Drawing between the lines

Someone asked me recently what it was that I was after in my exploration of Second Life as an artistic medium, or, more accurately, as a base of operations and a springboard to first life for my creative activities. Interesting question, though, because it goes straight to the heart of the matter; no ifs, ands or buts. Simple and direct. My answer? “I’m looking for the legos behind it all.” Sounds flippant, I know, but it was a light-hearted way to express a serious endeavor.. to be able to delve into the deeper aspects of the virtual soul while playing like a child in my very own wonderland. Pixels, legos, atoms – they’re all children’s blocks in a big old cosmic game; God, man, avatar – the chain gets bigger, but the game remains the same.

That lego comment reminded of another serious artist who once took a detour off his career path to play with legos, also for a very serious reason. Norman Mailer, the great 20th century novelist, once built his utopian vision of “The City of the Future” in his living room, using thousands of legos to bring forth his dream. This fascinating story was recounted in Mary Dearborn’s Mailer: A Biography:

In many ways this was a typically Mailerian project. He announced it in advance in the pages of the New York Times Magazine and, to underline his seriousness, in Architectural Forum. The prose city he outlined would change the face not only of public architecture but of society itself. He had long blamed architecture for many of the woes of contemporary society, and now he applied himself to setting forth his plans in pronouncements and, beginning in the fall of 1965, the creation of an actual model city, immense in scale and meticulously planned.He decided to build a model of a city that could be populated by 4 million people, and to build it in his own living room. He conceived it as a monument to his sweeping utopian vision.

At the quotidian level, Norman acted as the brains behind the project, soon discovering that he didn’t like the sound of the plastic Lego pieces snapping together; it struck him as vaguely obscene. He delegated the task to [fourth wife] Beverly’s stepbrother, Charlie Brown, who worked as a kind of handyman for him, and to Eldred Mowery, a friend from Provincetown now in the city. The two men drove Norman’s 1961 blue convertible Falcon out to the Lego plant in New Jersey and returned with cases of the colored blocks. Then Norman directed them, instructing them to create hanging bridges, buildings with trapdoors, and four-foot-high towers, all constructed on an aluminum-covered piece of plywood on a four-by-eight-foot sheet of plywood supported by five-foot legs.

Construction proceeded apace, and Norman never really did call a halt to it. But someone from the Museum of Modern Art came out to Brooklyn to take photographs of the model, hoping to display it at the museum. At that point, Mailer and his helpers found that the “city” could not be taken out of the apartment. though they consulted movers with cranes and took measurements of the glass in the front windows, they soon saw that it couldn’t be removed without being disassembled first. Here Norman drew the line. He told Mowery to build a fence around it and leave it where it was. There it still sits, occupying a third of the living room’s floor space. Beverly, who contributed a scale model of the United Nations to indicate the overall scale of the city, professes that she loved it, but concedes, ‘It was a bitch to dust.’

Though, like most utopian visions it never came to fruition, the image of one of the giants of American literature stretched out on the floor snapping legos together for hours and hours on end is one that stuck with me; and, in my own experience,  the best work I’ve done has always seemed to pour out of me like a kid with finger paints. So, I suppose a good definition of the word ‘master’ could well be: someone who makes extraordinary accomplishments look like child’s play.

Let the games begin.

Read the complete article at Greg.org.

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Life Goes On, Ob-La-Di…

It’s been nearly three years since I arrived at the immigration reception center in Second Life. By the time I took the shuttle over to Help Island wearing my new avatar getup I felt like I had discovered the New World, a virtual echo of my Irish forebears coming to America. At that moment I had no idea of the adventures awaiting me, and even now I’m amazed at how much of my soul has been poured into this place since then and, conversely, how much I’ve received in return.

Since that day I’ve devoted myself to probing the mysteries of the human/avatar interbeing through art, writing, and most importantly, through the creation of avatars (one of them seen above) – creatures who have evolved into fully-formed adults over time, much the way a child eventually does in First Life. Though I’ve approached this alternate reality from many angles and had innumerable discussions about the “identity issue”, it’s still the mystery of it all which I find most compelling. The virtual experience is tangible in many ways, and that’s enough to satisfy me. But, hey, I’m an artist, not a scientist.

One of the jokes that has been around from Linden Time immemorial is the notion that some day we’ll all be able to upload our brains to a database, link that data to our avatar and, voila! be rendered immortal. Though some may find that a horrifying prospect (Dr. Frankenstein comes to mind), I’ve always kind of liked the idea, perhaps because I’m so comfortable in my skin, even though it is store-bought. Now, it seems, attempts to bring that idea into reality have already begun in the physical world.

In the latest issue of New Scientist, Linda Geddes documents these wide-ranging efforts and brings to light a surprising amount of activity, some with mixed success and all in the most rudimentary stages. Though I’m sure there will be as many opinions of this quest as there are individual human databases, just speaking for myself and my avatar, I’m prepared to dump all my data into that dude even if he only becomes a reasonable facsimile of me; hell, it sure beats those old home movies. Then again, they might just stick me up in the attic as well.

Read Immortal Avatars: Back up your brain, never die, at New Scientist magazine

Above: Camille Topaz; photo by Chrome Underwood, a reasonable facsimile of Mick Brady

Immortal avatars: Back up your brain, never die

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Metaverse Art Anthology

Proud to say that I’ve been included in a recent anthology, entitled Metaverse Art, by Josina Burgess, aka Jose Den Burger of Amsterdam, Holland; Velazquez Bonetto, aka Laszlo Ordogh Diabolus of Stuttgart, Germany; and Nazz Lane from the USA. It is part of a series of books on the subject by the authors, who are also the co-founders of the Cybernetic Art Research Project (CARP) at ArtSpace Diabolus in Second Life. CARP has been a pioneer in the field of experimental art installation in the metaverse, and has contributed significantly to the dissemination of knowledge and understanding of art in immersive virtual environments to the world at large.

The text of the publication consists of the artists’ own words, which were submitted in response to a length questionnaire, and as Josina says in the foreword, they are not edited… so you get to hear the artists voices as well as see their art. Some  of the other artists included in the anthology are Alizarin Goldflake, Artistide Despres, Dale Innis and freewee Ling. Another great job, guys.

You can purchase the book here.

You can see the CARP photo collection here.

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the liquid self, part two

As I was saying, after a long period of creative activity I had crash landed in the burnout zone, and in an attempt to jumpstart my mind and leave the past behind I moved into a concrete bunker nestled high in the clouds, far above the studio. This was the place I would come to for solace, silence, inspiration. Since I had neither the energy nor the desire to decorate, I thought I’d bring in my virtual sidekicks, Vanilla and Camille, and give them the run of the place. It needed a woman’s touch. I called Camille first.

Rock star, tomboy and fiercely independent soul, Camille had certainly mellowed over the past few years. Once the band broke up she seemed to have lost her way, causing a lot of soul-searching. It would have been easy for her to slip back into her comfort zone of pink nihilism and rage against the unseen, but she danced away from all that and, before I knew it, became a woman.

“I’m spent,” I said; “worn out. These empty walls suit me fine, but this is your place too, so feel free to make it more like home. I’m just a recovering artist with a creative block, so pay me no mind.”

“Ya know, Chrome, I’ve been wanting to say something for a while, but you were like a man obsessed.. you lost track of the other world, the one we depend on for our very existence. Glad to hear you’re slowing down. Now we might live to see another day.”

“Guilty as charged,” I said, smiling weakly. She smiled back, then vanished; presumably off on a shopping spree.

An hour or so later she returned, and immediately began rezzing what she referred to as ‘creative blocks’: a giant set of colorful, highly-detailed wooden children’s blocks, exactly like the ones I had played with as a child. In fact, the blocks seemed almost the size of the originals, when I was no bigger than a tadpole. Rather than filling the place with things she wanted, she went looking for something to soothe my soul. Taking my own negative words, she transformed them into something positive, something playful, something to heal the wounded child within. She, of course, being me and me being Chrome made this an act of pure, selfless, self-love.

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together…
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen.
I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob

to be continued…

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one for the road

I thought I had decided to stop exhibiting for a while. All of my paintings had been shown more than once, and I hadn’t been in the studio for several months, having been all wrapped up in launching my comic strip, and then lost in the details of building a new website. It was time to get back to work.

So, when Merlina Rokocoko IM’d me the other day and asked if I would participate in the premier exhibit of Pirats‘ new gallery, Linkers, I hesitated for a moment. After all, I had made a decision and thought I should stick to it. Of course, I hadn’t taken into account the persuasive powers of Merlina, a virtual force of nature.

After I had hung my work, though, I received a nice surprise: the new poster for the show (below) included my painting, Sleeping Beauty, as the background. Quite an honor to play backup for a great looking group of artists: Fuschia Nightfire, Maryva Mayo, Dulcis Taurog and Tani Thor. The show starts today, but unfortunately I’ll be in Los Angeles. That’s Real Life.

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the liquid self, part one

The old studio was empty. I had arrived at a dead end, creatively speaking, and it was time to move on.

I needed a new base, a new safe house, a new concrete bunker – high in the sky, far from the pain of rl and the frustrations of the virtual world below. After a brief but thorough search, I came upon a straightforward piece of postmodern architecture; dark on the inside, light on the outside, matching the current state of my soul. I rezzed a beat-up old leather couch, hunkered down and began staring at the concrete walls. It felt pretty good. I was safe. I was in a new place, with new possibilities. I soaked in the silence, the solitude, the emptiness. I was getting ready for the next stage of my journey.

I had filled the past few years with a frenzy of activity: creating a pretty decent body of digital paintings; joining forces with several virtual galleries and holding dozens of exhibits; collaborating with other artists on several projects, creating a virtual comic strip series, yada yada yada.. But the part that did me in was the building of a new website to gather all my creative activities under one big tent, including a gallery, the webcomic, this blog and several other sideshows. It felt good, but by the time I was finished, I was finished. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t create. I couldn’t even think. It was time to rest.

Once I was done savoring all those many layers of sweet silence, though, I began to wonder…. if I were to stay here for a while, would I bring anything in to make it feel more like home? An interesting question, since the emptiness seemed so comforting and, after all, what is home but a source of comfort? Since I couldn’t imagine where to begin or whether I even wanted to, I finally decided I would put the question before each of my avatars – my alts – and let them decide whether or what they wanted to hang on the walls or scatter around the floors. What happened next is a fascinating study of the fluidity of the human mind… what I call the liquid self.

to be continued…..

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A Brief Romance

[6:40:08 AM] she says: :-)  thinking about you
[6:40:15 AM] she says: I dreamt about you last night
[6:40:22 AM] she says: omg wtf
[6:40:44 AM] she says: omg wrong window
[6:40:47 AM] she says: heheheee
[6:42:14 AM] she says: sorry….

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OK Computer, or The Nine Lives of Thom Yorke

The year is 1998. Thom Yorke, lead singer for the rock band Radiohead, sits exhausted in the hallway of a Tokyo hotel. He’s nearing the end of a promotional tour for his new album, OK Computer, and director Grant Gee is recording his every move for the documentary film, Meeting People is Easy. In this scene he’s also being shot by a swarm of Japanese photographers, looking for all the world like a man standing in front of a firing squad. In a sense, he is.

Two of the photos taken at that instant become the basis of a magazine spread. Tracing it from the beginning, this is the journey those images have taken through the maze of media that make up our postmodern lives…

1. The Real Moment occurs.

2. Japanese photographers capture his image in that moment.

3. Grant Gee’s cameramen capture both Thom and the photographers.

4. In the interim, two of the photos become part of a magazine spread.

5. The film containing the magazine spread is shown on the Independent Film Channel.

6. I photograph the televised image of the magazine spread with my iPhone.

7. I upload the photo to my laptop.

8. I then upload the image to the virtual world of Second Life.

9. I place the image on a virtual canvas and hang it on the virtual wall of my virtual studio, then sit back in my virtual Eames chair and listen to OK Computer while reveling in the wonders of modern technology. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

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The Spirit and the Flesh

There are a lot of stories yet to be told about the creative history of the metaverse, about all those sparkling ripples that formed the tsunami of artistic endeavor over the past several years, in every corner of Second Life. Great works appear, great works disappear beneath the waves, leaving nothing behind but some dazzling memories and a few photographs.

One of those stories will be the history of a sim called Cetus – once an eminent arts district launched by Xander Ruttan of Ruttan Gallery fame (where I had my first SL exhibit, btw), later to become a vast wonderland for the experimental architecture of DB Bailey and friends. DB is well known in both worlds for his visionary designs and builds, as well as for his pioneering use of immersive virtual worlds for architectural design and testing.

But, though all things must pass, not all things pass in such colorful and flamboyant ways as this one will. In a finale perfectly in keeping with the explosion of creativity that the sim is known for, DB has decided to host what he refers to as the “Bonfire of the Inventories”, a metaphorical conflagration which  will be second only to the “real” one at Burning Life. As DB puts it,

“Sometimes in order to move on to new realms, one has to clean out the attic. Sometimes a good old bonfire is the best solution. So DB Bailey’s inventory high above CETUS is in flames. Soon to be gone forever. Amongst these artifacts are forgotten works by such artists as Patch Thibaud, Chrome Underwood, Keystone Brouchard, Eshi Otawara, Nomad Molly Nostrum.

You are invited to come visit the conflagration and final days of CETUS. The fire will rage through mid-March, at which time the history of CETUS will come to an end. And DB Bailey will start afresh with a whole new box of toys.”

Stop by and catch a glimpse of some of that collective creative genius while it is still visible above the waves. An example of that genius is the altar of Patch Thibaud‘s Church of St. Briers, a soaring cathedral where angels hover above the luminous (and voluminous) figure known as Grand Odalisque, by RightAsRain Rimbaud.

Seen standing reverently before the sleeping beauty in the photo above are, from left to right, The Chromester, Patch Thibaud and DB Bailey.


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Vanilla added…..

Hey, got a new sidekick… the luscious, and purely organic, Vanilla Titanium. She joined our creative team recently and has already made her debut over at mojozone. She is highly cultured – a former intellectual, in fact, and like many before her she cut her teeth on Kafka, Sartre, Camus and the like, but now prefers to read comic books. She’s a master of traditional woodblock printing, drives a beat up old pickup truck with a big box of Japanese woodcutting tools in the back, and she can rock and mock at the same time, so watch out, boys…

Regarding her striking hairdo, someone asked her today if she could get the Discovery Channel with it. Her response was, well, no, actually, none of the channels she received were terrestrial. hmmm…. that last name, Titanium; she may very well be from another world. Who knows?

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