Step Off the Path

by Alphaville Herald on 24/04/07 at 2:05 pm

by Fiend Ludwig

Veiled Conundrum: Second Life sculpture by Xantherus Halberd, 2007

[Editor's Note: It's no longer clear to me whether we sent Herald correspondent Fiend Ludwig to interview SL gallerist Xantherus Halberd before or after the metaverse meetup last month that was hosted by Xantherus's typist, New York artist Annie Ok, but here at last we present the resulting article, an excellent look at the very real effect of virtual worlds.
--Walker Spaight

I planned on this being a simple review of an art gallery opening in Second Life. Drop in for a quick visit. Take a few snaps. Chat with the owner. Write a quick story. Paste in some links. Hit the Publish button.

But it is not that. It a story about a circumstance that has shown me what Second Life really is – the latent future over which floats the path of real life. Step off the path, and, like Bradbury’s Eckels, effect unexpected changes. But I am getting ahead of myself.

“I see all of SL as art. Regardless of how mundane some of it might appear, everything in SL had to be created. It is perhaps the largest online global art collaboration ever,” says Xantherus Halberd who, along with Rhizome Szydlowska, recently opened the »GHava{SL}Center for the Arts« in Second Life. A multilevel build showcasing their work as well as that of a raft of other top tier New York artists, the GHava{SL} Center is crisp, clean, and, well…modest. Halberd and Szydlowska have a floor each dedicated to showing their work, but a visitor must be curious enough to look for the elevator to transport them there. “I like the idea that our personal exhibitions are ones that the visitors find incidentally if they choose to explore further,” says Halberd.

She continues, “A key goal of the Center is to give our artists a lot more freedom to express their creativity than other conventional art institutions. We give them the choice to sell their work in SL, sell the real life pieces, or just exhibit without selling. Selling is not a focus for us. It’s about showing the work. It’s always about the work because the work speaks for itself. We want to open people’s minds, make them think and feel, as well as inspire them.” “We like to refer to what we have created as an art center because we see it as a place for artists we work with to experiment and collaborate in SL,” says Szydlowska. Halberd adds, “Visitors can get a feeling for what is currently happening in the contemporary New York art movement without having to travel all the way [to New York].”

They have their concerns about SL however, “I’m very ill viewing all of the intellectual property violations/copyright infringements that are currently taking place in SL. It’s sad that some people are so lacking for ideas of their own that they feel the need to use established prestigious arts venues names or even the names of famous contemporary artists to gather a crowd or to sell knock off counterfeit duplications of known artists works,” says Szydlowska. Halberd agrees, “I too am overwhelmed by the staggering amount of copyright infringement that prevails in SL. What is the point of claiming to be an art institution if you are blatantly plagiarizing the name of established RL museums in an effort to falsely draw visitors to your gallery? But just like everything in the world, those who recognize and appreciate originality will gravitate towards and seek out those places that show such work and the rest be damned.”

I have wondered lately what the differences might be between experiencing art in Second Life, and seeing the same art firsthand in real life. Is it perceived the same way? Does it have the same sort of impact? Some work, such as pieces by Dancoyote Antonelli and Angrybeth Shortbread, simply could not exist outside of SL. In fact, Antonelli once told me that SL has transformed his work “into the fine art [he] always intended it to be. Through the use of scale and architecture [he] can plan for the viewing conditions. [He has] been making work for SL for a decade before it existed.” Szydlowska says “I am also very interested in this concept [of the dichotomy between seeing an artist’s work in real life and then the same work in SL] and it is one of the many reasons I’m drawn to creating work for and in SL. I was quite late to create my personal website and was pretty much forced into making one years ago in order to show my work to international curators. Somewhere along this path I realized that the internet offers a superior mechanism for presenting documented works of art or even thinking of a web space as an exhibition. 2D Web space has always felt limiting to me.” And like Antonelli, he has “lusted after a similar idea to SL since 1996.”

02-07 by Xantherus Halberd, in Second Life

“There is definitely a difference between seeing a piece in real life and its representation digitally,” continues Szydlowska, “so I would say that the impact is different for sure. I am interested in RL/SL crossover art pieces where the mixing of virtual and real overlap and intertwine. I love the idea of using SL as a sketching tool for developing ideas for work to then be executed in RL and vice versa.” Halberd thinks “that SL can be a better way to present work than in RL in some ways because you can customize the setting in which you place it. You don’t always have the luxury of controlling the environment in which your work is presented in RL.”

02-07 by Annie Ok, in real life

In preparation for this story, I asked Halberd to comment on awareness of Second Life in the New York City contemporary art community, because Mark Wallace calls Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the ‘capital of the Metaverse’. My question led her to contact Metaverse Meetup organizer [and Wallace’s comrade-in-arms] Jerry Paffendorf, and she ended up helping to organize the session that occurred on March 30, 2007. After attending the Meetup she shared these comments about the NYC vibe:

“The majority of people I know are still clueless about SL. The ones we have brought into SL are intrigued but reticent as they lack the time to fully explore its benefits and options. I believe that this will change as SL become more user-friendly and smoother-functioning. As I say to my friends, ‘Remember when you didn’t have email and now you can’t live without it? Well, SL is like that.’ They nod and smile but their eyes go blank.” She continues, “NYC has always been a magnet for creativity. Brooklyn is a place where young artists can still live in affordable proximity . Williamsburg is only one stop away [from Manhattan] on the subway so it makes perfect sense why it is evolving into a thriving art community. Silicone Valley may be technically savvy but virtual worlds demand more artistic talent to create the actual aesthetics of the environment. That could be why NYC may be viewed as the center of the Metaverse. That, and the fact that Mark Wallace and Jerry Paffendorf both live here and have jointly deemed it so in a brash act of manifest destiny. Don’t question the scholars of the future for they are our oracles. Plus, if you say anything authoritatively enough it makes it seem true.”
Xantherus Halberd is Annie Ok, a New York artist.
Rhyzome Szydlowska is Derek Lerner, an artist, creative director and co-founder of creative services boutique, GH avisualagency.

6 Responses to “Step Off the Path”

  1. Anonymous

    Apr 25th, 2007

    Silicone Valley? Hehehe.

    Sorry, I have no mature comment to make.

  2. Brent Recreant

    Apr 25th, 2007

    Wouldn’t everything be art then? Yes, you can look at it that way. Since everything was created by something. Whether you believe in god or not.

  3. General Cronon

    Apr 25th, 2007

    This is like a High School newspaper. Give the popular children that great spotlight, when the nerds made so much better things. A noob can do that. Just take away the texture.

  4. SqueezeOne Pow

    May 3rd, 2007

    “A noob can do that. Just take away the texture.”

    02-07 is an SL recreation of a RL piece you moron.

    I definitely agree that there is way too much copywright infringement in SL. Everything from fake art to armies dressing up like their favorite sci-fi movie (not to name names!). I think that’s because few people recognize the potential to be legitimately creative and see SL as a place to live out their RL videogame fantasies. Hell, I always wanted a stormtrooper outfit!

    Even though I generally detest the “art crowd” for the elitism and conceit that usually hovers around them this article actually kind of inspires me to try new things in SL and treat it as legitimate, original art.

    Good read overall!

  5. Prokofy Neva

    Feb 19th, 2008

    Wonderful piece, Fiend, great to see you back. Annie rocks.

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