deconstructing a dynamic duo

By Persia Bravin

It’s not often that you get a glimpse of the furtive creative processes and intricate working relationships of Second Life artists. They tend to be elusive creatures; happiest toiling away in splendid isolation, hidden away on secret sky platforms in closed sims, blissfully content when allowed total privacy to build alone with no interruption and usually they can be, well, just plain anti-social. So when offered the chance to have a sneak preview of a new installation – plus a rare insight into one of SL’s most well-respected artistic collaborative relationships – I couldn’t refuse.

Douglas Story and Desdemona Enfield are the pioneering and critically-acclaimed artistic duo behind some of Second Life’s most famed builds. In the four years they have worked together, they have produced outstanding works of virtual art such as ‘DynaFleur’, ‘Ripple’ and ‘StormEye’ plus have contributed their undeniable skills and vision to a host of larger projects. This week, they unveil their latest piece at the Split Screen gallery entitled ‘D.Construct’, which by using innovative scripting quite literally deconstructs world-renowned pieces of real life art.

Both being accomplished in their own real life careers, I wanted to know more about this, one of the most famous art partnerships in virtual worlds; to understand their personalities and to maybe, just maybe, get some inside information on any artistic clashes and diva tantrums. But spend any length of time in their presence and you soon discover what warm, charismatic and yes, incredibly humorous people they both are.

PB: Hi, Douglas and Desdemona. Explain how you started working together originally…

DE: Much as I would like to say that I decided to work with Doug after a long competitive process in which I vetted a series of exhibit creators and then went through a rigorous process of decision making, I have to say instead that I met Douglas by chance at a social event. “Oh,” said Doug, “I see you write scripts.”

DS: That night I met Desdemona and, as she says, noted in her profile that she was a scripter. She agreed to do the job for me, and I asked, “So, how much would you want to do this?” She replied airily, “Oh, I don’t know. Just buy me three dresses.” (Note to future employers: she now charges actual money.)

PB: The offer of free clothes in any life does it for me too. But four years of working together in SL is almost a lifetime. How do you both share ideas and creative input equally?

DE: It is an ebb and flow process. The basic pattern is that Douglas imagines the overall concept of an exhibit and presents it to me by mocking up a few objects and diagrams. He tells me about his ideas, I listen, adding a comment here and there such as “Yes, that is possible” and “Yes, and you could also do this…” As we work together the interaction is light hearted, free spirited, humorous and mutually attentive. He has a wonderful sense of humor and there is a lot of reciprocal, playful talk. Any interviewer who has suffered through one of our vaudeville acts has seen this process in action. Our personalities mesh. We are very fortunate.

DS: What is the process like? Well, my standard joke is, “Desdemona does all the work. I just stand around and look pretty.” Which at some point in each project, when the building is done, is not far from the truth. The standing around part. Not the pretty part. But the process is pretty much as Desde describes, though she understates her role in the ideation process. When we start talking about a new build we are typically bouncing ideas off each other like mad, and I feel that the core ideas of what we do are just as much hers as mine. I consider Desdemona to be a lightning rod for creativity; the ideas come much more readily in conversation with her than they do to me by myself.

PB: Sorry, Douglas; I disagree – you have a very handsome avatar. Can you tell me more about this latest work, ‘D.Construct’ please?

DS: No

PB: Go on – I’ll buy you a beer next time I am in L.A.

DS: Oh, alright. Basically, we use Desde’s scripts to deconstruct famous works of art in an almost literal sense. The twenty-one works of art were chosen very carefully. I hesitate to explain too much for fear of losing a bit of the element of surprise. But part of what we’re doing is using technology as a sort of leveling lens. Gracie Kendal (who contributed one of the paintings – she’s the only non-dead artist in the mix!) commented that this piece is “like remixed music.

PB: You are two of the most famous artists within SL. Any diva attitudes? Tell me your worst traits please?

DE: I am arrogant, solipsistic, inward directed, unsocial and unfortunately not as smart as I think I am. Does this qualify me for diva of the month?

PB: Definitely not – I have met far worse. Douglas, that must mean the biggest diva is you?

DS: I certainly can’t be the biggest diva. I am originally from Wisconsin, which is a state filled with soft-spoken cheese makers. This is in stark contrast to the arrogant, volatile, condescending denizens of Desdemona’s home state of Ohio. Watch out for that crowd.

PB: But surely all the hours spent together must lead to friction? What are each other’s most annoying quirks please?

DE: Hmmm… Well, Douglas, aside from stepping on my toes during the pro-forma dance at receptions and giving me really, really hard puzzles and design requests to solve, can be rather possessive and gets irked when I script around with other people which I do rarely… umm, well, once in a while – I mean, occasionally – OK… often.

DS: Well, Desdemona is currently working very long hours to finish the fine details on the D.Construct project, and still has a ways to go. So no! No quirks at all. She’s a perfect angel. A perfect, hard-working angel. I will say that she annoys me regularly by having far more insight into the deeper meanings of art than I do, and the ability to articulate it; I mean, she reads Kierkegaard for fun, for chrissakes! Generally, I play Bertie to her Jeeves.

PB: You obviously adore each other as friends and also as artistic collaborators, but do you have any future plans to continue working together?

DE: Oh, yes!

DS: As my friend Harper would say, “Mmhmmm.”

D.Construct is open now as part of a joint exhibit with Eliza Wierwight’s ‘FlowerDrum’ at the Split Screen gallery.

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entertaining angels

Sitting by the fire

by Mick Brady

Once upon a time there was an artist so immersed in his work that he often woke up in front of the canvas he’d been working on the night before and stood silently, a cup of coffee in one hand and a Murray’s bagel in the other, trying to pick up the thread of inspiration he had been following before he fell asleep. The medium itself was direct and simple; it was somewhere between the heart and the canvas where it got tricky.

That was me, waxing nostalgic about simpler times when I was back in my studio in New York, and only had a painting in front of me to wrestle with. To be honest, I miss those days, but I still wouldn’t trade them for the worlds I’m living in today where my studio is virtual and my work digital, where I juggle media like so many Matisse apples. The challenge for me has been to find a way to fuse these elements into a coherent body of thought with a single overarching narrative. I must admit I’ve gotten lost at times; it’s been like trying to harness a team of wild mustangs to pull a wagon load of antique china.

So, in order to simplify things, I decided to return to my half-completed memoir and use it as an opportunity to try to understand the bigger picture: what did I set out to do, and have I gotten any closer to accomplishing it? In the process of writing it I began to see that there actually was a discernible narrative and purpose, and that Chrome was now at the center of it, perhaps the culmination of it in some ways. He plays a big part in the memoir, for instance, as a timeless figure, an older and wiser me who floats in and out of the narrative like a one-man Greek chorus.

The image above is a teaser; a lead-in to my latest comic strip, the first in over nine months; a small vignette in which Chrome begins to share some of the insights I gained over my long journey through the world. In a sense, he’s not only an extension of my self, but a wise and friendly guide leading me safely through the reliving of my own story. The creative mind is an amazing thing to behold, huh? Just sayin’. :)

Read the new comic strip here.

 

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media darling

Media Darling

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hope in art

By Persia Bravin

On March 11th 2011, the world watched in horror as the earthquake and resulting tsunami ripped apart north-east Japan; decimating homes, destroying lives and plunging the country to the brink of nuclear meltdown. As the catastrophic events unfolded, the overarching, natural human response was to ‘do something’, to get involved, to somehow show the people of Japan that they were not alone and that we were thinking of them. Directly or indirectly, the tragedy of that day affected us all and will undoubtedly continue to resonate in our collective consciousness for all time.

Within mere hours of the disaster, Second Life™ residents were utilizing their various skills to assist the people of Japan via fundraising events, direct donations to the Red Cross and also by creating artworks that would provide a much needed place of quiet reflection and contemplation. Of the many builds that sprang forth in remembrance of Japan, perhaps the most visually arresting and emotive has to be ‘Requiem for Fukushima Daiichi’ by renowned virtual and real life artist Alizarin Goldflake. This gigantic, pyramidal structure with falling drops of fire, a burning seabed and desolate atmosphere actually started life as part of a new build unconnected with the Japan disaster, but as an offshoot project from one of Alizarin’s most famed virtual builds, ‘Acquarella.’

Depicting mankind’s seemingly endless destruction of the earth, Acquarella shows us a frightening glimpse of the future where the human race has destroyed life on this planet through greed, pollution and war. The imaginary goddess Acquarella is moved to repopulate earth by creating safe havens for new life to flourish deep within the oceans, and the build is full of hope for a fresh start for our planet. So how did the Requiem piece in honour of Japan evolve from this? “Right around the time I was finishing the build and searching for a title, the disaster in Fukushima occurred,” Alizarin quietly explains. “I have been grieved and frightened at all the suffering and death caused by the tsunami and the possibility of a major nuclear meltdown. I immediately saw a parallel between the real world disaster and the imaginary one in Acquarella, and because of the sadness of the situation I chose the word ‘Requiem’ for the title, drawing an analogy between the musical form and my visual art.”

Artists face a difficult decision when creating work that is influenced by human suffering. On the one hand, art helps us all to focus on the bare facts, to help us face our frailties and to confront the unimaginable, but to make art without capitalizing from that pain is a delicate balance and Alizarin’s build is the perfect example of a piece of immersive art that is both respectful and thought provoking. It’s testament to her gentle nature – as well as her truly outstanding artistic skills – that ‘Requiem’ manages to both shock and console simultaneously.

As the artist behind this work, why does she herself think people should come here? “I encourage people to visit this build because it combines beauty and tragedy, a poignant mix that gives people a place and a focus to deal with their feelings about the Fukushima disaster,” she says reflectively. “I would hope that visitors to the build would be inspired to say a prayer or make a donation.” As I prepare to leave this build, I listen to the crackle of fire as it scorches the earth beneath my feet, and I realise that out of desolation comes hope. And in any life – we all need some of that.

Many thanks to Jeri Rajha and Kerupa Flow

http://www.marthavista.com/

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it’s a rap.

Edge of Everything

-By Mick Brady

First, allow me to apologize for my mysterious absence both from Second Life and from this blog. It was all for a good cause, though, as you will see, and I’m hopeful that things will flow a bit more smoothly from here on in. But then, that’s not entirely up to me; being a child of the universe and a longtime fantasy surfer, I’ve learned to go with the flow.

After a month of struggle, I’ve finally completed the cover design for my soon-to-be-published double memoir, The Edge of Everything, the often harrowing tale of my years of living dangerously in the New York art scene during the Post-Pop Art era of the late 60s and early 70s, and my subsequent dissolution into a psychedelic nightmare resulting from my sojourn in an LSD cult on the West Coast back in the daze.

Fortunately I was able to make it back to planet earth by way of a rehab community deep in the Catskill Mountains, where I spent six months emerging from the darkness alongside some of the original Mad Men, former Madison Avenue execs whose lives had also become unmanageable (a word chosen to describe the indescribable). They were drunks, you see, and there were just as many from the streets of the Bowery as there were from Mad Ave, which made it one of the world’s most interesting social gatherings. As the first psychedelic casualty to land on their doorstep, I may as well have arrived directly from Mars; they didn’t have a clue what to do with me.

My successful completion of the early stages of redemption through rehab was followed in quick succession by spiritual rebirth, marriage with children, a college professorship, a return to art, and finally, safe passage into the virtual world of Second Life where Chrome, my alter egomaniac, began living out the ‘art career that might have been’ had it not been for all that sex, drugs and rock & roll so many many years before. Keep on rockin’ in the V-World, Sir Chromium.

As you can see, it’s a lot to squeeze into a book cover. It was also difficult to come to grips with the essence of the story – having actually lived it – by stepping back far enough to see its overarching patterns and ultimate meaning. Damn near bent my mind into a pretzel (it’s been twisted before, but not into that funny pretzel shape), and there were moments where I just wanted to toss it all, hire a free lancer and get on with my life (or, lives). Somewhere near the end of my rope, though, the concept suddenly appeared in my mind and all I had to do was get out of bed and assemble it in Photoshop. Is there some sort of cosmic free lancing service that I unknowingly subscribed to? A bit of lag in the delivery time, but otherwise, works for me.

That blue sky above the rainbow, btw, is from a photo taken in Second Life, my ultimate destination after surviving the falls. That’s me in my trusty little kayak. I only surf in my dreams these days.

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pop charts

A few weeks ago I decided to enter the Saatchi Gallery Showdown competition one more time, after watching the disappointing results the first few times around. What was supposed to be “an important experiment in Social Curation” was a disheartening display of hard-nosed art campaigning, including blizzards of direct appeals for votes toward the end. Needless to say, the best (wo)man didn’t win. I ain’t saying it should have been me, but it certainly wasn’t the artist who stepped into the winner’s circle.

There followed a great deal of howling from the other artists and, to Saatchi’s great credit, they responded quickly and forcefully. In an email sent out on March 29 they admitted that the competition had become nothing more than a “popularity contest” and announced they had made major changes to the rules which they hoped would level the playing field. The new changes made it virtually impossible for individual artists to have any impact on the number of votes that flowed in their direction.

origami

Sooo…. here we are on the final day of the first round of public voting and my digital painting, Origami (above), stands at number 23 out of 5,786 entries (voting ends at noon). In the next round, the top 300 entries will be voted on for a week by jurors selected by Saatchi, and then the remaining top 30 are voted on by the public for one more week. At the end of it all, one winner and one runner-up win a chance to display their art at the Saatchi Gallery in London and other possible venues in major art markets.

For me it’s not only an opportunity to have my work judged by the art public without being filtered through the rarefied and highly-politicized world of fine art, but a vindication of my belief that the computer is as powerful an art medium as any traditional tool, something the art world has been slow to recognize, especially in the paint department. However it all turns out, though, it’s been a blast to watch Origami climb the pop charts. Always wanted to be a rock star.

Update, May 3: Just received notice that I didn’t make the final cut; in fact, origami dropped to number 270 out of 300 on the first day of voting by the jurors and stayed there all week. Seems the average citizen/artist has a better sense of quality than this mysterious group of jurors…. but then, quality seems to be less and less of a factor in this world; or is it just me?

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an important passage

“In 1987, Thomas Knoll, a PhD student at the University of Michigan began writing a program on his Macintosh Plus to display grayscale images on a monochrome display. This program, called Display, caught the attention of his brother John Knoll, an Industrial Light & Magic employee, who recommended Thomas turn it into a fully-fledged image editing program. Thomas took a six month break from his studies in 1988 to collaborate with his brother on the program, which had been renamed ImagePro. Later that year, Thomas renamed his program Photoshop and worked out a short-term deal with scanner manufacturer Barneyscan to distribute copies of the program with a slide scanner; a “total of about 200 copies of Photoshop were shipped” this way.

During this time, John traveled to Silicon Valley and gave a demonstration of the program to engineers at Apple and Russell Brown, art director at Adobe. Both showings were successful, and Adobe decided to purchase the license to distribute in September 1988. While John worked on plug-ins in California, Thomas remained in Ann Arbor writing program code. Photoshop 1.0 was released in 1990 for Macintosh exclusively.” (from wikipedia)

…and I had always thought that the code had been delivered to mankind on stone tablets and brought down from the mountaintop. To give you some idea just how excited I was to be one of the first to get his hands on Photoshop 1.0, check out the last piece of physical art I had completed that year, Passage (above left), a photocollage constructed by hand from my own photos using an exacto knife and photo adhesive. For me, opening Photoshop for the first time was the equivalent of walking through that door and arriving in paradise.

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big air

I wanted to feel bernadette real bad before I left but the highways were changing colors as I looked west, and I could see the red white and blue ribbons of asphalt and concrete rolling towards the horizon, shining in the sun, calling me; so I turned away. The sky was going in every direction and I was at the center of it – millions of cubic feet of air, boiling and foaming like the weather channel or one of those speeded-up videos of the clouds.
I knew at that moment how the world worked. The vacuum cleaner in the big red building down the street sucks MY AIR through a shag carpet, and I get it back, used and dirty somehow. One man’s fart is another man’s breath. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve learned to take the air I get without complaining, but I was beginning to suspect that my heading west – away from Bernadette, towards the sun – was merely a desperate search for a more perfect air, and that I would be driven by that subconscious desire until the day I died.
Meanwhile Bernadette was spinning around and around in a trance, a kind of sufi dance. The air around her began whirling and vibrating as though it were electrically charged. Small clouds began to form over our heads; positive and negative ions beginning to cluster and spark. The tiny clouds grew darker and began to throw off bolts of lightning, followed by short bursts of rumbling thunder. Then the rain began. Bernadette continued to whirl. The thunder began pulsating in an insistent, sort of primitive rhythm which I was unable to resist. We danced in the downpour, shaking and pounding to the beat of the sky until we both fell, exhausted, purified and intoxicated by the highly ionized oxygen. I decided to stay.

(Author’s Note: This was written in 1997, long before I was an avatar, but I decided to publish it now, along with an early photo (much abused, but click to enlarge anyway) of Juliette in order to give it a “second life”.)

I wanted to feel bernadette real bad before I left but the highways were changing colors as I looked west, and I could see the red white and blue ribbons of asphalt and concrete rolling towards the horizon, shining in the sun, calling me; so I turned away. The sky was going in every direction and I was at the center of it – millions of cubic feet of air, boiling and foaming likhe weather channel or one of speeded-up video of the clouds.
I knew at that moment how the world worked. The vacuum clea. One manÕs breath is another manÕs fart. DonÕt get me wrong; IÕve learned to take the air I get without complaining, but I was beginning to suspect that my heading west – away from Bernadette, towards the sun – was merely a desperate search for a perfect e on the weather channel or one of those speeded-up videos of the clouds.
I knew at that moment how the world worked. The vacuum cleaner in the big red building down the street sucks MY AIR through a shag carpet, and I get it back, used and dirty somehowwhe sun – was merely a desperate search for a more perfect air, and that I would be driven by that subconscious desire until the day I died.
Meanwhile Bernadette was spinning around and around in a sort of trance, a kind of sufi dance. The air around her began whirling and vibrating as though it were electrically charged. Small clouds began to form over our heads; positive and negative ions beginning to cluster and spark. The tiny clouds grew darker and began to throw off these intense little btle bow off bolts of lightning, followed by short bursts of rumbling thunder. Then the rain began. Bernadette continued to whirl. The thunder began pulsating in an insistent, sort of primitive rhythm which I was unable to resi danced in the downpour, shaking and poundist. We danced in the downpour, shaking and pounding to the beat of the sky, until we both fell, exhausted, purified and intoxicated by the highly ionized oxygen. I decided to stay. 

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mik frequency – always in phase

Some things in life are worth experiencing slowly. Give me an intense shot of Italian, gently percolated espresso over a sterile, dull tasting, instant takeout any day; give me the undeniably sensual thrill of a languorous, three hour lunch as opposed to a snatch and grab baguette demolished in seconds anytime, let me luxuriate in the unrushed pleasures of life- and I am one very happy woman. If it’s worth doing, it’s usually worth waiting for. And so it was with Second Life artist and real life composer Mik Frequency.

I think it’s fair to say I have cyber-stalked this innovative artist relentlessly over the past few weeks (such was my determination to get an interview with him) yet we seemed to miss each other online, in email and even in Skype all too often. Then ensued a long, drawn out game of IM Ping-Pong where I would leave him off-line messages then log out: only to discover him logging in straight after me and also leaving messages. We became for three, solid weeks, cyber-pen friends, connected only by words and not actually communicating. It was a slow dance of missed opportunities, and my latent journalistic paranoia kicked in several times – was he avoiding me? Had I offended him without realizing? But I decided to just….keep.. waiting. He was worth it.

It transpired that Mik was simply very busy in his real life; and what an impressive real life he has. A Lecturer in Music Production at a University in the North of England, Mik both teaches and researches spatial, interactive computer music and uses Second Life as a platform for experimentation. His work inworld involves creating fully immersive art installations (complete with self-composed soundtracks) that are both visually and audibly remarkable. After initially training in sculpture in real life, in his late twenties Mik was compelled to incorporate music and film into his artwork after discovering the work of music maestro Brian Eno, and since then has embarked on a long career combining his dual passions of art and music along the way. It was back in the summer of 2009 that Mik became familiar with Second Life during a staff development conference at his University, where he discovered they had purchased four full sims to use for educational purposes. Curiosity got the better of him, and his intrigue in this new virtual platform quickly developed into a full blown passion for exploring the artistic content of Second Life.

“I was introduced to some wonderfully original galleries and installations very early on by my first few SL friends, principally Sfindra Belar, Fiona Blaylock, and Shahida Shilova,” Mik says, reflecting on his first forays into the virtual art world. “I soon began to appreciate SL as creatively fertile. Along with these first friends, artists encountered in the first few months, such as Bryn Oh, Vroum Short, AM Radio, and Maya Paris provided me with the initial inspiration to learn more about creating in-world.”

This inspiration took flight, and Mik now has some prolific work on show. His pieces are extremely distinctive with color, movement and flowing forms presiding over the majority of his work and of course, each piece is accompanied by his beautifully surreal and haunting self-composed soundscapes. “Each installation work to date began with the collecting and collating of real-world images and sound, mainly using a Nikon D50 and Zoom H4 with external shotgun microphones, followed by the immersion of digital rediscovery and exploration, primarily through Adobe Illustrator and Apple Logic,” he says, explaining his design processes. “During each installation there is always an element of serendipity, that arrives out of a fortuitous experiment, as I attempt to make the ideas real; when this happens I let it evolve.”

Installations such as ‘The Wings of a Butterfly,’ ‘The Sphere’ and ‘Imperfect Geometry’ are all marvelous showcases of Mik’s artistic imagination, but for me, it is his main gallery ‘Drawing in the Sand’ with its imploding, starburst centerpiece and slowly rotating, immersive builds that define his ever evolving style the most. What about the future? What direction does he see his own work taking? “I am passionate about technology in music and art, but I do not want the technology to conceal, or to be a substitute, for creative expression,” he says, contemplating what’s to come. “I think there is a danger that technological cleverness might be mistaken for novelty in artistic expression and become an illusory transitory distraction; so I tread carefully and try to embrace the future but with my feet firmly planted in the past.”

Slow and easy Mik – it will be worth the wait.

Mik Frequency Gallery: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Derby%20University%202/197/83/23

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art from inner space

art-from-inner-space-gallery

Well, hell, I guess I’m just slow. Like Chuck Berry, got no particular place to go (see below). It’s been months since the old gallery on the Avant Garde sim was emptied and de-rezzed (or deconstructed, for graduates of the Sorbonne). All this time I’ve been wrapped too tightly in my furry down parka, whipped by a blizzard of data, wandering in the virtual wilderness… well, not quite that bad, but I have been trying to find my way to a new home for my old art, and a showcase for my new art. In the meanwhile, I’ve been busy writing, fiddling with new ways of combining painting and comics, and building my new online gallery.

It was in the building of this gallery, in fact, that.. and, by the way, while I’m thinking of it – if you were badly injured in a car accident, would you want to be taken to a deconstructionist hospital? Just think about that for a while. At any rate, I was trying to come up with a byline for the new gallery that would capture the meaning of my work in a few words and suddenly, Art from Inner Space popped into my head. This not only captured my whole approach to art, but it began to open up new vistas for future work, and… this is the part that is relevant to the point at hand….. it provided me with a clue to the style of the new virtual gallery building.

As it turns out, my work belongs in space, the fantasy kind of space, the space that dreams are made of, and far flung epic tales are set in. It belongs with droids and death stars and hover cars. In fact, it looks right at home in a well-lit rocket hangar, complete with vehicle lifts and take off and landing runways on the roof. It would look even better with a bunch of rocket jocks and their babes hanging around the lounge, waiting for the next mission; but in the meanwhile, the Inner Space Art Gallery is the hangout for my work. Opening event and future missions to be announced.

(photo, above: Camille visits the new inner space gallery; click image to enlarge)

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