“Our dreams are a second life.” ~Gerard de Nerval
By Buttercup Thursday
If I disagree with you, it doesn’t mean I am stifling your free speech. If I think some SL art is joke, I’m not stopping you from creating similarly regrettable art, or even from liking such art. Or should I say “art”? (And, from now on no more quotation marks around the words art or artist, the categories are too subjective. My meaning will henceforth be ambiguous.)
What I am struggling with at the moment is: should there be standards for art in Second Life? This is not the real world, no matter how involved we become or what structures and artificial standards may be set up by residents. If you have RL photos of home-made trail mix, or take a snapshot of an SL sunset, no one can stop you from exhibiting this work in an inworld gallery. Build it, and they will come.
And what’s wrong with trail mix and sunsets? Trail mix is good; it can save your life if you find yourself starving in the woods. Sunsets are good, they are soooo pretty! Who are you or I to say these pictures aren’t worthy to be called art and displayed in Second Life?
There are self-appointed arbiters of taste and worthiness in our virtual world; gallery curators for example, and organizations like the LEA (Linden Endowment for the Arts). That’s fine, maybe even important–these established groups can help us filter out the sand from the sugar. We learn which curators and which organizations we can trust to show us interesting, intriguing, skillful work, and which to avoid. We also learn to independently explore new galleries and exhibits, and establish early on in a visit whether we want to linger or TP out before our head explodes.
My friend Cat said in a recent slum article that “so much SL photography seems thoughtless, shallow and clichéd”. I agree with Cat. I’m not a snob about SL photography: in the last few years some truly gifted artists have been displaying their work. And when esteemed RL artists saw the unlimited potential that is SL photography, and took to the virtual streets and meadows armed with their own SL cameras and sky presets galore, the art form received a welcome if overdue stamp of approval. (I think RL artists also discovered what SL photographers realized all along: that it’s fun.)
SL photographers, the good ones, are just as dedicated, often obsessed about their work as any artist in the real world. Some quick examples… the stunning collaboration that Cat wrote about, between Jessica Belmer and Corinne Helendale at Palais Orleans, and more recently, the superb collection “Virtual Americana” by Gabrielle Swindlehurst at the Art India Gallery. Many other talented SL photographers often remain undiscovered and unshown.
So, I get irritated when I see dull, sloppy work exhibited with great seriousness. But this is SL, so maybe I shouldn’t.
But I do.
I visited an extraordinary exhibit recently. The work on the wall took my breath away, and not in a good way. The artist’s name is Vark Twine, and he is currently on display at the tower of MKAC (Museo Karura Art Center) in Second Life.
I don’t know much about MKAC. It has been around since 2008 and I get a fairly steady stream of spam/notices from the curator/ owner, Ina Karura. The gallery has some impressively large buildings. I’m almost certain I’ve seen some real life artists at MKAC, and RL artists are always good for a bit of cred. If I’m a tiny bit vague about what I’ve seen there, it’s because I stopped heeding the calls to visit this or that event at MKAC. Why? Because of an innocent visit to an exhibit there about a year ago–something new, I was promised, in the world of erotic SL photography. Yay! I love erotic art AND new things!
I forget the artist’s name, but the queasy works I viewed a year ago still occasionally invade my nightmares. There were lovely, provocatively-posed naked bodies… so realistic! The hair… The faces… But what is wrong? Morph is what was wrong. Yes, that frightening meld of SL heads onto RL bodies. Gad, where do they get the RL cadavers? How long must the artists spend in their PhotoShop cells stitching these pieces together? Why don’t the bodies reject the pixel heads, like the human body rejecting an incompatible kidney?
I grant these morphs can be fun. Some friends have morph portraits as profile pics. Haha, cool (the trend seems to have abated, though). But would I call the morphs I saw that day art? HELL no.
As an example of a trusted, serious gallery that lost its standing and credibility, MKAC shone that day. And so I blissfully continued my tours of SL galleries, MKAC-less, loving some work, loathing other work, but generally respectful of the artists’ efforts.
Now I have stumbled upon a whole new category of inexplicable art (inexplicable because it’s there), and guess where? At MKAC. The notice invited all to an exhibit of erotic art. OK, my morph trauma was a year old, MKAC is still going strong while other galleries have crumbled, and tastes evolve. Time to give the old MKAC a second chance? You betcha.
Let me say first, you should go see this exhibit for yourself. Because I suspect I will be at a loss for words from now on. Because I honestly don’t know if this is a serious display or a parody. I can’t tell. It is just so delightfully AWFUL.
Vark Twine (SL name) is apparently a PhotoShop wiz in real life, using layers of textures and backdrops overlaid with photographs of nude women to create some kind of erotic collage. He seems to be mimicking this procedure using Second Life models. What you will see in this exhibit, on several confusing and difficult-to-navigate levels of the MKAC Tower, are textures and tricks, and lots of them. Bubbles, lightning, checkerboards, hearts, lettering, swirls, reflections, shadows, embossing, and an apparent favorite, jigsaw puzzle layers. Many, many complex layers, my friend, and that’s before the overlay of the “erotic” models. The avatars, their hair and clothes, and especially the awkward freebie poses are sorely, painfully outdated. Mr.Twine may be suffering from what I call Avatar Blindness, which is a phenomenon whereby the viewer projects so much of her/his self onto the pixel person, they don’t see the obvious flaws (consider the giant of a man with tiny head, laughably bulging muscles, and tyrannosaurus rex arms. Classic case of Avatar Blindness). In any case, this kaleidoscope of colors and patterns and bad avatars was an assault on this poor gallery-goer’s eyes. These pictures are closer to commercial efforts, and certainly not erotic. My first thought was the same as the one I had a year ago, at the morph exhibit: MKAC… what were you thinking?
There could be a million reasons why this work is being shown at a well-established gallery, not the least of which is that of course, all art is (allegedly) subjective. But I remain surprised at MKAC and at the many other galleries in SL that can’t or won’t distinguish between the good and bad, the objectively good and bad. The slapdash and the thoughtful. The cynical and the earnest. The artist ready to be exhibited, and the artist who has much to learn.
I can’t deny Mr. Twine’s PS skills, and he has a way of lighting the avatars that gives them a soft, natural glow. Realistic shading and skin tones are difficult to achieve with SL avatars, especially old ones. Kudos to the artist for this. And, his art is accessible to almost everyone, at L$50 per picture. He is clearly not cynical– perhaps just awesomely SL-inexperienced. Strangely, eerily, his pictures grew on me, in a retro, camp, earnest, madcap kind of way.
And ultimately, to his everlasting credit, they aren’t morphs.
For slum magazine