A few thoughts

The post on Gazira Babeli‘s latest work posted on the NPIRL blog today has given me some much needed hope, particularly coming just after the day when I voiced some pretty glum opinions as to the mess that I find SL creativity to be in, vis a vis the “real” art world.

Creating multiple selves and identities. I do not think that it is a coincidence that Gazira Babeli and MosMax Hax have embarked on their two separate quests, which although vastly different in approach as well as outcome, operate under this one common tenet. And then, not that I am putting myself anywhere in the league of those two, there is also me and alpha.tribe, which again, is grounded in a similar exploration.

This is utterly fascinating stuff: We are no longer just making things but making “selves” of which the “things” we make are now the identity signifiers – be they vast sims or a humble pair of shoes. Yes, mankind has played around with noms de plume and such, and yes there has been that utterly remarkable character named Fernando Pesoa in the last century – but all in all, I really doubt that humanity has previously been given the opportunity to address the creative potential of the “multiple self” to such a dramatic extent, allowing for a range of explorations so vastly different from one another both in query and outcome. So yes, today I am actually quite hopeful that in the end online, participatory, immersive (3D) creativity will have it’s day and it’s say. Whether any time soon – that I do not know, that I am really not at all too sure about. Today the likes of Gazira Babeli and MosMax Hax are the exception, far removed from the norm. At least, I am not aware of any others who are exploring the “multiple self” within a consciously creative context… But regardless of whether they do so or not; dedicated, skillful artists and designers practicing in Second Life are up against a stigma in RL. Or at least that is my take on the matter.

I wrote the following as comments to a post on the NPIRL blog from yesterday:

“@ Bettina: Sadly, I do not share your hope when you say that “the number of serious artists using virtual worlds as a platform to create will surely increase”. I doubt that it will. If anything, I suspect that we shall see a gradual exodus of serious creators out of Second Life as the world continues to acquire a very bad name for itself in the serious art world out there:

In the last 2 years I have attended several acclaimed electronic art events to present my own output: As far as I can make out the bulk of the visual work to make it out of SL into these venues is generated by artists who create an account in SL for the sole purpose of creating pieces which are intended to be shown only in RL, at some “serious” art event or other. And due to the extremely steep technical as well as emotive learning curve of SL, these in-and-out-in-a-couple-of-days projects lack visual sophistication and/or credibility to quite an alarming degree. For the overwhelming part SL-art shown in RL is intrinsically problematic for me: It lacks depth. It is created in a 3D environment and yet despite the presence of a z-axis it manages to remain flat and devoid of substance. Indeed in some of what I have seen (“witnessed with paralyzed horror” would probably be a far more accurate description actually) even shaders and windlight are not utilized, since it would seem that the person responsible for the work has not even hung around in SL long enough to familiarize themselves with all the menu items on the interface. And then on the flip side, the “serious” SL creative crowd (who has in fact put in the necessary time and graft to attain the skill of building properly under SL’s appallingly inadequate lighting conditions, lack of shadows, complications of texturing, absence of detailed meshes, etc) is not all that interested in showing their work out of SL. And highly understandable too, given that the work lives (as in, is “alive”) in SL…

So, here is what I have seen happen over and over again at these events: Half the audience gets up and leaves during the break just before the presentation starts: They have read in the program that there is some SL-art coming up and they go “o-oh…” and get the hell out of dodge. And then at least half of those who have remained get up and leave during the first 5 minutes once it gets started – and who can really blame them if they do? Believe me, I have learned my lesson: I do not mention SL in my abstracts nowadays, I talk around it somehow. At least maybe that way I will get an audience… Isn’t that somewhat ominous? If I am now doing this, other SL creators who have any sort of a foothold in RL, must also be formulating their contingency plans? And beyond what my in-world colleagues might be contemplating in terms of the future of their own individual output and where it might eventually take them – I would imagine that, in general terms, it would probably be a very clever thing to conjoin SL-art with concepts such as “kitsch” and “fin du siecle” at this very moment in time. Would seem to me to be something that would get a person some pretty good kudos in the big wide “real” art world out there right about now…”

“@ Soror: I would be very interested to know if Jon Rafman has ever built in Second Life? I have cast an eye over the website linked to the post above: Low quality JPEGs with overlaid mono-space type and/or fuzzy audio files were all very well in the early days of internet art, when ultra low bandwidth compelled those early day pioneers to develop a visual language based upon them out of sheer necessity. Almost 20 years later, the effort would be derivative at best? Today I have students who are creating online “data radios” which make music (not noise! – proper music!!!) out of multivariate datasets, others who make RL mirrors in which you can watch yourself break into tears… All with fully articulated, cohesive visual languages… Need I elaborate?”

“@ Jay and Bettina: Yes, I am aware of these micro pockets (of RL artists receptive to SL). We have them here as well. And yes indeed there are the likes of Gazira Babeli who do one proud to be their co-Resident in the metaverse. However, In face of the avalanche of what it is out there now (what I was trying to describe above), I seriously doubt that they are sufficient to reverse the stigma. My one hope is that in time (and hopefully quite soon) the in-and-out-in-a-flash artists will lose interest precisely because of this very stigma. That very soon it will become totally “un-cool” to be making art in SL… And after that, in time, who knows? I think that, the damage already inflicted is quite severe and it will take some good few years and maybe much longer (time enough for the development of technologies which will vastly supersede the current metaverse: a 3D internet, a substantial merging of ubiquitous computing with virtual existences, etc, all of which will bring probably about an entirely novel discourse), to generate a process of healing to online, realtime, participatory 3D creativity.”

So what will happen? I do think that the hullaballoo of presenting SL-art in RL will die down, if it hasn’t indeed done so alreay, that is. My hunch is that this year’s batch of presentations at the “serious” art venues of RL will have far less to show along these lines. Like Oruboros, they will have eaten their own tails. Which will leave the field open to artists such as Gazira Babeli and MosMax Hax. Will they have an easy time of it? Will seriously acclaimed RL art institutions be welcoming them with wide open arms? Kinda doubt it… Stigma sticks to good and bad alike. However… Here’s the thing: Not that I am falling over myself to paraphrase a well worn platitude but… Just like true “love”, the course of true “creativity” also hardly ever runs smoothly. Indeed, if it is to really amount to anything groundbreakingly substantial, probably shouldn’t be running smoothly to begin with… So, in the end, when all the dust has settled down, creativity embracing the “multiple self” will probably emerge as a novel experience, the trajectory for the exploration of the unknown territory that is our mind, our consciousness. And as such, in the end, the metaverse, with all her alts and avatars, will be one of the locations where one of the true creative endeavors of our age resides.


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