“Our dreams are a second life.” ~Gerard de Nerval
by Jami Mills, for rez magazine.
Maya Paris is one of those artists that defies categorization.She brings us one unique and unpredictable creation after another. Maya specializes in exquisite large-scale interactive 3D installations, and it’s easy to take her exceptional art at face value, as imaginative, spontaneous and fun. Oh, but you’d be missing so much. For you see, Maya enjoys opening people’s eyes, presenting stunning, vibrant installations, but educating all the while. Above all, Maya Paris is a master storyteller, and she has many wondrous stories to tell.
And don’t be taken in by her frivolity. Maya is making some very serious statements and wherever she trains her focus, we are sure to learn and benefit. An institution in the SL art world, Maya has been plying her art here for years. For those of you who are familiar with Maya’s keen eye and satirical wit, you’ll appreciate this intimate peek into her world. For those of you being introduced to this SL original for the first time, all I can say is you’re in for an eye-popping ride.
Maya invited me to her exotic and fanciful installation, Veparella, for this interview. There we were, sitting on two enormous red chairs, particles flying every which way, Maya with her impossibly tall beehive, studded with a ripe banana, she was clearly in her element.
Jami Mills: Maya, thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to meet with me and to let our readers get acquainted with you and your wonderful work.
Maya Paris: Thanks for asking 😉
Jami Mills: I first became aware of your work later in your SL career with The Path, a collaborative work that Bryn Oh organized in the surrealist “exquisite corpse” style, featuring nine artists (Bryn Oh, Scottius Polke, Marcus Inkpen, Colin Fizgig, claudia222 Jewel, Rose Borchovski, Desdemona Enfield, Douglas Story , and of course yourself). But you have been very prolific over the years. Your first major installation in SL was a work called Flaming Wildcat Choir for the 2008 Burning Life exhibition, featuring interactive bouncing wildcats with custom sounds. It must be hard to believe that was nearly four years ago. How would you say your work has evolved from earliest days of your flaming wildcats?
Maya Paris: Burning Life 2008 was full of extraordinary builds. I was next door to Dizzy Banjo’s build “I/O” and he very kindly gave me a tour of his exhibit which included a jaw-droppingly atmospheric pod-ride into the sky accompanied by a custom soundtrack. That and many of the other builds gave me a much better understanding of the the potential of working in an immersive, virtual space and the excitement of interactive builds. We can do so much here that is just not possible in the tangible world, including hanging you upside down and whirling you around without the need for public liability insurance. The bouncing wildcat was my first experiment with scripted interactivity and I’ll admit to having jumped around the room when it worked. Since then I’ve spent a lot of time getting to grips with what scripts can do. I have no background in coding, so started with what I call my junkyard process, which meant dismantling moddable items, repurposing them (I turned a hot tub into a swirling, wobbling skirt) and learning what they did as I went along. It’s all been a gradual learning process of finding out how to make particle effects, animations, sound effects and textures that work effectively and smoothly in SL. One of the great things about being here is how helpful and generous people are with their time. I owe a lot of people a big thank you.
I was amazed that we could sit at our computers, over 3,000 miles apart, building on the fly, laughing, experimenting wildly and creating something together.
Jami Mills: Well Maya, all of your fans owe you a big thank you, too. Since The Path, you have participated in several collaborative efforts. Your most recent being another ambitious Bryn Oh-curated collaboration, The Cube Project, which featured over 25 artists and was exhibited over an amazing 20 sims! Due to the obvious challenges in tying up 20 sims, it was only exhibited for 10 days and just closed a month ago. How do you like the collaborative process, and how different is it working with other artists, as opposed to creating work entirely on your own?
Maya Paris: I’m a fairly solitary builder most of the time, so it’s a pleasure to work collaboratively. My first experience of it was an impromptu experiment with Misprint Thursday, and I came away amazed that we could sit at our computers, over 3,000 miles apart, building on the fly, laughing, experimenting wildly and creating something together. The Path was a very interesting challenge – to create a loose storyline, to bring all the elements together and to coordinate all the artists in different time zones. Bryn did a fantastic job of coordinating everyone.
Jami Mills: She certainly did.The Path was so well received, that I understand Bryn has put together The Path II.
Maya Paris: Yes, another great series of collaborative works.
Jami Mills: The Exquisite Corpse format must be very intriguing, especially when your colleagues are so talented.
Maya Paris: It certainly was. We took some time at the start to create a notecard with a rough outline of the “story”, which was a fascinating process.
Jami Mills: And Bryn started it off, but purely by chance….did you draw lots to see what order you went in?
Maya Paris: Bryn had devised a process where we chose coloured cubes to sit on, which had an order we were unaware of, but that was subject to some re-adjustment as we went.
I’ve had much more support in SL than I ever expected
Jami Mills: The Cube Project, which just closed September 1, was another collaboration you were involved in. Bryn said she wished it could have stayed up longer than 10 days, but the sims had to be re-allocated to other artists. Linden Endowment for the Arts (LEA) has provided you with several opportunities to exhibit your work – pieces that would never have been seen the light of day otherwise. How well do you think SL artists are supported here in SL and are you satisfied with how the LEA distributes the crucial exhibit space? If there were room for improvement, what problems need to be addressed first?
Maya Paris: I’ve had much more support in SL than I ever expected – from art groups, individual curators, and educational institutions like Kansas University and Santa Barbara City College (California), which have provided me with studio space. I’m massively grateful for that. People are putting an enormous amount of energy into the arts in SL and I include the LEA committee in that. I think they’re doing a great job. They’re also a new body (all volunteers I might add) and are addressing problems as they arise. They conducted some thorough feedback sessions after the last round and listened to everyone’s ideas for improvement. The layout of the sims seems to have been the greatest cause for concern and that’s been changed for the next round of artists. In the new arrangement, every sim has water on two sides.
Jami Mills: I was surprised to find so many of your works currently accessible to everyone. You have your Veparella piece (where we are having this interview), Sexicality, Light Bird, and Le Cactus. You have been very fortunate to have so much of your work available to the public.
Maya Paris: I am. The SBCC sims are run by Liz Russotti, chair of the Santa Barbara City College graphics department, and she’s been happy to host both Veparella and Le Cactus for much longer than is usual, and Lightbird is at installed at Minerva Island, Ohio State University’s Department of Women’s Studies teaching and research space, run by Ellie Brewster (Dr. Sharon Collingwood).
Jami Mills: Do you think that educational institutions are a good place for an artist to seek help with exhibit space, or do you think private patrons work as well?
Maya Paris: I’ve had good experiences with both. My first large build was at Zachh Cale’s project Z and I’ve also had the pleasure of building at Dividni Shostakovich’s Split Screen. I recently made myself a notecard of everyone who has asked me to exhibit, or helped in some way. It’s VERY long :)) We’d be here all night if I listed them all, and I came away from that feeling astonished that there are so many people out there working for the love of it.
Jami Mills: (smiles) Your art has been described as “quirky” and “light-hearted”, with one reviewer even calling it “loopy”! These are all very apt descriptions. I particularly liked the introduction to your 2011 piece, Veparella, where you introduced the main character as “a scissor-wielding superhero unleashed in a freak sewing accident”. Your work is very playful and whimsical, but that is not to say loose or unfocused. On the contrary. You infuse an enormous amount of energy into your work and devote a great deal of time to details that might be overlooked as first glance by the casual observer. It is hard work to make things look free and easy, isn’t it?
Maya Paris: Yes. If it looks easy, then I’m doing my job right.
I see my Crash Bang Trollop and Celebrity Blow Your Tits Off builds as satires.
Jami Mills: Your work is so eclectic, it is hard to put it in any particular category. It almost seems as though your pieces might have been created by different artists, they are so unique. But one thing seems to come through in all of them that tie them together….they have a sense of humor and celebrate the fun aspects of life. You don’t take life very seriously, do you? (Smiles)
Maya Paris: This might come as a surprise, but I take life rather more seriously than people might expect. I think that humour is a great vehicle for serious ideas. I see my Crash Bang Trollop and Celebrity Blow Your Tits Off builds as satires.The first was a commentary on the crazy tornado that is the beauty industry, and the second a humorous side-swipe at our obsession with celebrity culture.
Jami Mills: You’ve been very busy in the last year, beginning with The Path last October, Quick Quick Soon at Interact, Le Cactus at Virtual Montmartre and SBCC, Crash Bang Trollop at LEA 10, Light Bird at Minerva Isle (Ohio State University), Celebrity Blow Your Tits Off at LEA 10, and The Cube Project. How do you find the time?
Maya Paris: Strictly between you and me, I did way too much work this year. I worked late into the night way too many times and am trying to figure out a more healthy pace.
Jami Mills: So you are being pulled in more than one direction, by more than one world,from your very first major work, Flaming Wildcat Choir, you have introduced interactive elements into your pieces, which by their nature grab the viewers and pull them into the experience. You don’t seem to be satisfied with presenting a piece for observation from a distance. Describe for our readers what appeals to you most about the interactive qualities of your work.
Maya Paris: I see SL as a new kind of public space, a space of possibilities. It’s about accessibility, engagement and the players customizing their own experience. So interactive builds are central to that idea. They don’t come alive until people are there, like participatory performance or theatre. I love seeing what people then do, creating their own scenarios, their own unpredictable interpretations. There have been times I’ve laughed until my face hurt, watching the insane creativity going on.
Jami Mills: You also seek to educate. In Le Cactus, you direct your viewers to biographical information about Josephine Baker and Valaida Snow. I had never heard Valaida before. She’s amazing!
Is art only valid if you can sell it? Is what we are making “virtual” art ?
Maya Paris: Isn’t she? I hadn’t heard about her either until I started researching for that project. I was asked to make something for the Virtual Montmartre sim, which is part of a joint educational project by Dr. Bryan Carter of Central Missouri State University and the Sorbonne, Paris and Le Cactus was the result of that. The Virtual Harlem and Montmartre sims are linked and co-sponsored by the National Black Programming Consortium and the Government of Norway. One of my SL highlights was a tour of virtual Montmartre that Dr. Carter and the team gave for a group of students in the Sorbonne (RL classroom). I was able to accompany them and listen to an artist who lives on a remote hillside in the Caribbean talk about her paintings. It was just an extraordinary thing to be able to do.
Jami Mills: Le Cactus is a wonderful exhibition. Many people have speculated that until virtual art can be monetized and gallery owners can figure out how to profit from its sale, virtual art will continue to play second fiddle to the traditional visual arts. What do you see as the future of virtual art? Does the difficulty of marketing it actually end up giving it a purity that might be lost if it had more substantial commercial appeal?
Maya Paris: Is art only valid if you can sell it? Is what we are making “virtual” art ? The space is virtual but the art is as real as any other. Will the 19th/20th century concept of a commodity-driven art world survive in the 21st century? My favourite art experience this year is Turner prize-winner Jeremy Deller’s Sacrilege, which is part of UK’s 2012 festival http://sacrilege2012. Sacrilege is a large-scale bouncy-castle version of Stonehenge, once a public “monument” with free access for all, and now tightly controlled and “untouchable”, so there is a certain irony in making it “bounceable” 🙂
Jami Mills: My goodness. You have asked so many thought-provoking questions. Perhaps “virtual art” is a misnomer. Would “digital art” be more accurate, for I completely agree, it is very real and very good.
Maya Paris: Yes, it may be being used for convenience, but I don’t distinguish between work I made for, for want of a better word, “real” space and this virtual platform.
Jami Mills: What makes this world “virtual” is less applicable to artists and writers…..
Maya Paris: Exactly.
Jami Mills: This interview is no less valid in SL than if it were published in The New Yorker.
“The single most significant new platform for creativity is the Web, with its immediacy, its democratic ability to reach new audiences.”
Maya Paris: I’d like to include a quote from Jeremy Deller (Turner prize-winner) as I think it’s relevant.
Jami Mills: Please.
Maya Paris: Jeremy Deller: “The single most significant new platform for creativity is the Web, with its immediacy, its democratic ability to reach new audiences.”
Jami Mills: I like that.
Maya Paris: Me too 😉
Maya Paris: I’m hoping we are on the brink of a culture of inclusion.
Jami Mills: Musicians all over the world are having to tour to make money because the old way of selling records has been completely transformed by the Web. With technological tools (like Pro Tools) available at affordable prices, the world of creativity is opening up to countless people who would otherwise not have a platform. It’s very exciting. There are some simply amazing musicians performing in SL. I hope you’ve had the time to hear some of them.
Maya Paris: I have. In my early days in SL (when I was still rattling around trying to figure this place out), I went to a lot of concerts and was flabbergasted that I could sit and hear people jamming in Canada from my home.
Jami Mills: The old paradigms are disappearing at an astonishing pace. I recently heard three musicians hook up from disparate places around the world and perform a live, real-time concert. Who’d have thought that was possible just a few years ago?
Maya Paris: Exactly 🙂 Yes, it feels like the beginning of a sea-change and it’s an exciting place to be.
Jami Mills: Speaking of music, you use sound very effectively in your work. How important is sound in your pieces?
Maya Paris: It’s a very important component in creating atmosphere. The music that accompanies this piece (in Vaparella) on the media stream was written by a RL composer friend, Emily Wilkins.
Jami Mills: It’s very effective.
Maya Paris: Yes, she did a grand job with the slightly strange brief I gave her 😉
Nothing beats SL at the moment for access to a varied world-wide audience.
Jami Mills: Smiles. For the technical geeks within our readership (and I assure you, they are legion), can you describe the software and hardware you use, and speak about some of the challenges working in the SL environment?
Maya Paris: Mac – Firestorm is preferred viewer (great build-tools). Audacity and Garageband for sound. Photoshop and Gimp for images. Qavimator for animations – and wrist-ache.
Jami Mills: Hahaha. Carpal tunnel syndrome?
Maya Paris: Not quite, but on the verge sometimes:)
Jami Mills: You have written about other virtual worlds (grids) and “hypergridding” between those worlds. Are you, like claudia222 Jewell, doing any work on grids other than SL? And if so, could you describe how you perceive the differences. Do you think “hypergridding” between SL and other grids will become more commonplace in the future?
Maya Paris: There are still some technical difficulties in creating standalone virtual worlds (stability and lack of physics for example), but I’ve experimented on other grids and there’s some very interesting work going on, particularly Marc Moana’s AIRE project and Alpha Auer, Selavy Oh and Max Moswitzer’s La Plissure du Texte on NGrid (http://lpdt2.blogspot.co.uk/ ). I’d like to think that hypergridding will become more commonplace. (Not possible into SL at the moment.) The main advantage I see in creating your own stand-alone grid is autonomy and being able to export and preserve your prim-based work from SL (great mesh creators like claudia can be much more flexible). The disadvantage is sparse population. Nothing beats SL at the moment for access to a varied world-wide audience.
Jami Mills: claudia mentioned to me that she showed you Cloud Party and was explaining how it worked. Is that something you think you might try at some point?
Maya Paris: I have tried it and think that it’s most useful for those working with mesh. I would also say that their introductory tutorials are excellent.
Jami Mills: From your 2010 work Piezo, we learned how deep your commitment is to sustainable technology. You provide links for your viewers to access information about how to more responsibly consume the world’s precious resources. Have environmental issues always been an important focus of yours?
Maya Paris: Yes, i’m a windpower loving cyclist.
Jami Mills: Maya, I can’t begin to express how much fun this interview has been and how informative your thoughtful responses. On behalf of all of our readers, thank you and we look forward to many new and wondrous works from one of the most exciting artists in SL.
Maya Paris: Thank you so much! It’s been a pleasure.
Photographs by Jami Mills
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