Ekphrasis: ‘Second Libations’ by Haveit Neox

Haveit Neox at his LEA installation 'Second Libations'. Photo by PJ Trenton.

Yesterday was my 2nd rez day. I came to Second Life largely to check out the art, so to celebrate, I decided I’d take PJ Trenton along to see the current LEA full sim art series installation Second Libations by Haveit Neox. I’m always guaranteed great photos when PJ is around, and the company isn’t too shabby either!

I’d seen a selection from this installation at the UWA in SL, some rather rustic and exotic looking centaurs, but that didn’t prepare me for the massive Pyramid at the landing of this build, a snowy digital screen marking its entrance. The story unfolds as one enters:

The great cosmic storm swept up the last of Earth’s water molecules. On the lifeless planet, the only remaining intelligence flickers on computer screens. In the absence of human maintenance, bot scripters, bot artists, and bot teachers scramble to rescue their resources before the impending threat of blackout.

Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, they begin flooding their world by rezzing buckets of virtual water, in the hope of rehydrating their users. Their strategy appears to be failing. Not having been programmed for an unforeseen event of this magnitude, the bots plea for your solution in securing their virtual world.

The Second Libations await your offering. Your participation in the ritual is eagerly anticipated.

The story cinematically unfolds as you descend inside the pyramid. Photo by PJ Trenton.

The work grips you from the start, and not just that – after passing through a strange welcoming party, an initiation of sorts, you are provided with ‘Bot’ costumes (which look much more like exotic sentinels from another era) to wear so that you may be part of the story you are about to explore. Being able to immerse oneself in this fashion is in my opinion utilizing the very best aspects of virtual creation, and I wondered why I hadn’t seen much of Haveit’s work before this.

Exploring the work in Bot costume. Photo by PJ Trenton.

I looked up his profile, which resulted in my only disappointment of the evening: his rezday is today, the 8th of December, and he is just two as well! This avatar, crafted just a day after mine, has surpassed me so far in building skill I felt ashamed. But I also felt an odd kinship, and so I reached out…

Rowan Derryth: Hello there, Happy Rez day! I’m just a day older than you… and your build here at the UWA is putting me to shame. This is incredible.
Haveit Neox: Rowan…. This is the first time someone has wished me a happy Rez Day…. And thank you for your comment!
Rowan Derryth: Oh, my pleasure! Well I was just looking at your profile and noticed that. This exhibit is really wonderful..  I love it. Is this your first build of this size?
Haveit Neox: No, actually I’ve built up two sims. But this is the first time I had to do it within a 2 month frame. I went into high gear.

High gear indeed! His hard work shows in the beautifully detailed build which incorporates rich textures, mostly of his own crafting. He has also mastered some of the more clever tricks in virtual building, such as the illusion of reflections and mirrors.

Binary Mirror. Photo by PJ Trenton.

As we explore, the work brings to mind two other artistic works quite strongly. First, these technological problems are cleverly rendered in a more ancient, exotic aesthetic, which reminds me very much of the film (and arguably better TV series) Stargate. Secondly, one cannot help but compare this work with that of Bryn Oh. Haveit explores our relationship with technology through the narrative of an imagined post-human world, where bots are struggling with their own burgeoning humanity in the face of their potential destruction, and in doing so presents a utopic/dystopic vision for our contemplation. The irony of doing so in a virtual space is one I love, and is one of my favourite aspects of Bryn’s work too.

I asked Haveit if he had a moment to come by and chat with us about his work, to which he kindly obliged. As you can see from the first image above, he looks rather a dashing Spaniard, and to my eye more than a little like Velazquez. He thankfully appreciated that observation. After exchanging pleasantries, I shared with him my thoughts on Stargate (he was thankfully pleased with that comparison) and his kinship with Bryn Oh:

Rowan Derryth: Have people compared you to Bryn?
Haveit Neox: No, but I sure love her work.
Rowan Derryth: PJ and I have been talking about some of the similarities… And I mean that as a compliment, not that you are being a copyist!
Haveit Neox: I am flattered! I really admire Bryn’s work.
Rowan Derryth: You have a wonderful narrative going on. I’m sorry to say I never saw your work before your UWA piece [a selection from this installation is part of the finale competition].
Haveit Neox: I appreciate hearing that! The UWA has been a real important force for me… With the monthly competitions, it was an incentive to work in a concentrated manner. And I was exposed to other artists and their work at UWA. Before that, SL was like a desert… it was very hard work to find other artists.

Haveit's beautiful take on Da Vinci's Vitruvian man. Photo by PJ Trenton.

As I have already expressed, the narrative aspect of his work is quite thought-provoking. One of the other ideas that rattled around my brain while exploring was the kinship this work had to Renaissance art, particularly in the exploration of principles of Humanism, and was gratified to see Haveit’s own exquisite version of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, pictured above. Throughout the story, the bots are searching for a way to return water to Earth and bring back their human caretakers. Through the process of scanning countless texts in the Librarynth (my personal favourite part of the build), one Bot in particular is puzzled by the incorporation of new human words like ‘maybe’ into their thoughts, and strange electrical impulses – feelings – that are beyond logical comprehension.

Finding your way to the heart of the Librarynth reveals a treasure trove of tales contributed to the artist. Photo by PJ Trenton.

In fact, the tales in the Librarynth (and found elsewhere as well) are not solely by Haveit. He put out a call for stories to include in the work, which he then cleverly turned into the texts, and can even be found paving the many spiral stairs in the build. I love the collaborative aspect of this. But the overall theme is all Haveit’s, and I asked him where the story came from:

“I wanted to compose a story that tied in directly with SL… because I am so involved with this virtual world. There are aspects of it that feel real to me. And then I learned about bots… intriguing things I hadn’t known before. I’ve been watching films about just that too… ” He then shared with me a link for a short video about a perceptual psychology experiment that inspired him, which I shall share below. “It was a real enjoyable film that is an eye opener about what the brain perceives as being real via a simple demonstration.”

Taking all of this into consideration, I wondered how tied his physical artistic practice (as an oil painter and ceramicist) was to his virtual one. I asked him about this, which led to a nice rezday chat about our SL origins:

Rowan Derryth: I saw in your profile that you do oil and ceramics in RL… do you feel like that informs your work here?
Haveit Neox: Yes… as a matter of fact, some of my real life artworks are brought into SL as textures. The kind of curly kew designs on the stairs I’m standing on for instance is taken off a ceramic panel I made… I make large sculpted ceramic panels, glaze them, then paint an oil painting in a central cartouche.
Rowan Derryth: Oh! lovely! So what brought you to SL?
Haveit Neox: My family (he laughs). They said, we know a place you can build big things.

Make certain to pan out and look at that strange tower you descend. Photo by PJ Trenton.

Rowan Derryth: Ahhh, That’s an unusual answer.
Haveit Neox: Yes, I had no idea about Internet games. Never had any interest. But when they told me this is a place I could build whatever I imagined, I was sold.
Rowan Derryth: That must have been a bit of a learning curve!
Haveit Neox: I still have a lot to learn about the building tools. But with a basic knowledge, you can really do anything. It might just take a little longer.
Rowan Derryth: Well you’ve definitely trumped me in 2 years.
Haveit Neox: Then I made friends, which has been about the best part of my SL experience. That was also unexpected.
Rowan Derryth: (smiles) Yes, that is the best part. I logged in to check out the art scene, and was lucky to meet nice people my very first night. One was the artist I wrote my first article about.

Centaur in the Scripter's Web Tower. Photo by PJ Trenton.

Haveit Neox: Really? Your first night when you joined SL?
Rowan Derryth:
Yeah.. I had done a little research… So from the welcome island I took a teleport to the Dresden Art Gallery… met a nice guy who directed me to visit Cetus, where I met Ragamuffin Kips.
Haveit Neox:
Wow… on your first day you saw Cetus. That’s quite an introduction!
Rowan Derryth:
It WAS. It kept me coming back. But then it was the typical noob stuff too, naked Brazilian guys. (grins playfully)
Haveit Neox:
ha ha! Wow, what a great way to get into SL
Rowan Derryth: I was very lucky. But enough about me… How long did it take you to get any installations up?
Haveit Neox: This installation? I had two months… or do you mean first builds in SL?
Rowan Derryth: First builds
Haveit Neox: I think it was the first day. Someone showed me a couple things about the Edit button, and I was on my way. I kind of take to it like a duck to water. I’ve been building 3d cities in gardens since I was a kid.

Water Bearer. Photo by PJ Trenton.

Rowan Derryth: How did you get the LEA opportunity?
Haveit Neox: The LEA… I got that by a miracle! I submitted, having heard about it thru UWA… and composed my idea. But I didn’t think I had the slightest chance of getting accepted. It’s hard for me to believe I’m standing in the exhibit now, that it really happened.
Rowan Derryth: They are smart cookies… I’m glad they did.  I am SO impressed… and I’m not easily impressed!

Intricately crafted flies show Haveit's attention to detail. Photo by PJ Trenton.

Haveit Neox: (laughs) Thank you! AND, I’m getting such a kick out of seeing that you both put on the bot costume.
Rowan Derryth: (laughs) Of COURSE. It’s pretty cool
Haveit Neox: Thank you!
PJ Trenton: (coming out of his photographic reverie) I asked her if I looked foolish before you arrived (winks)
Haveit Neox: ha ha ha!!!
Rowan Derryth: And also it helped us find each other in the Librarynth
PJ Trenton: true
Rowan Derryth: We could lead tour groups!
Haveit Neox: Yes! instead of looking for the carnation in the lapel, you search for the three story high umbrellas (laughs) That’s great for tour groups.
Rowan Derryth: I told PJ that after this we needed to find some nightclub with fashionistas and party in these.
Haveit Neox: I hope you start a trend.

I’m certain Haveit has started his own trend of fantastic immersive artwork. Lucky for us, he is already at work on his next piece, so keep your eyes and ears open. Meanwhile, do not miss seeing Second Libations, which is open through the month of December. Here are some more images PJ took along the way, and do take a moment to look at his complete flickr set. But whatever you do, make sure to take time to see this beautiful and thoughtful exhibit before it closes – and WEAR THE BOT COSTUME!

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