Ekphrasis: The Dresden Gallery in SL

The Dresden Gallery is closing. Today.

The Dresden Gallery, closed 20 December 2011. Photo by PJ Trenton.

The Dresden Gallery is the reason I am here. One night, only a smidge over two years ago, I was bored. My old flatmate asked if I had ever tried Second Life, and I responded with the somewhat derisive declination that I now dread hearing. But that one night, being so dreadfully bored, with nothing on television, I thought I’d check it out. It’s no secret that I am an ‘actual’ art historian as well as a ‘virtual’ one, and I was intrigued by the art and academic possibilities. I knew some Universities were using it, and I knew there was an active art community, so after some strategic googling to make sure it would be worth my while (and yes, that it was free), I figured why not.

Long story short: from what I think was Help Island (though I wasn’t paying enough attention to be sure), and after sorting out my fantastic ‘Girl Next Door’ look, I took a tp to the Dresden Gallery.

Self-portrait: Rowan, Cetus, about 3 hours old. Eesh.

Looking back, I now know it was laggy as hell, that things weren’t rezzing, and that the build was already a bit dated. But to my new virtual eyes, it was simply stunning. A whole art gallery, based on a REAL art gallery. THIS must be what Second Life is for. How many other galleries were there? Was there a virtual Tate? A Met? (Sadly, we know the answer to this, but that night I held every hope).

I thought it was incredibly cool that I could get an audio guide, and wander to see the collection of this actual gallery in a city I’d never had the chance to visit. I admit, the textures look a bit dated to my eye now, but that first night, I marvelled at how it had all been done. And though I kept falling through the floor and got trapped behind walls, it didn’t stop my excitement as I wandered. After exploring a bit, I decided to check out the outside, which was incredibly impressive.

First picture, first friend.

And it was the first place I flew. Badly.

I wobbled about, getting a feel for it, then I saw another avatar standing by the welcome sign. I dropped out of the sky, and met my first friend, Stephen Petrovic. He was a lovely gentleman who is still a good friend. From him, I learned of Cetus (where I went and met my second friend, Ragamuffin Kips, and the rest as they say is history). Stephen and Raga offered me a kind and helpful welcome (and it was certainly not due to my looks that night, as you can see), and introduced me to art in the virtual world. I was taken.

Dresden Courtyard, tonight.

I also remember seeing the lecture theatre at the Dresden that night, and wondering if I might give a talk in there some day. I never did, though I’ve been privileged to do so in other wonderful places. I knew I’d like to be involved in virtual museums, and ultimately was part of the roller coaster that was the (now sadly defunct) Frank Lloyd Wright Virtual Museum. But in the process of learning the ropes, meeting new people, and beginning to write for Prim Perfect, I was seduced by the cutting edge aspect of virtual art. I turned away from these traditional manifestations of ‘real’ art, to focus my writing on what I saw to be an incredible – and overlooked – creative medium.

In the process, I turned my back on the Dresden.

Reminscing at the Lecture Theatre tonight.

Now, I do not mean to suggest that we avatars failed the Dresden. Their closure is simply more of a completion of a project (you can read the details in Saffia’s post on the closure.) And yes, this post could be a more journalistic endeavour which talked about the history of the project, the people involved, etc. But I wanted to share something personal here, because my Dresden is someone else’s Alien Isles or NEMO (and let’s not even get started on AM Radio’s sims). We can feel the loss of this beauty, this art, keenly, but often not until after it is gone.

In fact, when Saffia told me the Dresden news last week, I’m not even sure in my busyness it even registered very much. I think I commented that it was sad, but I can see that it might be time for them to move on, then very quickly got on to other things. It wasn’t until tonight, when I happened to be online for a moment, that a message came through ArchVirtual that the gallery was closing today.

I rushed over.

The majestic Dresden, already coming apart.

Already, it seemed, the place was being dismantled, judging from a hole in the front façade. I went inside to see if the exhibits were up, and was pleased to see I hadn’t missed them. I saw a sign for their special exhibit on Canaletto, which I had come to see not too long ago with PJ Trenton. I remember he had impressed me by saying Canaletto was his favourite painter when we first met almost two years ago; and then more recently, I went to see the Canaletto exhibit at the National Gallery, London, and wished the whole time he could have been there to see it. So we came the Dresden together, to share the experience of looking at this painter we both loved… an example of one of the more magic aspects of Second Life for me.

The Canaletto Exhibit. Photo by PJ Trenton.

As I wandered tonight and gazed upon the old masters, I was reminded that copies of them could be purchased. Possibly the only place in Second Life I approve of such a practice, since it is tantamount to selling a postcard in the museum shop. I then thought, what a perfect (if a bit silly) Christmas gift for PJ, to get him a Canaletto on the night the Dresden closed. I’m such a sap. (Wait, did that message say the region was restarting?) Now if only I could find my way back to the special exhibitions gallery…

The region will restart in 3 minutes…

Aha! Better hurry… of COURSE the lag is kicking in too. Must be the reason for the restart. I wade through the treacle, and pause to take a picture of the lovely green gallery I am in.

Last call in the Green Galleries.

The region will restart in 2 minutes…

Hmm, I’m pretty sure I’m headed the wrong direction, but I think I can loop back around and head to the Canaletto gallery. What lag!

The region will restart in 1 minute…

Ugh, I can’t tp closer to the destination? Oh well, I’ll just come back after reboot.

Wait. What if there is no after reboot? It dawns on me that perhaps, just perhaps, this is it. This is the Dresden closing. I feel surprisingly panicked, and truly unexpectedly upset. Wait!! I want to finish seeing it just one more time!

The region will restart in 45 seconds…

Is the exhibit around this corner?

The Dresden Gallery. Photo by PJ Trenton.

The region will restart in 30 seconds…

Even if I get there, I won’t have time to buy anything…

The region will restart in 15 seconds…

Ok, I should tp home and hope it is still there when I come back. Surely I’m overreacting.

You have been logged out of Second Life… etc. I never was fast enough.

I wait 10 minutes, then log back in. I am home, in the loft.

I teleport to the Dresden. I try 5 times…

Teleport failed.
Unable to find teleport destination. The destination may be temporarily unavailable or no longer exists. Please try again in a few minutes.

The Dresden Gallery is closed.

Logged out. 4.33 pm SLT.

If you missed seeing the Dresden one last time, or at all, please visit PJ’s beautiful Dresden Gallery flickr set. One of PJ’s passions is documenting some of Second Life’s best builds, and he will often rush out to capture a place he hears is about to close. Make sure to look at the rest of his sets to see some amazing places that are now sadly gone… and others that are luckily still around.

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