Mag 131

The Big Room, by Andrew Wyeth, 1948

Neveon stood back and looked at the graphic wall, tweaked it until the image covered the entire wall, floor to ceiling, corner to corner, making it essentially life-size.  He’d found the image by accident, looking for something else, and it fascinated him.  He’d wikied the name of its creator, ‘Andrew Wyeth,’ found some bio info on him, and had discovered in the process that this particular image, captioned “The Big Room,” was a graphic representation of one of the rooms in the house that Wyeth had grown up in.  It was such a totally different living space from what Neveon was used to and he struggled to understand it and the objects it contained.  A great deal had changed in the 170-odd years since the image had been created.

It had taken him a while to figure out that the dark rectangular thing in the center was a “fireplace,” a purpose-built area where wood was burned.  If he understood the article correctly, trees were killed, chopped up into pieces, and the wood burnt to heat the interior of the house.  Amazingly, this seemed to have been a routine practice even as recently as two centuries ago.  He found the idea of killing trees just to burn them ghastly.  Trees were living things.  There were over two dozen trees of several different kinds that grew in the central garden of Neveon’s housing complex and hundreds more growing in the parklands surrounding it.  Sometimes, if the weather was nice, Neveon went outside and walked along the paths to look at them and the plants around them.  Occasionally, in the early morning hours, he would sit for a time on the benches that had been placed where a path went underneath a tree’s branches.  Trees were protected and carefully nurtured, even more so than the other plants, because they grew so slowly. The only way anybody could obtain wood now was from trees that had died of natural causes, and even then, there were all kinds of special permissions you had to get.  Wood was a rare and beautiful thing.  He couldn’t imagine destroying it on purpose.

His research into”fireplace” had led to “bricks and “brick making,” as well as “andiron,” “chimney,” “flue” and the science of combustion.   He still hadn’t figured out what the floor was made of, or the walls, or what was going on with the ceiling, but he’d learned that the windows were made of thin sections of vitrified sodium silicates, called “window glass,” that had been inset into wooden frames.  Judging from what could be seen out the window, it was wintertime and there was snow on the ground.  (Neveon was surprised at how far south the house had been located, but he reminded himself that the sea levels, climate and weather patterns had been different then.)  Wyeth had imaged the interiors of several other houses beside that one; there was an image that showed a freestanding bed on a frame made of some dark-colored material with a tall post coming up out of each corner of the frame. (Neveon hadn’t a clue what purpose the tall posts served, perhaps only a decorative one.)  Neveon wondered what living in that kind of housing would be like, with windows made of brittle glass and doors that opened straight to the outside without any kind of airlock to protect the building’s interior climate.

Further research revealed that these were not original images, but image reproductions of something called a “painting” — an actual physical object. Unfortunately, almost all of them had been lost to the elements during the Fragmented Time that had followed the hantavirus pandemic and a series of massive volcanic eruptions, that had occurred during the four years that followed it.  All that remained of them now were these images.   In the course of finding out how paintings were made he learned about “watercolor” — powdered pigments suspended in water which were applied to what was called paper (plant fibers pressed into thin flat flexible sheets).  That’s how some of Wyeth’s paintings had been made.  However, the paint used in this particular painting was something called “egg tempera” which was made with powdered pigments suspended in a mixture of water and the yolks of birds’ eggs (Neveon found the idea rather nauseating).  The paint had been applied to a kind of flat stiff board called ‘Masonite.’  In both cases, the paint was applied using wooden sticks with a tuft of some kind of animal hair attached to one end.  The tuft of hair was dipped into the paint and the paint was transferred to the flat surface by either dabbing or stroking the paint-loaded tuft of hair against it.

In the millennia prior to the invention of photography, paintings had been the only way to capture a visual image.  Image quality was entirely determined by the natural ability and training of the painter, the quality of the materials involved, and the age of the work (the materials tended to deteriorate over time).  Wyeth had made his paintings during the period of time between the invention of chemical photography and the advent of digital technology. Even though chemical photographic equipment was inexpensive and readily available at the time, and the images produced were duplicatible and of a fairly high quality, it seemed strange to Neveon that someone would choose to take the time and trouble to painstakingly reproduce an image using paints, when it took far less time and a lot less trouble to obtain a photographic image of it.   Then he thought it might be because Wyeth had wanted to edit or manipulate the painted image in some way, but as primitive a technology as chemical photography was, one could still manipulate the photographic image in quite a number of ways, a process that would still be a lot less messy and time-consuming than this painting process seemed, what with the wet paints and having to reproduce by eye the different colors and shades by mixing different pigments together, and applying the paint with the brushes and, one would assume, having to clean up the brushes and all the containers and implements involved afterwards. Then there was that business with the egg yolk. . . ugh!!

Wyeth must have had some sort of artistic reason for choosing the more difficult and complicated process of painting.  Neveon did not follow any artists who used applied color in constructing art objects, but he did subscribed to the feeds of several graphic artists.  There was one in particular whose work he really liked.  Her user name was Keramia.  Sometimes, she would stream live video of her screen content as she created a graphic image so that you could see how she went about it.  He enjoyed putting on some relaxing music, throwing the feed up on the data wall, and watching the image evolve.  She frequently combined photographic images with drawings done on her tablet and digitally manipulated them in various ways.  He had downloaded a number of her graphics files to his image library so he could slide-show them on his graphic wall from time to time, or 0ccasionally he would  choose just one and look more closely at the details, sometimes for hours at a time. He checked the data wall to see if Karemia might be streaming tonight.  She wasn’t, as it happened, but her user name was highlighted and a chat icon was displayed beside it.

Abruptly, he shucked his clothes off and dumped them into the laundry unit and went to his clothes storage area.  He got out his newest pair of black leggings, and a deep blue, long-sleeved  tunic he had bought last week but hadn’t worn yet.  He slipped his feet into a pair of black footies, and chose a metallic silver pendant and the cuff bracelet that matched it.  He told the door to the hygiene module to mirror him, checked his appearance, and decided he passed muster.  (The image consultant had told him that this particular shade of dark blue was one of his best colors and that it brought out the blue in his eyes, which were supposedly his best feature. Luckily, it was also one of his favorite colors.)

He knew that some people would think it was silly to get dressed up just to chat, when you could just disable the video feed or use an avatar.  You could pay to have an avatar custom-made for you (or else buy the software and make your own). Neveon had nothing against avatars.  He had about a dozen of them himself.  But they were strictly for the virtual world of RP and gaming.  Chat was supposed to be real-time, real world. The way Neveon saw it, replacing your own image with an avatar on a chat video feed was like lying to people about yourself.  What if you got to know someone and you really liked each other, and decided you wanted to meet in person?  You’d have to go through that whole “Sorry, I don’t really look like what you thought I did.  That was just an avatar.  This is the real me,” thing.   You could never be sure they wouldn’t decide they liked the avatar better than the real you, unfriend you on the spot and block you.  Neveon had been in that very situation more than once and each time it had been awkward, uncomfortable and had left him feeling like he had been cheated.  Invariably, he found himself thinking, if they have lied to me about what they really look like, what else might they be lying about?  No.  He remained resolute about never using any kind of data manipulation when he was chatting, and he always used the two-way voice/video on request settings.  That way, if they wanted to see what he looked like, they could request his video feed.  Since he had never chatted with Keramia before, he’d wanted to look nice just in case.

He put Keramia’s latest graphic up on the data wall and sat down on the couch.  He noticed with relief she was still signed on and there was still a chat icon beside her name.  He ignored the butterflies in his stomach and pinged her.  Even though he’d bought a subscription to her stream, he thought it was unlikely she would recognize his user name. She probably had so many followers she didn’t bother to keep up with them — not that it mattered.  He subscribed to the feeds he followed because he thought they were interesting, not because they were popular.   After what seemed like an uncomfortably long wait, she pinged back.

“Hi, Neve618. ”  She sounded younger than he’d thought she’d be.   Still her voice had a nice sound to it — assuming she wasn’t audio-filtering it.  (That was something else people did that really bothered him — audio-filtering their voice to make it sound different.)

“Hi, Keramia.  I’m one of your subscribers.”

“Yeah, I recognized your user name.”  That was a surprise, albeit a pleasant one.

“I’ve downloaded gigs of your images for my data wall.  I really like them, especially that new one you just put up, ‘East Boston Reef.'”  Jeez, he hoped he didn’t sound as lame to her as he sounded to himself.

“Thanks.  I had a lot of fun with that one.” She had a nice laugh, or it sounded nice, anyway.

“I hope I’m not interrupting anything. ”

“Oh, no, not at all.”

“Oh, good.  I just wanted to ask you about some artist stuff, if you’ve got time.”

“Sure.  Ask away.”

He took a deep breath, swallowed and took the plunge.  “See, I found a bunch of these graphic images and the data base I found them in said they were images of paintings done by a guy named Andrew Wyeth, but that the actual paintings were lost in the Frag — I had to wiki ‘painting’ to find out what it was.”  A status change on the data wall caught his attention.  She’d requested his video feed.  His mouth  went dry as he enabled it.  He tried to seem casual as he got up and took a tea out of the fridge.

“I’ve seen some stuff about painting, but I only work in digital, so I can’t help you much there. I have heard about some people who are into doing it, though.  I can ask around and see if anybody knows how to get in touch with them, if that’s what you’re interested in.”

He popped open the top on the tea and took a swallow.  “Well, it’s not really the actual painting bit I’m interested in, just why somebody would want to go to all the trouble to do it.  It sounds really messy and complicated.  Seems like it would be so much easier just to do it digitally, like you do.”

“Well, there’s the challenge of trying to figuring out how the preFrag people did something and then seeing if you could learn to do it the same way.”

“OK.  Like those historical reenactor people. I hadn’t thought about it like that. ”

“Sure, the living history thing could be part of it.  Preserving the ways of the past and all.  But then, doing graphics with real paint and all the other stuff you need to do it with is pretty complicated. Some people just get off on figuring out how to do something complicated, learning to do it themselves, and then seeing what they can do with it.”

“OK, yeah.  I get it.  Like learning how to juggle, or how to play a flute. ”

“Yeah.  And then there’re people who just like to make things using their hands.  They like the process of creating and designing something, then constructing it.”

“OK. Like making jewelry, or decorative objects.”

“Yeah.  And, you know, it’s kind of a rush to look at something and think ‘I made that.'”

“Yeah, there is that,” Neveon laughed, and then they were laughing together.

“You said this guy’s name is Wyeth?”

“Yeah.  Andrew Wyeth.  1917 to 2009.  He only missed getting caught in the Frag by, like, ten years or so. I’d be glad to shoot you a copy of the files if you like.”

“Thanks.  I was just going to ask you if you would.  I’d like to see them.  I really don’t know all that much about preFrag graphic art.” The IP address of her data dump appeared beside the chat icon next to her user name.

“Apparently, Wyeth liked to make paintings of the landscape and the buildings around where he lived, and  the people he knew. The images are pretty true to life — .”  As he spoke, he got up, went over to the data wall and transferred the files with a jab and a wave of his index finger. “Here you go.”

“Ah.  Got them.  Thanks.”   A short pause.  “I saw on your profile that you subscribe to Dancing Dynamo.”

“Yeah. I do it at least every day, sometimes twice.”  Dancing Dynamo was an electricity provider.  Like most EP’s, they allowed those subscribers who had a generator alcove in their housing unit the option to link it into the Dynamo’s grid and generate as well as consume.  All you had to do was put the magnet cuffs around your wrists and ankles, go inside the alcove and move your body around, and you generated electricity by induction.  As a part of its service, the Dancing Dynamo offered its subscribers unique content in the form of a variety of virtual dance clubs as well as access to free music content and user-generated playlists to dance to. (The key thing about the generator alcoves was that the more vigorously you moved, the more electricity you generated.  The more electricity you generated, the less you had to buy off the grid.  If you were conscientious about doing it on a daily basis, you could generate more electricity than you used, in which case, the Dynamo would buy your surplus to sell to other subscribers.)

“What clubs do you go to?  Maybe I’ve seen your avatar.”

“I don’t go to the clubs. . .I just use the music feed and jack in my own video ‘cos I’m, like, this really klutzy dancer. . .”  He could feel that he was blushing furiously; he fought the urge to hold out the neck of his tunic and duck his face down inside it.

“I don’t know why you don’t.  I go interactive all the time, and you couldn’t possibly be any klutzier than I am. ”  She laughed again.  She really did have a nice laugh — it was almost musical.  He really hoped she wasn’t filtering her audio.  But then she said, “The Dynamo does offer private alcoves, you know.  We could maybe arrange to meet up some time and get one, share some playlists and, you know — generate some juice. . .”

“You’d have to swear you won’t laugh at my dancing. . . “‘

“Only if you swear not to laugh at mine. I kinda get carried away on the good songs sometimes. At least in a virtual club, I can’t go all spazbo and accidentally clobber you.”  He had his mouth open to reply when he heard a reminder chime go off in her background.  “Oh, nuts.  That’s me.  I’m going to have to sign out now so I can rack out.”  Was he imagining that he heard regret in her voice?   “I’ve got to get up at outrageous o’clock tomorrow morning to do this teleconference for work.  There’s a 5-hour time difference involved and what’s midmorning for the boss is too damn early for the rest of us.”

He said, “Bummer.”   But he thought, great.  You had to be at least 16 before you could get part-time work, and at least 18 to get a full-time job.

“Hey.  I’m glad you pinged me.  I want to talk some more about this Wyeth guy after I’ve had a chance to look at the images.”

“Sure.  I’d like that. ”

“G’Night.”  Her chat icon disappeared and seconds later, her user name greyed out.

He logged out as well, but continued to sit on the couch for over an hour just looking at “East Boston Reef,” taking in the intricate detailing of the corals growing on the partially demolished buildings, the little glimpses of signage here and there,  the shading of the blues tones from light to darker to indicate the deeper water, the graceful curving body of the mermaid with her pale, large-eyed face, short golden poof of hair, iridescent scales, and opalescent tail fins.  He wondered if the girl part of the mermaid looked anything like the artist. . . . .