine suitcases were subsequently filled with a thought-provoking collection of items, giving rise to the story behind the avatar who collated them.
13 Most Beautiful Avatars was similarly intellectually engaging. Avatars were shown as unmediated works of arts, presented as a tableaux vivant (living sculpture) on the slopes of the Herculini Crater. Viewers of the tableaux were “able to experience the avatars they have become without the obfuscating mediation of an artist’s “talented hands” or “all-seeing lens.” The performance was then followed by a “Conversation on Beauty” at the nearby café.
With the introduction of mesh to Second Life, use of the inworld building tools has drifted into history. In order to show the power of prims as an art medium and perhaps inspire a return of interest in prim art, Meg O’Ryan led SLEA Mosaic. A tunnel into an underwater world of octopode submarines, and other oddities led you, after a long walk in aid of losing those virtual calories, to an aquadome where the mosaic was displayed. All were welcome to contribute in the form of a twisted traditional prim to add to a mosaic in the shape of an SLEA banner. I almost got carried away in this endeavour and had to leave before the mosaic became a solo project, which was definitely not the intention of the grant artists.
Climate change and environmental crisis have been themes for two other of the installations during Launch 1 of SLEA’s grant artists. Here at Region 2 the theme appeared in the form of The Big Chill and Global Warming. Artists and writers were invited to think about what if there was a new Ice Age and the suffering that global warming is predicted to unleash upon the Earth’s inhabitants. The former culminated in a full region ice-skating party and the latter in a Life Raft Party in which the water level of the region rose one metre every six minutes, submerging the island almost completely. Remember I said you’ll need a diving suit? I didn’t have one and also seemed to have lost any swimming ability. The experience inspired a piece of flash fiction from yours truly.
Of course just one had to be written before those prims are packed away. I hope you write one too.
The suitcase full of friends wavered on an ocean never seen before. As it drifted into the distance she remembered her contribution. Once a loud voice, all she can do is sigh in resignation. “All this, though we have sung since Silent Spring.”Safar Fiertze
Many thanks to Vaneeesa Blaylock for helping with the writing of this post. You are invited to learn more about the entire project on her own blog, including the full list of participants. She also provides a retrospective of images derived from the Medici University’s residency on her Flickr stream. Flash Fiction Island remains on SLEA’s Region 2 until the end of February, the flood has receded and you still have time to add a prim to the SLEA Mosaic and add a suitcase to the Diaspora exhibition. Watch this space for news of a possible closing event.
Image credits: Safar Fiertze