By Anita Kimono
Bryn Oh is an artist who uses the virtual world of Second Life to create what she calls Immersivist art. The viewers not only see her art but participates and travels through her spaces that she creates. Visiting one of Bryn Oh’s exhibits is like walking through a virtual book, sometimes I pass a few “pages” but realized I have to turn back to see what I had missed or I had to “reread a couple of paragraphs” to get what was being said.
Bryn Oh has been in Second Life for 14 years and yet is able to retain her Second Life identity even in real life virtual exhibits internationally. Her virtual art has appeared in museums, movies, TV and Vogue Magazine twice (Italy and India). She was awarded several grants from the Ontario Arts Council in Canada to produce virtual reality exhibitions.
The following is an interview with Bryn Oh as she describes her concepts and thoughts of combining real life art with virtual world to create a new expression.
1. What kind of artist are you? And what medium do you work in? How would you describe your art?
I began as an oil painter and moved into virtual art such as I create in Second Life and other virtual spaces. My virtual art is what I call Immersivist art, meaning that its focus is on creating an experience whereby the viewer forgets the real world around them for a period as they become immersed in my artwork. The techniques and tools used in a virtual space, especially one with VR, allow for a very powerful experience where the viewer is an active participant to the artwork rather than a passive observer. The use of ambient sound, identity, colour theory, composition, interaction, narrative and other elements all combine to create an Immersivist artwork.
2. What is your process? Do you work from photos? Do you work from life? How do you approach your art?
All my art in Second Life is a continuous story which began in 2008 with
a build called Condo's in Heaven. That work got me thinking of the
idea of immersion as a type of movement or school of thought. There
were the Impressionists, Cubists, Surrealists, Modernists and so on...
and I daydreamed of being an Immersivist. Each new work is a chapter in
the ongoing story and they are based on my life almost like a diary. I
take things I see in society or technology and combine it with parts of
my life and then shape it into a story.
Each virtual artwork takes about six months to create beginning with the writing of the story, then sketches in pen and ink or oil paintings, combined with building models in Zbrush (a digital tool to create high resolution models for animation.)Slowly I will plan out the composition of the virtual space so that the visitor will have freedom to explore but also naturally will follow the narrative. I will add elements that help shape the mood subconsciously such as colour and ambient sound, shapes and so forth. For example,a rounded shape is comforting to the eye whereby a shape with edges and angles like a triangle can subconsciously create anxiety or discomfort. Colour and sound naturally work the same.
3. Did you have any formal training in art? If so, what university? If not did you take workshops or learned from books?
Yes, I attended the Ontario College of Art and Design also known as OCAD university and focused on fine art drawing and painting. After that I went to Seneca College for Softimage XSIComputer Animation then the Toronto School of Art for Zbrush.
4. What is your earliest experience with art that you remembered that mark your path into becoming an artist? Who influenced you to be an artist? A family member, a teacher?
Coming from Canada my first medium was building in snow. Watching my mom paint as a child got me interested in art as I loved the smell of oils and turpentine in her studio and seeing her canvas slowly emerge into places. My first experience with art was when I was just a child in school. I did a drawing in class one day not knowing it was part of a large art competition across many schools in Canada. Somehow my drawing was picked as the winner for my school which was shocking to me as I didn't know I had entered in a competition. I was then informed that I would be taking a long bus trip to a location where all the winners of each school would attend a day of art training. It was my first experience of realizing I had some artistic talent.
The event that encouraged me to become an artist was when I was at Carleton University studying Psychology and a friend asked me one day, “Why do you come home from classes every day and go in your room and paint? You love painting more than your classes! Why didn't you go to art school?” I thought about it and decided they were right. My passion was art and not psychology. So,I decided to apply to Canada’s top art school and if I was accepted then I would drop out of university and go there. I was accepted.
5. What artists in real-life and Second Life have affected you?
Early on I was very interested in the pen and ink drawings of John Tenniel and George Cruikshank as well as the shadowy paintings of Georges de La Tour. Later it was Gustav Klimtfor his beauty, Van Gogh for the brush strokes and colour, Edvard Munch for his ability to paint mood and feeling, and Swoon and Banksy for expanding the way I saw art and concepts/messages.
In Second Life, Light Waves/Starax showed me a new way to see the second life space with his work,“Greenies”(which was a comical giant room where avatars ended up being the size of a mouse). I liked the traditional artistic look of AM Radio’s works as well as the experimental minimal artwork of Selavy Oh. Also,the work, “Petrovsky Flux” by BlottoEpsilon and Cutea Benelli, used the unique traits of the virtual space. I look at Second Life as a medium for art and I try to determine what makes it unique over other art mediums like painting, sculpture or cinema. I enjoy artwork that sees the virtual space as a unique medium and does not attempt to make things that mimic "real life" art from galleries and museums. I like to see things that can exist here but could not in real life where we are hampered by weather, gravity etc.
6. What is your reason to exhibit in Second Life? and what is your experience had been? Any positive or negative. And has exhibiting in SL affected your real-life art?
When I was in art school,we would learn the history of art. We would read about art movements like Cubism or Surrealism, Impressionism etc. Often with a movement they are named years later and the very first artists working in the concepts are remembered and shape it. For me, while painting, I thought to myself that my paintings were not doing anything new in art, but I possibly had the chance to be a part of something new and very rare in second life or virtual spaces. I daydreamed of what I daydreamed of what we do here as being a new movement and I took the chance to try to be one of the first to focus on it as a medium. Time will tell if I made the right decision but chances are rare in life and I wanted to make sure I didn't let it pass.
There is always positive and negative, sometimes there is drama with Second Life artists, but I do my best to ignore it and focus on what I want to achieve in a positive way. And yes,exhibiting in Second Lifehas affected my real-life art.Originally when I came to Second Life,I would bring my painting ideas to the virtual space, and now I bring my virtual space ideas to painting and drawing sometimes.
7. Do you have your own galleries? Do you exhibit in other galleries? What art related projects do you usually do in SL?
I don't tend to exhibit in traditional Second Life gallery spaces very often anymore unless it’s for a cause like Relay for Life, Missing Children, Toys for Hospital Children, etc. On very rare occasions a curator will convince me to exhibit but generally that is due to their enthusiasm which rubs off on me :). My work is not about standalone single sculptures. They are just components to larger conceptual artworks. What my focus is on in art is not really shown by placing individual sculptures around a room that resembles a real-life gallery space. My machinima do a better job showing what I do but again they are a rigid artwork which doesn't allow the viewer to walk around a virtual space with freedom of choice. My machinima force the viewer to follow the path of my camera and each time they watch it it is the same, the viewer is a passive observer to what I show them but my artwork is about being an active participant to the artwork, where the viewer is not separate to the art but in it and part of it. Where they decide which way to walk or if they want to peek under a desk to find ahidden message.
8. What advice would you give to artists who is interested in exhibiting in Second Life?
I would say to think about what you are most passionate about and focus on that. Create a body of work on that topic and be patient.
9. Do you have links that you would like to provide for people to view your works?https://www.patreon.com/brynoh https://www.youtube.com/c/BrynOh/featured
Bryn Oh’s Second Life exhibits and store:
Hand by Bryn Oh - http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Bryn%20Oh/44/211/22
Singularity of Kumiko - http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Immersivist/16/100/21
Immersiva by Bryn Oh and Store - https://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Immersiva/18/111/24
Photos from Bryn Oh