“Our dreams are a second life.” ~Gerard de Nerval
By Cat Boccaccio.
What if you logged into Second Life one fine virtual day and your inventory was gone forever… empty… a window full of nothingness? The majority of SLers would likely be very upset–such is the power of inventory over us. The power of things, of status, memories and mementos.
Now imagine rezzing and deleting your entire inventory–everything–on purpose. What could possibly prompt someone to commit such a wildly reckless act?
Art, that’s what. Painter/performance artist Kristine Schomaker, who is Gracie Kendal in Second Life and whose installations include 2000 Avatars and ‘Ce n’est pas une peinture’, has a new project which she calls Binge and Purge and yes, she plans to delete her entire inventory, piece by piece. Her stated rules:
-Buy Buy Buy. I will spend the 20,000L I currently have in Second Life until it is gone. (Done)
-I will rez 15000 prims worth of ‘stuff’ from my inventory every 2-3 weeks.
-after the 2-3 weeks, I will delete all 15000 prims. (This will include all my art, presents, furniture, houses, clothes, pictures, notecards, landmarks, calling cards, collected art, etc) EVERYTHING.
-I will take pictures of my inventory window/the interface after each purging
-Each Binge and Purge will be documented through filming and photography.
-Everything I own in Second Life will be on this sim and eventually deleted.
I have to admit the first rule sounds like a ton of fun. I would love to run out and buy like a Barbie in a concerted effort to rid myself of L$20,000. Oh the outfits, the gadgets, the art! The rez and delete part, not so much. But Gracie has already rezzed the first 15,000 prims onto the sim, which is set aside for this project, and the first “delete” is scheduled for Saturday, September 1 (time TBA).
What I saw when I recently visited the sim was something between Inside Gracie Kendal (“There’s no such thing as a hole into somebody’s brain!” “Yes, there is.”) and a fantastical garage sale. Somehow reading about the project on her site and in other blogs did not prepare me for the reaction I experienced on seeing all this… stuff, all the things Gracie has gathered and now started to put on display–some crazy trivial bits and bobs, some massive works of art, some of the collection expensive, unusual, unfathomable or deeply personal. No sex beds or other incriminating objects so far, but who knows what future reveals may bring?
The demolition of Ms Kendal’s inventory has less impact (to me) than the fact that she chooses to do so publicly. These articles– the horses, poses balls, buildings, swirling orbs, cars, and so on– are set out with deliberation; at least they appear to be. There is an air of spectacle about it. At times it is a bit unsettling, as if Gracie is showing us too much, or we are lingering too long.
Gracie admits there was much in her inventory that she had forgotten about, as well as much that she sincerely treasures. And that it will be difficult to remove some items from her life forever. I suppose if there is nothing meaningful and important in your inventory, then you have not lived much of a second life.
It’s hard not to think about a parallel expedition in RL. I think of two scenarios: one, in which a Buddhist monk, for example, voluntarily eschews worldly goods and pleasures. In the second, a person loses all material goods in a fire or other catastrophe.
Ms Kendal is dissolving her current inventory, denying herself material but not other pleasures: music, art, friendship, romance. She will, however, be homeless, as the early monks were. Will she wander Second Life with an alms bowl? Many of us do that already… we rely on the generosity of others to support and encourage us. Gracie herself was granted the sim that houses Binge and Purge for 5 months–someone has placed US$1500 into Gracie’s alms bowl for this art project. I have had a huge amount of support from friends and clients. Artists have always had patrons. A patron allows an artist to be a kind of creative monk: her home, her possessions, sometimes her relationships, take a secondary place to her art.
No comparison to someone who wanders, dazed, from a heap of rubble that was once his home, with only the clothes on his back, right? Well, having the idea and executing it are different matters. Gracie finds that seeing her Second Life belongings, some of them with very emotional associations, made her realize just how difficult, even painful, losing some of these items may be. She has made her sex bed, and now must lie in it. This is art, this is performance, this requires commitment, and there is an element of unpredictability. By the end of it Gracie may very well feel battered and broken, as did the dazed victim of a house fire. She may feel exhilerated. She doesn’t know where this will take her, what the conversations may be, how this will affect her or me or you. That is the fascination.
There has been a minor controversy about this art installation, aside from the usual art “experts” exclaiming that it isn’t art! and I just took out the trash = art! No, a main objection seems to be the disrespect to fellow artists for deleting their work without permission. We are not talking about RL works of art; this is no rare and pretty Renoir that Shirley MacLaine plans to rip off the wall and toss into the fireplace. Gracie’s inventory only allows the storage of pixels, prims, sculpts and mesh objects; no canvases were smeared in the creating of this inventory. For 2D work at least, they are copies of RL art, scanned into a computer or otherwise uploaded into Second Life. Most 3D pieces are also not unique, but sold, as most art in SL, in unlimited quantities. Even limited edition art still has siblings floating about in cyberspace, and probably in hard drives.
Maybe Gracie has that one unique and irreplaceable sculpture, tossing off particles and awing the eyeballs. Then let’s change the name of the exhibit to Binge and Purge, Except For One Thing That I Really Value. Does that suddenly render the whole exercise meaningless, or is it just me?
Whatever Ms Kendal possesses, she possesses. They are her objects to do with what she pleases, whether they are gifts or purchases. She can store beer in a Polke, or have sex on a Fluno, or delete a Boccaccio. Beer and sex… possibly disrespectful. Delete? Not if no disrespect is intended. In fact the art deleted makes the artist part of the spectacle. (Gracie, you may find gifts of art in your Received Items!)
Surely the most meaningful part of Second Life is not the things, prims and pixels. As Gracie performs the inventory dance for all of us to witness, she and we begin to ask ourselves questions about property, consumerism, priorities. What do we need to live fully and happily? What is truly important in our lives? How can we change our lives to focus on the things that matter most?
I have a confession: I’m a wannabe minimalist.
And I use the term wannabe loosely because this minimalism thing? It’s a work in progress. I’m not a minimalist. But I deeply strive to live with less.
I know. It sounds crazy. Less stuff? What type of person on earth wants less stuff? The natural tendency is to accumulate. It’s weird and unconventional to not want more. We’re taught to always strive for more. Buy the bigger home, acquire more friends and followers, log more hours, and get more money and power. But where does this really get us? And how does this make a positive impact on humanity? How can we derive meaning from less when the focus is always on more?”
Photographs by Cat Boccaccio.
For slum magazine.