Looking at: AM Radio

July 2, 2008 at 11:20 pm (art, second life, secondlife, Uncategorized) (, )

After a very long day in the studio, I thought I’d take a break from writing about myself. My weird little “looking at” series has proven surprising popular and so I thought I’d give it another try. And so, here’s another entry onto the list of artists who I love and adore and I think should get wider recognition for their work.

Meet AM Radio. Yes, that’s the (only) name I know him by. AM Radio is an avatar in the game Second Life, which is to say he is the adopted persona of some actual live human being who I have never met. Here is a picture of our avatars talking:

Weird enough for you? Friends reading this know that I covet the strange and seek it out as much as possible, and Second Life has no shortage on strangeness. It is in short a 3-d “virtual” environment where you can interact with other people’s avatars. But what makes SL actually interesting is its creative potential. Anyone can potentially build anything; if you have an avatar (and anyone can create one for free), you have the ability to “rez” an item out of absolutely nothing – with a click of your mouse, your avatar can make a cube appear out of the clear blue. With some tweaking and practice, chances are you can change this cube around (add to it, change the texture, alter the size) so that it resembles… something else. People have built all sorts of things in SL – buildings, clothing, animals, food, whatever. And they have achieved various levels of competence in creating these things: For the most part, the tree that is growing in the corner of your SL yard doesn’t actually look like a real tree (it’s cartoony and clunky, the colors are a bit off) , but it is readable enough that you instantly know what it’s supposed to be. And, you know, reality is what you make of it – in SL, you agree to suspend a certain amount of your disbelief so that you can accept that the person standing next to you has wings or whatever.

What AM does is he uses the SL to build interactive installations. Eschewing a gallery space (yes, there are art galleries in SL), he takes over plots of land and turns them into mysterious, cinematic sets. With often no direction and no prompting, your avatar stumbles across this collection of various, curious objects in a desert or a field, and is left to try and piece together a narrative. What you’re presented with is a very strange mix; think of David Lynch meets Hudson River School and you’re in the right territory. As you move around the space, your avatar can interact with “poseballs” which animate it into various actions, generally ones that evoke longing, sadness, or contemplation.

So, the objects: As I said earlier, things in SL don’t usually look like they would in reality, and this is just a convention of the game. But AM has found a way to create incredibly detailed objects out of dozens or sometimes hundreds of components. The effect is not an object that is 100% “realistic” (to do so would be impossible at this point) but as close to real as, say, a very finely crafted oil painting. All of his objects and environments share the same sepia palette, creating a really tightly controlled vocabulary between works.

What’s amazing about his work is that most art in Second Life is that it is able to draw upon a nostalgia for old items in a completely synthetic environment. It’s one thing for Joseph Cornell to put together a collection of items and for us to have us react to them as sentimental, beloved (if somewhat forlorn) collages of everyday things, but it’s another when you’re in a place where absolutely none of those things exist, have to be created painstakingly by hand, and then placed in a manner which encourages interaction with it.

It, naturally, works best when you just experience it, which you can to an extent in this video by the artist:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

posted with vodpod

The artist’s Flickr stream is also littered with clues to an overarching narrative, mixed in with straight project documentation.

I was writing about SL art at Brooklyn is Watching for a while and I’m not anymore, but I really wanted to just put out one final article about an artist whose work I really care about. As it works out, maybe it’s better that I’m writing about this here and not at BiW, because I think his work deserves to be seen out of the context of SL – SL is the medium, but it’s not the end. It’s just like the way a really great painting can take on a whole new life when put next to a sculpture – sometimes moving something out of the conversation around which it was created can be the best thing for it.

Anyway. Back to work for me. More drawings very soon.



  1. AM Radio Video « Around the Grid said,

    […] Thanks to Amy Wilson. […]

  2. Carlos from Philly said,

    When i was in highschool, i was in a band called AM Radio. Almost immediately after starting it, i regretted doing so (without going into too much detail, one of the members was a guitarist whose favorite album was Nirvana Unplugged; he wasn’t at all interested in the noise/artrock jam band i was hoping for).
    Not at all related to what’s happening here, but it’s why you’re reading this.
    Your blog post made me think of it– probably the first time in five years.

    Also, i heard the word “Tupac” or “2Pac” or whichever after hitting “Comment”. Just FYI.

  3. Carlos from Philly said,

    Oh, one more thing:
    The other day while i was at work, i conjured up the idea of an ascii second life– something of a terminal based interface for SL junkies to “plug in”to while at work.

    *note: i have never used Second Life before, nor do i intend to, so excuse me if the idea sounds silly or illogical.

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