Several days ago I slipped into my virtual identity as Chrome Underwood with the click of a mouse, strapped on my invisible jetpack and headed straight up into the stratosphere to attend the opening of an art show so staggering in size that it took a sizeable chunk of the heavens just to contain it all.
The show, called “Kiss the Sky,” was curated by SL artist DanCoyote Antonelli (aka DC Spensley in Real Life), and sponsored by the New Media Consortium and the new Museum of Hyperformalism. This larger-than-real life show consisted of works by over a dozen well-known artists that have been dazzling the residents of Second Life with art installations since 2006. Collectively, their work has become a virtual art movement recently named Hyperformalism.
Put in its simplest terms, Hyperformalism is a type of abstract art created and displayed in a virtual environment. But to put it in its proper context, we should note that it is a direct descendant of the 20th Century art movement known as Formalism, or Modernism, which relied purely on color, line, shape and texture without reference to realism, content or context. In other words, in Formalism the aesthetic value of the object was based purely on its form.
Early in the 21st century, however, artists who began moving into Second Life soon realized that here they were not constrained by the laws of physics and other small annoyances, and were thus free from many of the limitations that their earthbound counterparts were subject to. In this new virtual environment they discovered that anything one can imagine can be created, as though with the wave of a magic wand. Well, not quite that easily, but it certainly has that kind of magic about it.
In a virtual environment, for instance, gravity is optional, so objects can be suspended in space,; they can be fully immersive, interactive, kinetic, and can also occur in 2, 3, and 4 dimensions simultaneously. One can even walk through walls if one knows how. So, to an artist, you must understand, this is virtual heaven. Perhaps that’s why this show took place at such a high altitude.
But all of this raises an important question. If anything one can imagine can be created out of thin air, so to speak, and the entire metaverse of Second Life is a wonderland of created objects and forms, why separate out a certain part of it and label it art? If we are now in an entirely new world – far, far, from the exhausting and boring constraints of the old – why drag all of the questions, quanderies, debates and dead ends of that intellectual world with us into this one? Why not start from scratch and redefine the entire notion of art? Even better, why not throw it away?
I hope to be revisiting this subject frequently in future posts; it’s an important subject, to say the least. A good part of my life was spent either making, exhibiting, or teaching art, and, not unlike a sibling with whom I’ve endured a tempestuous relationship over the years and yet still love him to death, I’m not exactly eager to part with it myself. I also don’t want to leave you with the impression that I’m belittling or ridiculing the artists of Second Life (or those of planet earth, for that matter).
It’s just that, having spent nearly a year in SL now, having seen many of its wonders and having talked to many of its most creative inhabitants, I’ve come to the conclusion that this may be one of the biggest opportunities – and challenges – of our lifetimes. Here we have a chance to start completely anew, to level the playing field – even become the playing field if we wish; and with the creative wattage that’s now plugged in here, we have a chance to become fellow synapses in the cosmic brain… to create without constraint. Hell, why bother to apply them now?
Here in the metaverse, since even the ground beneath us is a work of art, we have now all become artists. We don’t need chilled champagne and caviar to introduce someone’s work anymore; we just need to wander over, fly through, or take a ride on it and then sit back, pop open a beer and hang out on the back porch and marvel at it together, like we would if it were a newly pin-striped ’32 Ford street rod.
Whaddaya say we call it Hypernormalism?
*View the entire collection of photos taken by Chrome Underwood at the Kiss the Sky exhibit on flickr: