I dream, therefore I am

It was ironic that I happened to visit an important new build the other night with my friend, DB Bailey. It had been just over three years ago, at my very first opening at the late Ruttan Gallery, that he suggested I consider transforming my work into three dimensions – into objects you could actually walk into, wander around in. Although I was pretty excited about the idea at the time, it never went anywhere; after all, I thought, you can enter a painting with your mind, can’t you, and jetpack to places you had never been before, right? So what was the point?

The build was Parallel Worlds, by claudia222 Jewell; I had been tipped off to it by Wagner James Au’s recent post on New World Notes, where he described it as “one of the most inspiring and artistic builds I have seen in Second Life in a very, very long time.” Coming from Wagner (Hamlet Au in SL), this was really something; he’s been around this neck of the woods since the dawn of the ages. If you want to know how far back that is, read his book, The Making of Second Life. It’s mandatory reading for avatars.

Although DB couldn’t stay long enough for us to discuss it in any depth, I lingered for a while, exploring the cells within cells, skins within skins, worlds within worlds, mesmerized by the music and the interplay of organic textures and light. There was something about this place I hadn’t seen before. It was dark, edgy, melancholic; it was hauntingly beautiful…. but it was somehow more than that: it was sensual; it was alive. It had a  quality I strive for in my own work: human passion; emotion and longing in pixelated form. This was as close to a 3D painting as I had seen.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m down with machines, I love the cool, brilliant interplay of sound, light and motion in our virtual playground. I love the whimsy of every fantasy brought to life around me.. but this was a little closer to my own thinking.. the power of ‘realistic,’ organic textures and paint to create a sense of warmth; a womblike other-worldliness that draws you in, casts a spell on you, and leaves you wanting more, Parallel Worlds has actually made me reconsider the question DB asked that night, and has spurred me on to investigate just what possibilities might be lying in wait, like a coiled cobra covered in mesh. O Death, where is thy sting?

In the photos above, claudia222, having descended in her chariot of the snake goddess, engaged in a lengthy discussion about her work, and the possible directions she might be taking it in the future, using mesh. I was all ears. But then, so was she. Thanks, claudia. :)

Direct slurl teleport to Parallel Worlds at this link.

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state of flux

I’m so excited to be part of the team here in the wacky, wonderful world of Chrome Underwood, where serendipity rules and the laws of physics are mere suggestions (often overruled), where entropy is in remission, last I heard. I’ll be posting more in future weeks, Mortal willing, and will do my best to add a bit more spice to an already exotic mix. In the meanwhile, this is how Chrome introduced me on the main gallery website the other day; it’ll have to do for now. :)

“Introducing the newest member of our team, Quintessential Flux, self-proclaimed Queen of the Space Pirates, seen here simmering in the cool inner glow of Ciudad de Mexico, a pan-historical role-playing sim designed by architect Patch Thibaud in Second Life. She literally glows in the dark, parks her Levitron 2000X just outside her skyloft when in town, and lives her life in light years. When she’s not busy posing for Chrome’s comic strips she can usually be seen running along the skypath with her dog China White, or practicing her ninja moves in preparation for her next martial challenge.  She’s one of the few avatars who actually sleep at night; hey, she runs hot, so she has to cool down somehow.”

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moving images

There comes a time in every avatar’s life when it’s time to move on. I had been running in neutral, just treading water, for quite some time and wasn’t at all sure what I needed to get back into gear. When I’m in the middle of a painting and it’s not going well, I remove everything extraneous, reduce it to bare bones essentials, step back and think for a while; then I jump in and attack it with renewed fervor. Keepin’ it fresh.

I had been living at Avant Garde, an arts community founded by my good friend Harper Beresford (who also got me my first show at the Ruttan Gallery, btw), for the past couple of years. It was where my days as a virtual gypsy had come to an end. But the original spark was gone; things had changed, new adventures were on the horizon. It was time to pack it in, and start anew.

I was invited to join several other artists at a busy edu sim, and since they were already good friends of mine, it was a no-brainer. There were plans for a new art gallery to be built by one of SL’s best architects as well as some other interesting projects, so there was good reason to jump in at this moment – the beginning of another big project. More details to follow.

This is all to say that my gallery on Avant Garde is now a mere memory. For all those who have visited in the past  and may visit again in the future, the new version should be up and running soon in my new neighborhood; will send you an invitation when it is done.

The photo above was taken last year, right after I had created and installed a new sign above the front doors of the gallery. ‘Cr24’ is the symbol for ‘chromium’ in the periodic table of the elements. Pretty clever, huh?

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midnight at the oasis

Camille Topaz here, reporting from deep in the heart of Splintered Rock, a spice mining outpost in a desert world full of sandworms (and other dangers, from what I hear). This desolate spot is where I chose to begin my career as a belly dancer, as a member of the exotic dancing duo known as Onyx and Topaz.  Today we launched our virtual world tour with an hour of sexy and sultry dance moves before a rowdy (and very warm) crowd of spice miners and assorted rugged survivors of the dunes.

In spite of a few brief techno-glitches at the beginning of the set, we soon found ourselves grooving to the beat of some of the finest contemporary Middle Eastern dance music – primarily North African – with the crowd joining in and feeling the beat along with the heat. It was the desert, after all, and we did light their fire, to be quite frank. They say it’s a dry heat, but I could swear I could feel the steam rising throughout the performance…. but maybe it was just me. :)

Finally, my humble gratitude and appreciation to my sister and fellow dancer, Onyx (known also as Karima Hoisan, poet extraordinaire and a real belly dancer from the land of Jordan), for allowing me to join her in this intoxicating endeavor. Many thanks to Darren Green, sim owner and Chief Constable, and all the other colorful characters at Splintered Rock for the very warm welcome and a chance to test our wings. How exhilarating to learn how to fly. :)

Photo, above: Topaz and Onyx dance in the heat of the desert.

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new world jazz ensemble

Quick add: machinima of the final build…

I was chatting with Keystone Bouchard yesterday morning when he mentioned a project he was launching called Architectural Jazz, which he variously described as a “public building jam session” and a “collaborative improvisational event”. The idea was to bring in any object  you felt comfortable rezzing – with full permissions – and then anyone else can pick it up and riff on it, building whatever pure whimsy or divine inspiration provides.

He then invited me over to participate.

Now, as many of you know, I barely have the chops required to build a stretched canvas, let alone a free standing piece of architecture. Not fully understanding how I might fit in, I asked just what was it I would be expected to do. His response was brief: “Do what you do best.” Naturally, as a lifelong jazz lover with a penchant for adventure, I said, “Natch, man; groovy.” Or something to that effect.

When I arrived at Architecture Island, there were just a few buildings and trees scattered around with a large square of land marked off with what looked like gigantic blue painter’s tape. I alighted in the square and began to rez some of my 3D comics. Within a few minutes a flock of builders arrived and Keystone and his friends began to play. Love to watch artists at work, but seeing my own art whirl and twirl and get whipped into one amazing confection after another was a new kind of thrill. I was bedazzled.

The building spree will run until tomorrow, Friday, at 10am, and a machinima of the final creation will be published on ArchVirtual sometime soon after the project ends. If you want to run over there and throw some prims around, see the slurl below. This event, btw, is dedicated to the memory of the late Kurt Rehder, who helped organize the Ctrl Shift 07 design competition. Enjoy.

Photos (click to enlarge) from the top: Keystone and friends begin to improvise from the 3D comic textures; finally, a whole new world appears, a brilliant combination of art and architecture given form by a dizzying digital building frenzy, jazz riffing on a whole new scale.

Visit the project at: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Architecture%20Island%20/111/152/32/

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Speaking Beauty to Power, revisited

Author’s Note: This is the second in a series of blasts from the virtual past, in which I revisit some of the posts I’ve written since my first rezzable moment in SL back in 2007. Published in 2008, this one recounts a series of events leading from my comfortable life as a digital artist to the first of several talks on fine art in virtual worlds at the prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Whoaaa. Compared to the rest of these guys on this panel I was a certifiable, card-carrying noobie. In fact, it had puzzled me for some time why I had even been invited to participate in this thing in the first place; after all, I’m no techie, I’m just your average digital artist. But then, this sort of thing does seem to sum up a good portion of my life in the past few years.

Flashback to summer, 2007: I was having lunch one sunny day with a couple of colleagues of mine – digital earth movers and shakers, both – who asked me, point blank, in the middle of my blackened Ahi salad, to join them in an intriguing project that was about to get underway: the creation, in Second Life, of a virtual campus for the Santa Barbara City College. I was flattered, of course; but also a bit dazed and confused, since I had never even stepped foot in a virtual world.

I understood the basic concept, having read Snow Crash when it appeared in ’92; but I couldn’t have told you the difference between a prim and a sim if I had a phased plasma gun to my head; or even an IM and an LM, for that matter. Had no clue whatsoever. I knew that Superman could fly, and that Captain Kirk could be beamed up, but had no idea at the time that it was only a click away on my trusty laptop. You see, I was still a virtual virgin.

Long story short, I jumped at the offer.

Exactly one year ago today I was ushered without fanfare into my new being as an avatar, a dashing young fellow named Chrome Underwood; and thus began my virtual adventures. From that day forth I would run free with a tribe of code warriors half my age through the forests of the New Wilderness.

Fast forward to mid-August, 2008: I’m awaiting my turn to speak at the SIGGRAPH conference in Los Angeles as part of a panel whose mission is to address the growing relationship between the rapidly expanding metaverse and the wild and wooly world of social networking. The other members of that group, btw, were some of the brightest luminaries on the virtual world scene; leaders (and in some cases, founders) of such cutting-edge companies as There.com, Multiverse, Wonderland Group, Bitmanagement, Vivaty, and Google Lively.

Being an artist, though, I decided to simply tell the story of my days and weeks wandering through Second Life with one question on my mind: What is art in a virtual world and what is its future? I really didn’t have much else to offer; it’s what I knew best. I had little inside knowledge of the business side of the virtual industry, I couldn’t read or write a single line of code, and the view from the top, for me, well, it simply wasn’t accessible. I decided to do my digging further down the mountain.

Without realizing it, though, I happened to touch upon a rather sensitive subject. The industry, it seems, was at a turning point; the burning question in every virtual boardroom was, how the hell do you duplicate the staggering success of social networking sites like facebook and myspace; and above all, how do you do it in 3D? Of course, as has been true from the beginning of virtual time, the first one into the pool gets the piña colada; and the temptation dangling in front of everyone was to lower the golden bar of quality.

In my talk, entitled Art is What Happens While You’re Busy Rezzing Other Prims, I addressed the state of ‘fine art’ in Second Life by dividing what I had seen and heard into three distinct categories, each illustrated by about twenty slides. The first, called (a bit tongue-in-cheek, I admit) Real Virtual Art, focused on what would be called art in any setting: work created by individuals or groups that, above all, consider themselves artists, and who strive not only to express themselves individually, but to further the aesthetic ideals and goals of their group or movement.

In discussing the more formal aspect of virtual art in SL, I revisited some of the exhibits I had attended in-world over the past several months: Kiss the Sky and The Garden of NPIRL Delights, both fairly large group shows; and one individual exhibit, Nested Cubes by Selavy Oh. I also touched briefly upon two artists whose work I consider to be of exceptional quality, Maximillian Nakamura and ichibot nishi, and ended this section by mentioning that the traditional method of hanging images in a gallery is, for what it’s worth, frowned upon by the virtual avant garde of Second Life.

In the second part, Good Griefers, I expressed my slightly irreverent point of view that some of the most arresting experiences to be had anywhere in SL were brought about by ‘griefers’; those who look for new and creative ways to use a game that aren’t part of the game designer’s original intent. Considered by many Second Lifers to be acts of digital vandalism, these often surprising, sometimes perplexing and occasionally even deeply moving, acts of art are perpetrated by brilliant troublemakers whose work is often so disruptive their identities remain anonymous.

Finally, in a section called The Sublime, The Surreal and the Unforeseen, I cover the virtual waterfront. It is my view that in a world where everything, including the very ground you walk on, could be considered a work of art, it is virtually impossible to define anything as being art. This is not a bad thing, imho, since defining art in the real world by the end of the 20th century had already become as difficult as nailing jello to a tree. Second Life has now given us the opportunity to redefine the entire notion: in a universe where we are all virtual gods in possession of virtual superpowers, what need is there for something as outdated and unnecessary as art and artists? (The programmers looked out over the expanse of all that they had made, and saw that it was very good.)

Within a few minutes of finishing my talk I began to notice that most of the other speakers on the panel were business leaders; they were there to represent their companies, to introduce their newest products, to describe their latest achievements. Some of the biggest players in the virtual world scene, in fact. I, on the other hand, was there simply to explain the profound beauty of this magical wonderland I had fallen into, and to try to convey to the audience what a deeply enriching experience it had been. That’s it. No more, no less.

I wasn’t sure what my talk meant in that context until the Q&A session, when one of the audience members stood up and addressed the panel; it just happened to be one of the Lindens, the inner circle of Second Life. He posed a challenging question to the other panel members: How could they discount the element of quality content, as illustrated by my presentation, in their business models? I nearly fell off my chair. An extremely lively debate was underway.

A few days after the event, an email was sent out to all the presenters by Dr. Chris Thorne, the driving force behind the panel, thanking everyone for their contribution and suggesting we change the subject of next year’s panel to a discussion of how virtual worlds might effect the hearts and minds of future users, and what role the quality of the content might play in that process.

As I said earlier, before all this began I was quietly making the most of my freedom by pursuing my personal passions: writing, painting, blogging, photoshoplifting, digital shape-shifting – that sort of thing. It’s not like I needed something else to do; hell, I was already running full tilt within my own creative little universe. But once you go virtual, I’ve discovered, it’s always a good policy to stay open to the unpredictable, serendipitous nature of living in two worlds.

Author’s note: Looking back on this  from 2011 it is now clear that a number of projects introduced that day never even made it more than a few feet out of the starting gate, dumbed-down virtual communities like Google Lively, for instance. Second Life, on the other hand, although it has had its share of problems and mismanagement, and will apparently never become a virtual facebook, is still a magnet for some of the finest creative minds on the…. ummm…. planet? As for the viability of its business model… well, to that I still dare not speak.

. . . . . . . . . .

Second Life photos, from the top: a scene from the collaborative group exhibit, The Garden of NPIRL Delights; Chrome Underwood visiting a group show at Art Center, Avignon; Chrome standing on a magnificent ’59 Gibson Les Paul guitar at the home of The Greenies

All Second Life photos by Chrome Underwood

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me. not him. me.


Chrome asked me to find something to test out the visuals on this thing, so naturally I dug through my wallet and came up with my virtual passport photo. He says it looks too much like Lisbeth Salander, but I took that as a compliment and decided to go public anyway. I do have a dragon tattoo on in this photo, but you just can’t see it. If your curiosity gets the best of you, you can verify it here.

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caution: avatar at work

As you can see, Chrome Never Sleeps has a fresh new look. I’ll be under the hood for the next few days, poking around, tweaking, cussing and praying until she’s all chromed up and running at full speed. So…. I hope you’ll pardon the temporary inconvenience and bear with me til this thing hits the road.

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chrome goes retro

I had arrived in the City of Glass over two years earlier, still glowing from a momentary flash of fame sparked by my painting of a Hell’s Angel ascending into heaven on a bolt of chrome lightning. In those first brief, heady moments, I fancied I was destined to be big – oops; I mean, BIG! – and of course, the only place to do that was in the Big Apple. So I sold most of my earthly goods and took off down the Governor Thomas E. Dewey Thruway in an old bus laden with paint and canvas, headed straight for Gotham. The Emerald City. Babylon. I was going to be an artist. Thus began my entry into the first level of the inferno…
……………………………..– excerpt from a memoir-in-progress, love gone down

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Author’s Note: For my new show at Pirats, I decided to stage a mini-retrospective, covering the segmented stages of my art career in a dozen or so works. Embedded in each was a notecard, the text of which follows…

This show came about as a result of doing research for a new book about my journey from paint to pixels and beyond. It presented me with a rare opportunity to rummage through my parallel attics looking for treasures from the past, and then line them up alongside a few gems from the present, step back, and try to figure out what the hell it is I’ve been doing all these years. One of my realizations was that there was a kind of silver thread running through it all… that thread was one long, shiny power cord. Technology was an integral part of it from the very beginning.

From my early days in New York where I was up to my elbows in paint while fiddling with projectors and cameras, to the magical present where I now travel through time and space in the blink of an avatar’s eye, create works which exist almost entirely in digital (read: imaginary) form, and then conjure them up in galleries that also seem to magically appear from somewhere in the landscape of my own mind. The mind that matters, that is.

If I were to summarize this journey in artistic terms, then, I’d say that it began with the desire to express ideas in a new voice; the merging of man and machine, old technology and new technology. It also appears that photo-collage led me down the path to the limitless powers of Photoshop; and that would lead to a new, completely digital life in a virtual world, where ideas seem to expand in every direction. Out of all these scattered and sometimes incoherent experiments I was able to isolate four distinct periods, which can be roughly divided along several decades:

The Seventies: Paint on Canvas
During this period I was creating large Pop Art paintings by projecting pre-manipulated slides and transparencies onto shaped and distorted canvas, then outlined and painted using acrylics. Examples from this period are Young Love and Angel.

The Eighties: Mixed Media
Although there were many experimental approaches during this time, I finally settled into a collage-and-paint technique using still shots taken directly from a television screen with a Nikon SLR camera mounted on a tripod. The snapshots were then arranged in various patterns and painted back into. Two of these works, Adam’s Dream and Seven Feet from Easy Street, are exhibited here.

The Nineties: Digital Collage
Once I had discovered Photoshop, I set out to prove that all of the passion of the human soul could be squeezed through the machine mind of a computer, rendering with mathematical logic a visual symphony that could reach those places in the heart and mind that had only been accessible with the tools of traditional media. Most of my work from that point on was to be done in Photoshop; some examples of early experimentation in the medium seen here are Creation, Revelation, Ridge Road Remix and China Doll.

Early 21st Century: Virtual Art
It wasn’t until I became an avatar, though, that I was finally able to return to the magical world of childhood; a fantasy world where anything seemed possible; a world where everyone had the powers of a superhero and the ground all around me was made of eye candy. An example of my work in this genre is one of my most recent paintings, Lover Come Back. I’ve also included my very latest painting, War Paint, based on a poem by noted SL poet Karima Hoisan, to illustrate the power and diversity of the medium regardless of subject matter or approach. My work as a virtual artist has also branched out into a virtual webcomic series, mojozone, and my recent 3D comics, which were exhibited at the Caerleon Museum of Identity.

This Magic Moment
Finally, one of the most important discoveries for me has been the fact that technology doesn’t necessarily atomize our world and alienate us from one another; on the contrary, it opens entirely new pathways of communication and creative expression. Working as an artist in a virtual world has made it possible for me to become a member of a global community of creatives; grown up kids like me, ya might say, playin’ in the global sandbox. Looks to be a good century.

– Chrome Underwood, on the threshold of a new decade

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Shown above: China Doll, digital collage, 1992. An early experiment in digital image-making, this was my final nod to the masters of the Pop genre, and my last glance back before moving (literally, as it would turn out) forward into the digital world.

The show can be seen at Pirats SAS Art Gallery until Saturday, January 22…. hey, that’s next year!

New show up at Pirats, and for me it was an eye-opener. I decided to go back to the
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Wherefore art thou, Chromeo?

All dressed up and nowhere to go, left stranded by Chrome for reasons unknown at the time. We were supposed to attend an art opening together, but when he arrived there he warned me I’d better dress warm…. it was a wintry scene set deep in a pine forest, where we’d be sitting around a blazing campfire in hopes of staying warm and dry – a setting preferred mostly by humans who live in Florida and California. I didn’t mind one bit. I rummaged through my closet and came up with the warmest outfit I could find, and then waited… and waited… and waited. As it turns out, just as my metaman arrived at the event, someone rang the doorbell back on planet earth.

Chrome was left standing like a statue in the snow, while I was waiting for a taxi which would never come. Humans are an unpredictable lot, I must say, which makes for a virtual life filled with twists and turns, stops and starts, and sometimes even a blank screen, our equivalent of the existential void. In all honesty, though, my poor mortal is in the midst of selling his house and can’t always pander to my every whim and fancy. Not to mention that he was also building an ark to prepare for the rising floodwaters in Southern California. They don’t seem to have much control over the elements there.

On the bright side, though, when he finally returned to the keyboard he found me standing there, seemingly oblivious to a griefer attack hammering the island all around me, and he had the presence of mind to preserve that moment in a screen capture (seen above; click to enlarge). Kind of a dizzying glimpse into the magical madness of the metaverse, dontcha think? Weather comes in many forms, ya know.

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