I made Uranometria upon an invitation by Marc Moana/Marc Blieux to participate in an art project called SynchroniCity, which he instigated and curated in Second Life in 2011, at Aire Ville Spatiale. The concept was that the work of different builders should come together and converge synchronistically in order to create new meanings and forms through their proximity.

Thus my cage was placed very near a beautiful organic construct which Marc had made; and then both his contribution and mine were surrounded by a huge revolving sphere, built out of many segments, which was created by Werner Kurosawa/Werner Van dermeersch.


The Age of the Enlightenment

Johan Bayer's celestial atlas, Uranometria, was published in 1603 and therefore pre-dates the Age of the Enlightenment by a good 50 years, if not more. And Newton was not yet even born. Nevertheless, I think that the atlas is one of the harbingers of what would be in the offering during the decades to come - the philosophy of a strictly organized, gridded, partitioned, immutable universe - one that we can understand and measure and chart, like we (supposedly) can anything else as well.

The irony for me is that this very condition which makes us the masters of the universe also constitutes the basis of Western astrology which decrees that we are the slaves of those very stars that we can measure and classify and thereby gain ascendancy over.

The flip side of the coin therefore says that we are nothing but the victims of our unchangeable fates/personalities which are cast by those self-same stars...

The cage

This had a prior existence at New Genres Grid where I still have it in place underwater at my island ShapeShifter.

I have known of Johan Bayer's amazing celestial atlas for a long time and have always wanted to do something with it - a type of remediation, if you will. However, regardless of my awe for the beauty of its spreads, the atlas has always oppressed me. Or I should say that the entire notion of a clockwork universe is something that I have a hard time with. These contradictory feelings of unease and awe are what led me to make the cage.

Although I sometimes also work with a specific end in mind, I should admit that more often than not I do not arrive at these conclusions consciously while I am actually making stuff, but only much later. I mostly just start playing around with things and somehow one thing leads to something else - my hand and my eyes are way ahead of the game in relation to my brain. I just do something. And that is how the cage also came about. I did not deliberately plan on making a cage in which a bunch of avatar sculptures were caught like flies in a spider's web to represent the idea of a mechanistic universe from which there is no out, in which the stars and constellations and the planets hold our fate.

What happened instead was that I had all of these gorgeous textures which I had gotten from the Linda Hall site (to the best of my knowledge the atlas is in the public domain) and I wanted to put them on something, to see how they would look mapped onto 3D objects. So, I made a whole bunch of avatar sculptures to this end. Once the sculptures were made I saw that they needed some kind of structure to cling to. Initially I made many poles, and then it seemed that the poles needed cross bars to pull together. And, that was then the cage.

I was happy with how it looked - more or less, and I also liked the cage symbol that I had inadvertently come up with; but still I had a niggling feeling that something more was needed, that what I had made was not complete...


The I Ching

When Marc told me about SynchroniCity, I went to wikipedia to refresh my memory as to what the term meant exactly. This led me to Jung's famous text on synchronicity, which is actually his foreword to Richard Wilhelm's 1949 translation of the I Ching. From there I somehow made a connection with my Uranometria cage (in the end, a synchronistic one, I guess), and decided that what the cage needed was precisely some kind of a visualization of the contrast between the deterministic world view of the West and the fluid system of changes of the East.

Although when I made the cage I worked without deliberation, very much surprising myself with the outcome in fact; when it came to integrating the I Ching into the cage I became very deliberate and employed a design strategy to which I gave a lot of thought before I actually went and implemented it.

I did not want to do anything corny like adding Chinese visual elements to all of this. Those types of appropriations I usually tend to find quite disrespectful: I am not from that culture - I can not understand what that iconography really means, what emotional impact it is meant to deliver. I do not know the signposts - I cannot even read the text. All I know is that it is very beautiful. Which does not give me the right to ride roughshod over it and pretend that it is mine. Jung's text on the other hand, which I can understand, seems to carry similar concerns. He repeatedly emphasizes these in passages such as this one:

"I do not know Chinese and have never been in China. I can assure my reader that it is not altogether easy to find the right access to this monument of Chinese thought, which departs so completely from our ways of thinking."

My love of Jung's text and my reluctance to integrate Chinese artifacts led me to the idea of using the text itself as the element of contrast. The cage, and its avatar sculptures would be constant like Bayer's clockwork universe, whereas Jung's text would move unpredictably with the virtual winds, bringing life to the frozen structure.

I did not want the text to be easily read. If anything, I wanted it to attain continuously different meanings (as well as non-meanings); and have many entry and exit points that would perpetually come together and then blow apart - which is also my conception of how the I Ching should be approached.

Thus, another thing which I added to the wind generated motion effect was layering, which I brought about by placing all of the text on transparent backgrounds. I made many different panels on which I put different passages of Jung's foreword. All of the text had the same point size and font (Garamond). And so, as the panels blew around, the text kept deconstructing and changing since the uniformity of size and font kept merging semantic content that was on different panels. Sentences would appear one after the other, only to be immediately blown into novel configurations by the wind which kept the whole conglomeration in flux at all times.



Artist's statement (2011)

Uranometria brings together two things: Excerpts from Carl Jung’s introduction to Richard Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching and the astronomical maps from Johan Bayer’s Uranometria, which is the first Western celestial atlas, created in 1603.

Although the Age of the Enlightenment was still centuries away, I think that Uranometria is an early harbinger of it, presaging a mindset which is grounded in causality and reason. And then I am also thinking of the whole nature of western astrology with its mechanistic, clockwork universe in which the rigidly structured/ predetermined sojourn of the planets chart out seemingly immutable patterns of influence upon human life... Which is so very different from the fluid, ever changing universe of the I Ching which caused Jung to coin the term “synchronicity.”

Thus my avatar selves are dressed up as Uranometric zodiac signs, held captive by their star bound fate which is represented by the similarly attired and caged humanoid objects that revolve around them.

In their vicinity however Jung’s words float freely, tossed hither and tither by virtual winds...


The avatars

I enjoy making avatars as much as I enjoy making "things," and probably even more. What I really like to do however is to make avatars which become extensions of the structures that they inhabit, where the system/concept of one is carried through into the other. Where "things" become "people," and vice versa...

In the case of the inhabitants of the cage I wanted them to be bogged down by their celestial fate. So, I encumbered them with a small version of the cage itself, which they wore on their chests. And clinging to different parts of their bodies and their heads were the sculptures, which they also had to drag around with them. And finally, their skins were made of the celestial atlas itself.

This avatar was also given as a gift to the visitors of the cage and many people wore it and merged with the construct during their stay - thus becoming "Uranometria," while being surrounded by the "I Ching."


Pages for a flipbook

I know that for many people flipbooks are in dubious taste. As for me, I love making them and have quite a collection of them on issuu.

I could talk about things such as how I am conceptualizing the irony of using the workings of an analog artifact for digital output and so forth, justify myself in that way I suppose. But, I am not going to do that: I simply like how they look, their cleanness, the beauty of the issuu interface itself, that lovely reflection effect in the gutter and the edges that gives the books a very sophisticated faux volume. And also the flip effect.

Yet another reason may also be that I miss my old profession, graphic design, and try to compensate for the loss by making flipbooks which go by the same design rules as physical publications do.

The spreads below come from a book called alpha.tribe tales, in which I put together 4 different "stories," which my avatars participated in.

In the spreads for the Uranometria "tale" I added an informational typographic layer on top of the images in which I combined passages from Jung's foreword to the I Ching with text by Ian Ridpath that discusses some of the important aspects of Johan Bayer's Uranometria, his contributions to the field of astronomy. The text on the dark background belongs to Jung, the text on the white background is the text about Uranometria.


alpha.tribe tales

I like to think of all of this as part of a larger whole, which I call alpha.tribe tales. I try to document these as small websites, using tumblr and blogspot and I interlink them so that visitors may wander from one to the other:

modernist.avatar: http://modernistavatars.tumblr.com/; foolz.gold: http://foolzgold.tumblr.com/; entre loup et chien: http://twilightavatars.tumblr.com/; The Tales of Ruysch: http://ruyschavatars.tumblr.com/; abject.avatar: http://abjectavatar.tumblr.com/; alpha.tribe: http://alphatribe.tumblr.com/; the island: http://alphatribeisland.blogspot.com/; ShapeShifter: http://shapeshifterisland.blogspot.com/; Asemia: http://elifayiter.wix.com/asemia

Admittedly, many of them are incomplete, and all of them are works in progress...



Marc Moana, for giving me the opportunity to take my play with the cage much further. The cage, complete with Jung's text, nowadays lives on Marc's OpenSim grid Aire Mille Flux, which you can join here >>>.

Heidi Dahlsveen (Mimesis Monday in SL), for giving me a full collection of her animations and poses without which the documentation of these projects would have ended up being a rather stiff and soulless affair. Truth be told, I probably would not even bother to do it were it not for the amazing expressiveness that my avatars attain thanks to her brilliant work.