by Alphaville Herald on 13/08/08 at 9:29 pm
Work that is more than just being clever
by Aurel Miles
It begins in a Wheatfield. I contemplate the land. A man sits down and says:
“Hello Miss Miles. You are a very meticulous woman, I can see it in your work on your avi”
(Long pause – during which MAN remains seated and I wake up.)
Me: Hello. Sorry – I was talking to my editor
MAN: she is perfect
Me: my editor?
MAN: no your avi
…and we’re off. Seems to me two-thirds of the population of SL, at any given moment, are looking for love, sex or some form of romantic connection. That’s why I chose to spend the first year of my time here writing about sex. That’s why Stroker is rich, it’s why people can make a real living selling virtual shoes, clothes, nipples, hair, skin and anything else that makes a peacock out of the paper bag avatar we all start out with. It’s why we have houses
I’m not going to pretend to know why forming relationships is so much easier and so much more intense in SL – there are a few theories about meeting someone on equal ground and learning about their heart and soul before you start looking at their limitations and I think those theories are pretty sound. Google it – they’re out there. (And before anyone starts blathering about how fake these relationships are, of the 100 people I know, eight of them are now married to their SL partners in RL. It’s not a huge percentage but when you consider none of them, nobody I know, came here expecting to fall in love much less move halfway across the world to marry their SL partner – it’s significant.)
These days, things have changed. There are plenty of newbies out there buying their first set of genitals and that will go on for as long as SL exists but there are an equal number of us who have moved on. So, what I am interested in these days is what comes next? What happens when you have made that match and have that deep connection? And not what happens to your relationship either, I want to talk about what happens to you.
In even in the most intense SL relationships, there are going to be times when you might like to be together but can’t. Not all of those times will be when you’re both offline. Maybe there’s work to be done and you commit to doing it but slack off by sneaking into SL. Maybe you just don’t feel like going out in RL even though you know there’s no chance your partner will be online and in those moments maybe you realize you’re secure enough not to have to prove yourself to anybody, secure enough to return to the state of being a noob and go exploring alone amongst strangers in geekdom except that this time, you really are off the market. Whatever it takes, you don’t need to be surrounded by your friends all the time. These moments are an opportunity to open your eyes to the rest of the SL world.
I started my latest Saturday night with a pile of work to be done and only the weekend to do it but soon found myself fighting off a sense of longing. My SL partner is far away and was out for the evening in RL. I was not. I didn’t want to watch a movie, didn’t want to finish my work, didn’t want to visit with friends or talk on the phone, couldn’t seem to settle into reading and so decided to open the computer and wander. I wasn’t being secure or smart about opportunities, I was being lazy. But even lazy can turn into something good, if you let it.
SL relationships set a person up to be good at longing. It’s amazing to me how deeply connected we can feel to each other when the barrier of real flesh and air and bone and body are stripped away. Standing on my balcony, looking into the starry sky, I could imagine my partner far away, looking, maybe for a moment into that same night sky and knew we were connected by our thoughts. But there is a time to put those things aside and just be by yourself and Saturday was my night – in that wistful but not unsettled mood, I stepped into AM Radio’s build; The Far Away.
I had walked through The Far Away before but never spent any time exploring it; big mistake. AM Radio has built a haunting landscape that makes me more optimistic about the future of SL art than I have been since early noobdom.
For those of you who don’t get out to many arts events – there have been six basic schools of SL visual art since time began (around 2005) the Hyperformalists (as Artworld Market calls them) have had coverage in major art mags. Their work is scripted, interactive and pretty. The idea is to create visually stunning works that can be moved through, sat on, and generally can envelope the avatar. A few major artists in this genre are Juria Yoshikawa, Sabine Stonebender, Elros Tuminen and Dancoyote Antonelli – who may have coined the term.
Performance artists like Second Front, and the Metaverse Orchestra create scenes, interventions or performances and engage the community through direct actions with their avatars. (Some people see these as a kind of griefing but they are never malicious, usually streamed into a RL gallery space and unlike griefers, they have a point)
The third group (sometimes unfairly maligned) is what I think of as flatart practitioners and flatart importers who create works that look like canvases in RL or bring 2-d art from the Round World into SL and mount it, either in shows or more commonly in commercial galleries.
The fourth group consists of the SL sculptors like Starax who use a Round World idiom in SL – that is to say, their sculpture looks and acts like sculpture; it’s just set in Flatland.
Machinimists are group five, they make SL film, their work is available on Youtube but it is not yet widely seen – maybe someday that will change, machinima is still very new and requires very good hardware to create.
Scattered amongst these regularly practicing artists are members of the sixth group, the SL artists who work with the whole concept of SL as their medium. Tree Kyamoon has done some interesting work that would have been called installation art in the Round World. Angrybeth Shortbread has worked with Brian Eno in SL and has created the Artport as a doorway between Sl and RL. The Rezzable Sims are environments created as novelty sims – cartoon lands like the Greenies. And of course there are fantasy landscapes like Svarga that have been around practically since SL began. Any sim builder or landscaper falls into this category but most builders, terraformers and landscapers do not typically consider themselves to be artists and, in my experience, most reproduce realities in the same way a gardener would – nothing wrong with that but very few of these artists integrate the whole palette of possibilities, sound, visuals, geography, links, narrative and people of SL into their work.
AM Radio and Chouchou do both.
At first glance, a visit to any of AM Radio’s four regions is like stepping into a landscape painting. One is reminded of American painter, Edward Hopper or the Cohen Brothers film; “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” Radio’s work is spare and clean. It relies on a subdued tonal range of beige, rust, gold, umber, grey and muted primaries but it is multilayered and embedded in the work are sounds, teleports, hidden links, mysteries.
Walking through The Faraway or The Quiet, The Husk or the Refuge and Extension, is a hypnotic experience but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To the casual observer AM Radio’s work evokes a response of “cool looking but so what?” Slow down. You need to spend time in Radio’s landscapes, you need to touch everything. When you do hints and glimpses of stories begin to reveal themselves. These are areas best explored alone but they’re becoming popular so good luck with that – I recommend going late at night.
Radio’s builds are ideal places to let yourself experience SL but also to let your own inner landscape begin to speak. They are enigmatic, meditative – filled with recurrent symbols; violins, rusted trains, bands of blue fabric, wooden chairs and bare branches – what does any of it mean? Slowly, as you spend your solitary time in Radio’s world, meaning begins to unspool in whatever way is right for you. It’s poetic, elegiac work, worth your time and effort.
Chouchou Region is a little more directed. (pun intended) Creator and Chouchou band member Juliet Heberle says she dreamed one night that she was in a film. From that dream, Chouchou region was born.
The cinematic hud makes Chouchou unique. Don’t explore Chouchou without it, you’re cheating yourself. The sim itself is a haunted, haunting setting straight out of a Japanese art film. It is meant as a setting for the band’s concerts – so far Chouchou only performs in SL but they deserve more exposure and will likely get it.
It is difficult to become accustomed to moving in the Chouchou region because the hud requires you to be in either concert or walking mode. Take off your AO, pay attention to the advice on the notecard (for once it is actually useful) and wander into the landscape.
In Chouchou you become the solitary heroine of a Bergman film, adrift on the tidal flats, or a lonely hero in a dream landscape, thinking about your lover and contemplating the broken remnants of another lover’s life. An empty cage, a grand piano, a solitary tree – Chouchou speaks volumes about love and longing without ever saying a word. (keep trying to get up the ladder – half the region is at the top.)
Juliet Heberle is moving from New York City to Japan because as she puts it “I have something I have to do in Japan and I needed to be close to another Chouchou.” (the composer of the piece you hear in the Chouchou region.) Miya Grut built the Chouchou hud but Miya, like so many other great SL creatives, does not take commissions and anyway Miya only speaks Japanese.
Consider Chouchou an inspiration and an opportunity to fine tune your own building skills. It’s all possible. (Juliet’s move does mean there will be no Chouchou concerts for a while and that is a shame but Chouchou is not gone, just breaking to get closer and that’s a happy thought.)
Rarely, in a love affair, in any world, we are given moments where missing someone is its own reward. To stand in any of these sims and contemplate the symbolism of SL and the communication in a world that is pure communication knowing you will continue on that journey in the company of another is deeply satisfying in a melancholy way. And when the melancholia wears off you have the future of SL art and the prospect of time with your partner to take its place. This is why, after all, some people like salt on their melon. The salty makes the sweet taste sweeter.
AM Radio and Juliet Heberle have brought an earthly/unearthly sense of eternal wonder into SL, the same feeling you get standing on the beach or looking into the night sky. Of course I am not suggesting you replace anything in your real life with the experience they have created but if by chance you find yourself alone one evening missing someone these creations are a good place to let yourself continue the journey into your own inner landscape.
Consider it concrete meditation. A constructed world of wonders. This is what the people who aren’t out there dancing themselves into intimacy or sitting on cuddle poseballs are doing. Nice to know SL goes on even when the 24 hour sex show no longer holds your interest.
Work like this opens up SL wakes it up and moves it forward. The human connection is what it’s all about at heart. I’m no expert but I believe everything in life is really about the human connection. but once you’re connected, it’s time to take a few inner journeys both together and alone. So this is my year two, SL’s year five and we are all still growing.
Welcome to the new era of Second Life art – work that actually might mean something more than just being clever. Breathe deep – look inside, there’s a whole new world in there.