Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Friday, April 9, 2010
Ara Vella, Tezcatlip0ca Bisiani and I went to the opening of Through the Virtual Looking Glass, a mixed reality exhibition being held at UMASS Boston’s Harbor Gallery. UMASS sits on Columbia Point, where the Puritans alit, and is the site of one of the earliest railroads in the country. It’s an appropriate venue to show virtual world art, this gallery with its pioneering backdrop.
We saw the organizer, professor of philosophy and director of the Virtual Art Initiative, Gary Zabel (Georg Janick in SL), buzzing around the gallery in full curator mode, greeting guests, checking on artworks, and glancing over at the crudités. He welcomed us with an engaging conversation about each artist. I was immediately drawn to a small work in the corner of the gallery, a photograph printed on canvas depicting a lovely Maxfield Parish styled installation I’d seen in-world. I was delighted to meet the artist Alizarin Goldflake (Martha Jane Bradford) who patiently explained her technique for making digital drawings, captured in Second Life and exported onto canvas. The texture of the canvas exuded warmth, in contrast to the giclée prints nearby by Bryn Oh and Feathers Boa, which illustrated darker subject matters.
Zabel has brought together a well rounded combination of formats; prints, photo frames with rotating digital stills, machinimas and the real life counterparts to Second Life creations, such as the Mayan styled imagery of Big Psomm 2, painted onto wall sized tarps, sent from Poland by Piotr Kopik (Olza Koenkamp) and the tangled telephone lines of communication from Misprint Thursday (Karina Mitchell) - “Just pick up the phone and call me” her installation seems to plead.
One would have to know a little bit about Second Life in order to truly appreciate the work presented. An orientation to the medium of virtual world art making would be helpful to non-users. While most of the work stands true on its own, it is the process of mixing mediums and realities that make these creations especially compelling.
Monday, March 15, 2010
From Loki in Norway to Anansi in Ghana to Tezxatlipoca in MesoAmerica, tricksters act as conduits to the spiritual. They serve as teachers, working along the boundaries of what is socially acceptable, finding their manifestation through human imagination, forcing us to reflect on the roles we play – whether they are imparted upon us or chosen - through surprise or upset. Through this process, the trickster hopes to get us thinking about our social boundaries and questions why they exist or if they make sense. In many native cultures, a mask was used to conjur up the voice of the trickster, confronting and teaching through dance and performance.
In Chatroulette, an “uncensored mess” of a site, visitors have the chance at a boundary-less experience where anything goes. There is a glaring lack of imagination that abounds via the hands of the majority of users – namely 22 year old boys and older men with hands on themselves. The perfect zone for a trickster figure to insert herself, in this case, in the form of a kitsune. “Who are you”, she cocks her head, sniffs, and silently confronts. “What are you doing here?” Technology plows forward, giving us hardly any time to reflect. Likewise, our social mores and rules have little time to catch up. Chatroulette is the ultimate reality show, exposing all of us as voyeurs. With the “next button” so close to the fingertips, it’s easy to make a quick scene and depart, before anyone finds out who you really are. Kitsune hopes to give you pause.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Friday, January 1, 2010
A new year is often a time for reflection as well as an opportunity to cast off bad memories. I’ve mentioned Gordon Bell (MyLifeBits) who has stored as much of his life as possible, every scrap of evidence, hoping to facilitate a reconstruction of his life – an almost-accurate memory aided by technology. Viktor Mayer-Schoneberger examines the attempt at “perfect remembering” in his book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. Mayer-Schoneberger is considerably alarmist in his focus, describing the dangers of permanent digital memory, citing cases of particular online behaviors that come back to haunt professional and personal lives. He suggests that self-destruct dates be imposed on digital records. This isn’t a new idea; in fact, it’s one of the main functions in records and archival management.
courtesy of Marvel Comics
Is there a value in forgetting? “Within the abyss Lethe, measureless in sweep, glides smoothly on with placid stream, and takes away our cares.” (Seneca, Hercules Ferens) In Hades, the River Lethe offered the power of oblivion, allowing certain souls to forget all they had experienced in their lives, all the mistakes, all the pain. Writes Daniel Schacter, "Memory, for all that it does for us every day...for all the feats that can sometimes amaze us, can also be a troublemaker...” Our brain reconfigures memory, based on our present preferences and needs, affected by bias, absent-mindedness and misattribution.
Archivists spend years cataloging photographs and documents so that they are robustly described and better comprehended. When we reexamine the digital record of a life lived online, we – as spectators - likely take these records out of context. A photo of a group of women with cups in their hands may have little to no information associated with it – no time, no place, no description, so the spectator fills in the blanks (those cups are filled with beer, they sure look wasted!), making up a story to go along with the bits and pieces they observe. It’s easy to make assumptions, isn’t it? In her book, On Photography, Susan Sontag describes Marcel Proust’s attitude towards photographs – he considers them “a synonym for a shallow, too exclusively visual, merely voluntary relation to the past...whose yield is insignificant compared with the deep discoveries to be made responding to cues given by all the senses – the technique he called ‘involuntary memory’.”Mayer-Schonenberger panics about evidence left behind – I don’t doubt there are risks – but, like our own memory can be altered, so can the digital record.
The Virtue of Forgetting – interview with the author in Second Life