Thursday, December 02, 2004


To commemorate World AIDS Day, Olmy Seraph brought together a memorial quilt to the deceased, and laid it out in the meadows of Plum, between two rows of cherry trees that have bloomed a lavender hue. And at the head of the quilts there's a replica of the Washington Monument, but painted blood red. Unlike the NAMES Project's Memorial Quilt, most of the panels at his site are in 3D. One depicts a gravestone and a hypodermic needle; another, a creature holding out his arms in grief, or at the opening of an embrace; another, a single red rose.

Olmy doesn't quite recall the exact moment when he came up with the idea for building a quilt in Second Life. "Not sure how it came together in my head," he tells me, "but I've always wanted to do a panel for the [NAMES'] quilt. I'm just better building in Second Life, than sewing in real life." So he announced the project a month ago, and in that time, he made his panel, and over thirty more residents have also done the same.

"Some of these are tributes to those who died that residents knew personally?" I ask, after I arrive for the opening ceremony, and I walk along the quilt, peering down.

Olmy looks up at me. "Most of them are, Hamlet."

A brunette named Yanne Proudfoot is standing at the edge of the quilt. "My younger brother is gay," she tells me quietly, "and I always worry for him. And I have three friends who are no longer with us due to AIDS." She nods toward the long rows. "It brings it home, when it is remembered like this."

Nearby, another woman begins to announce something out loud: "On behalf of myself and my personal real life family," she says, "I want to thank Olmy and the Lindens for this. It's a small fraction of loss here, but each life is so missed and meant so much, and we are grateful here in real to you for this... So thanks." Her name is Madison Rutledge, and when she speaks on behalf of her family, she means it: at the moment, they're standing right behind her at the computer.

"My whole family is here in real life for this... my kids, too," she tells me. "I lost my best friend/cousin Mark, and eight real life friends. In two years. Just in [my mid-Western city] alone, we lost one fourth of our gay men and other folks."

Olmy Seraph is addressing the crowd himself now, thanking the Lindens for their help donating the land for the display, and for those residents who helped him bring it to life: "I'm very grateful for everyone who helped make this happen," he says. "Madison, Osprey, Khamon, Stoneself, Jase and Mae, and lots of others."

He goes on. "I gave up counting the people I lost many years ago. It's sad, but I couldn't keep up. It was years before I was able to deal with the crisis in a way that was constructive. The quilt in real life started as a small idea and it has grown to be too large to display anywhere. This Second Life quilt is starting small-- but I expect it to grow as well." And then he invites the audience to contribute their own panel, to go on the display for the remainder of the week it'll be here.

I look at other panels. Osprey Therian's contribution (fifth row, first screenshot) is a memorial to all the works of art that could have been. "I'm an artist," says Osprey, "and although I've not lost anyone close to me, I feel so strongly that my tribe-- artists-- has been hit very hard. We've lost a great many people-- the loss in terms of human lives is great, and the amount of artwork that will never be created now is a terrible loss as well."

A few rows away, there's a yellow submarine (fifth row, second screenshot) devoted to someone named "Franken John".

"Back in 1991-1995," its creator Forcythia Wishbringer explains, "there was a group on [an early online network] called the Submarine. They were a group of people who gathered together in the brotherhood of disabilities... I was a hostess in the group... [Members] Frank and John were travelling to meet me [in real life] with others, when John started his last decline. He was a sculptor and was in the end stages of AIDS. We talked for long times. Eventually he died, and his partner Frank came online and we had a three day wake." And so a yellow submarine, in both their names.

"Have you seen the NAMES Quilt?" Madison Rutledge asks me earlier. "Well, if you ever can... you will see something like this, but... a fraction of the whole quilt will fill a college basketball or football field. And for all the people [there to see it], you can hear a pin drop, but for the tears and sniffles. It's a stunning thing to see." I tell I believe it, just from what I see here.

As for Olmy Seraph's own panel, it's devoted to a young man named Larry. It features a masculine figure who seems to be leaping from the sky, and plunging into the dark blue oblivion below him.

“If he fell easily," reads the caption, "it was because he lived life at the limit of balance."

I find myself reading that caption out loud, and Olmy overhears me.

"Yes," he says, "that was Larry."

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