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.

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My Lulu book… UPDATED!!

May 17, 2007 at 8:56 pm (art, culture, drawing, interesting, painting, second life, secondlife)

Update (06/03/07): I got my Lulu book in the mail a couple of weeks ago and it looks really good – I’m very happy with the print quality. So yes, go ahead and order yours!! 🙂 I am now officially hyping it.

****

I’ve been curious about exploring the whole print-on-demand world for a while, mostly because the biggest professional disappointment I’ve faced is my lack of a catalog of my work. It seems like every few months, something percolates up and seems to turn into a real lead in terms of someone showing interest in publishing a commercially available book of my work (ie, like the kind you’d get in Barnes & Noble or Amazon)… and then it all dissapates and turns into nothing. This has happened over and over. (Oh well.)

And so, in lieu of all that, I have turned to the last refuge of a scoundrel: print-on-demand. I have mixed feelings about this venture. On one hand, it is humbling (to put it mildly) to see my art alongside homegrown cookbooks and step-by-step get-rich-quick schemes. But aren’t I supposed to be the kind of person who gets a kick out of selling catalogs of her work next to cookbooks, etc? Isn’t my art supposed to be totally demystified and just a part of my everyday life? I thought so… so why does this feel weird?

In the “pro” column, I have total editorial control over the book. I did the layout myself; it’s for sale as long as I want it to be for sale for and not a moment longer. My friend Bryan Campen wrote the essay and I chose the drawings that made the cut. So that is all good.

I think I will feel better once I have the thing in my hands and can see it, and all these nagging questions I have (is the print quality any good? can you read the text? what about the colors? and so on) can go away. If for nothing else, it’s a good way of having images of my work around to show to people – the joy of POD is that you can print exactly as many as you want, so if only one gets printed and bought by me then there’s nothing wrong with that.

I decided to make my first POD book out of my Second Life drawings, because they’ve been the true canary in a coalmine for my work lately. Anything that I have thought of as being professionally risky (like posting and really pushing the work on Flickr), I’ve tried out on the SL drawings. Because they are less personal and feel different than the main body of my work, I feel ok making them the sacrificial lambs (yes, they are both caranies and lambs, lucky them!) where, if something goes wrong and they’re somehow seen as “lesser than” the rest of my work… well, I can live with that. They’re fun. They’re an experiment. They don’t take long to do. They’re pages from my sketchbook. I’m not taking them as deadly seriously as I do the rest of my work.

So, I’ll get the first copy of my book next week. In the meantime, if you want to check it out on Lulu, you can do so here. I’m not officially hyping it until I can get all my neurotic questions answered, but if you go ahead and order it before then and aren’t happy because the colors suck (or whatever), let me know and we’ll work something out. Or you can wait until I see the first copy.

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p.s. feel free to digg the book and make it delicious and so forth…

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(that time of the semester)

April 19, 2007 at 2:18 pm (art, culture, drawing, interesting, life, second life, secondlife, teaching, thoughts)

Confession: I need to go draw. Desperately. It’s killing me not to. But I am so exhausted from a variety of school/life stuff, that I just can’t get it together to actually make something. I keep promising myself, “This weekend… this weekend…” I never have a problem with drive or desire or not having enough ideas. In this case, it’s purely energy that’s holding me back.

Yesterday morning, as I was getting ready to teach my Kitsch class, I got an email from the department chair asking me to fill in for her in one of her classes, and to do a section for the class on Second Life. As tired as I was, I made it work and before i knew it, her students and I had spent three hours in SL. By the end of the class, she invited me to propose a Second Life class for her and this morning I spent some time working on that proposal a bit. I’ll post it here as soon as I’ve had a bit of time to think about it.

Usually, as a teacher, you get excited about what the class gets excited about. There’s an artist somewhere that you mention to a student; next thing you know they’re raving about it to their classmates and suddenly you see things in the work you never saw before. They get excited and you get excited – and you see the world through their excited eyes. My experience yesterday with the class in SL was a little different.

I could characterize the students’ reaction to SL (and it was the first time most of them had ever seen it) as “fascinated but repulsed” – probably the best reaction I could have hoped for, although I hadn’t realized it before. I tried to be as cheerful and bubbly as possible, showing them a variety of sites in world; they reacted with a mix of disgust and horror. Almost immediately, they started questioning the ownership of the space, bringing up questions of censorship and the intrusion of branding, wondering aloud about morality, responsibility, scarcity and the inherent conservatism of the space. It was amazing. And the more they looked at me with total and complete horror and fear in their eyes from seeing this “new world” unfold in front of me, the more I wanted to show them.

They represent exactly what SL has been missing – they are, individually and as a group, a critical voice. SVA students are wonderfully anti-corporate and distrusting of (and very savvy about) marketing campaigns. They’re artists; they know all how images can be manipulated. So their very anti-SL reaction is what has now convinced me that SVA really does need a presence there. If this really is the future of entertainment, advertising, etc., then I want a group of smart naysayers in there, questioning everything and raising hell. And, of course, I would be thrilled to help lead them there.

So, keep your fingers crossed. I really have to see how my schedule shakes out over the next couple of semesters, but I would like to do this.

And on that note: in lieu of showing a brand-new drawing, here is one of my SL drawings. This one is of a nude beach… at which most of the avatars were wearing clothes (go figure):

beachsm1.jpg

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More feedback, please.

March 27, 2007 at 11:23 am (art, culture, drawing, interesting, life, painting, personal, second life, secondlife, thoughts)

I’ve been thinking about making a travelogue of my “adventures” in Second Life. My thoughts behind this are that everything that I dislike about SL could actually be resolved in drawings of the space. They could be made more:
personal
imperfect
feminine (although I’m not even so sure what I mean about that)
organic
real

…at least to me.

What’s interesting to me about this project is my reaction to the space, just like how in other work, what interests me is my reaction to politics or the news, etc. This is about injecting me into a space (SL as a whole) I see as being sterile and lifeless.

Basically, I’m a mess, and I’m just trying to bring my messiness to this clean world. This is a first, very timid step in that direction.

Anyway. Here’s the drawing:

watercolor drawing of zen center in second life

It’s of my friend Neal Nomad’s (that would be his SL name) Zen Center, one of my favorite places in SL. I want to make a little diary of all the places I go to, along with my rambling text.

If you want to see it bigger, go here.
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