Monday, May 5, 2008

"Art" in Second Life

I have been working on a project with Frank Koolhaas for a real life exhibit in Florence he is organizating. I was asked to curate a section of the exhibit (and I am in amazing company on this project--more on that in another blog). My section of the exhibit has to do with pieces of work that have been made by the artist using only the tools of Second Life. The section will be called "Untouched" and will include sculpture, jewelry, and photography. I am disqualifying from MY section of the exhibit anything in which the artist made something in out-of-world and uploaded it to Second Life, which means I am excluding post-processed photos, builds with textures on them, clothing, sculpties, etc. It does not mean that things with these features are not art; it means that I am making my one small section about "untouched" work. What I am trying to do is examine how the tools of Second Life constrain and inspire the artists who use them to work and talk about the "reality" of la deuxième vie.

I have sent inquiries out looking for artists who work this way, and I have been to several galleries, but it's been frustrating. It is a foreign idea in many people's mind that one could create art from the tools simply available to them in Second Life. Many who I have encountered have said, "Well, you can't do much without textures." And some think the tools in SL are simply not artistic tools. I read an article about one artist, Arahan Claveau, who said, "I don’t see pictures from SL as art in any way. No matter how complex they are, to me they are still just snapshots.”

I was frankly, irritated by this statement, so I spoke to a friend whom I respect. He suggested to me that Mr. Claveau's snapshots are probably just that--snapshots. Mr. Claveau has taken the time to learn other software and other artistic techniques (I went to his exhibition--it was nice), but he has not pushed himself to learn the craft of using the tools in Second Life very extensively. However he remarks, "If you want to do something, you can do it if you have the talent and desire. If you don’t do it, it’s just laziness."

Well, Mr. Claveau, I challenge you to take a good look at the work of some of the artists I have contacted. First, I would not call Random Calliope's work at all lazy. Random spends sometimes months on one piece, torturing prims to the desired shape, building them on his living avatar models (friends or himself in female form), infinitely adjusting glow, transparency, shininess, brightness, etc., finding form and beauty in the outcomes he can achieve with the building tools available to him. They are not "confrontation," as you would like your art to be, Mr. Claveau; they are form and beauty.

Then take a look at the work of Michelle Babii. Michelle admits (as I do) that she is not very skilled with Photoshop. Hence she would rather take a good photo right off using the Second Life tools than mess it up with unskilled manipulation of filters, smudges, and adjustments. Her photography IS a copy of all the textures that others have brought into Second Life. However, she relies only on the tools given to her in Second Life to create photos of incredible beauty, creating the ultimate mash-up of other people's textures within her frame and using her adjustments of light and environment in Second Life. She relies on the moment of her capture, much as a RL photographer would have relied on the tools in her hands to create a photograph. (My aforementioned friend explained to me once that Richard Avedon left the black frame around his photographs to prove that the composition and the spontaneity of the photograph were all captured at the exact right moment and composed in the best way there and then and not altered or cropped later on. Michelle is doing this, sans the black frame.)

I have to say, Mr. Claveau, a well-composed and lit "snapshot" beats an overprocessed "photo" any day. It also takes a lot more skill and artistry to do what both Random and Michelle are doing than taking photo-sourced images and slapping them on a prim.

To other artists on SL: I respect you all and you all have a place here. There is an amazing wealth of art and architecture available on Second Life. Why confine my appreciation of your work to what's not possible in RL (because I am so into Gracie Kendal's paintings at Cetus and Pippistrello Bonetto's and Semiramis Theas' and I could go on and on ) or to the not-possible (cheers, Mr. Douglas Store, because I spend more time at Dynafleur than just about anyone else, I have heard)? I keep poking Frank with suggestions for his part of the exhibit because there are SO many artists doing work in Second Life that is amazing, evocative, beautiful, emotional, so on, so forth. If I were to exhibit all the artists I appreciate on SL, they would need more than the Museo di Storia Naturale to hold them all.

I may or may not personally like your work (because I don't think that art's job is solely to provoke--I think that's manipulative and cliched and one-dimensional). But it doesn't mean I wouldn't call it art, Mr. Claveau.


Dale Innis said...

ooo, that sounds like fun. I think I have a couple of scripted dynamic sculptures I might want to show you... :)

I agree Arahan Claveau is being overly harsh and dismissive in the quotes in that article, but I also agree the current Arthole show is well worth seeing. The people who make the best art aren't always the most agreeable people. :)

Lixena Lamourfou said...

You make some excellent points Harper.....I too do not agree with Mr. Claveau. Art is relative.
`*.¸.*´ LIXENA
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Botgirl Questi said...

Hi Harper! I especially appreciate art when my perception is shifted from its usual viewpoint and I see something in a different way...through the mind's eye of the artist. I appreciate your desire to "limit" yourself to the tools within Second Life. I personally find that intentional simplicity in art, music and writing is a valuable discipline that enhances clarity.