Preview: Bryn Oh’s ‘The Singularity of Kumiko’

The Singularity of Kumiko (detail). Photo by Rowan Derryth.
The Singularity of Kumiko (detail). Photo by Rowan Derryth.

If there is anything to bring me out of my Second Life hiatus, it is a new exhibit by Bryn Oh.

I’ve got Ziki Questi to thank… she probably doesn’t know that I still follow her blog in my absence, and pop in to see the things she recommends as I can. It was through her blog that I saw a preview of Bryn’s new exhibit The Singularity of Kumiko last week, and like her, I don’t want to give too much away in terms of just what happens. As many will know, all of Bryn’s exhibits at Immersiva are game-like narrative adventures, and posting spoilers is something I refuse to do.

'The Singularity of Kumiko'. Photo by PJ Trenton.
‘The Singularity of Kumiko’. Photo by PJ Trenton.

Suffice it to say, if you loved piecing together the the Rabbicorn/Daughter of Gears exhibits (which came together in her gorgeous machinima Standby), and others like the recent Imogen and the Pigeons, this one will not disappoint. In fact, the Canadian artist/puppetmaster behind Bryn Oh has just received a second award from the Ontario Arts Council to support this new work (the first supported the creation of Standby). Bryn credits the OAC for being forward-thinking in their approach to new media, and while this is certainly true, I also think it she would not find success if the work wasn’t so relevant to contemporary art practice, particularly in that she manages to make the virtual work available to a wider audience through film (machinima).

That said, in my opinion the best experience of the work still exists in the virtual visit, which is still problematic in terms of perceived access. I confess, the recent popularity of new narrative-based games like Gone Home and The Novelist has both excited and frustrated me. While I celebrate this attention to the art/game concept for a more mainstream audience, I also grit my teeth a bit thinking that Bryn (and others like Rose Borchovski and Rebecca Bashly) have been doing this so well in Second Life for years, and few people know. But perhaps that is a rant best left for a different post. Back to the exhibit…

Bryn oh at 'The Singularity of Kumiko'. Photo by PJ Trenton.
Bryn oh at ‘The Singularity of Kumiko’. Photo by PJ Trenton.

Never one to rest on her laurels, Bryn yet again pushes what is technically capable in Second Life, employing innovative use of browser-based lighting controls to create a dramatic and intense visitor experience that is not without some peril (as far as our pixels selves can be in danger, of course). The psychological effect is very real, and certainly fun.

If am to be critical, the very thing that makes this new installation so innovative is also perhaps its one drawback. As Bryn explains on her blog:

This artwork will use some features in a unique way allowing for a quite different experience which, sadly, is fairly demanding on your computer. I have tested extensively and have found that most are able to run, while experiencing minimal lag, the artwork on mid range computers. To help keep lag minimized I will cap the avatar limit on Immersiva to 10-15. As with Imogen and the Pigeons, I am attempting to look at the virtual medium and determine what is unique about it over other mediums such as painting, sculpture and cinema. Then I work towards using those strengths to create an immersive experience that is specific to a multi user environment.

When you land at Immersiva, there are signs that tell you exactly how to set your lighting up according to which browser you are using (I strongly recommend Firestorm). It is a bit fiddly, but the instructions are easy enough. But as Bryn said, you will need to be able to use shadows, etc., which some computers might not manage. The choice to allow only a very small number of avatars at a time might also be frustrating to some… but if people can spend hours trying to get into events like FaMESHed to shop, then certainly being patient to see something so beautiful as this is manageable. And it really does help with the lag, which is important considering the multi-media nature of the work.

'The Singularity of Kumiko'. Photo by PJ Trenton.
‘The Singularity of Kumiko’. Photo by PJ Trenton.

Also, please: REMOVE YOUR FACELIGHTS. Bryn politely asks you to do this at the start of the exhibit, but even walking around last night in a media preview I encountered two people still wearing them to see or take pictures ‘because it was dark.’ It is SUPPOSED TO BE DARK. It’s moody as hell! That is the point, and wearing a facelight deprives you and others of the authentic experience that Bryn intended. Bryn in fact dubbed me the ‘Facelight Police’ when I griped to her about it, and I said ‘You should see me bitch out people using flash/touching the art in actual museums.’ So yes, please, take them off for this. Actually, just take them off period and never put them on again, ok? People everywhere will thank you. /rant

Whew. So, this fantastic new exhibit opens this Friday, 14th February. And it is definitely a fun exhibit to explore with an accomplice, especially as you might need the occasional rescue. But if the low avatar limit makes it hard to visit, simply wait a bit, I’m sure the exhibit will be open for quite a while.

And incidentally, if you’ve never tried Second Life but would like to see the kind of amazing art being made there, this installation would be quite the introduction. Drop me a note or leave a comment if you’d like an intro.


  1. Just a passing note that (at least in Firestorm) you can tell the viewer not to render lights attached to avatars, thus turning off (for yourself) everyone’s facelights! V useful. I think it is hidden in the Develop menu these days…

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