Igor Ballyhoo

People come and go in Second Life© and then sometimes they come back. I spent some time with the Second Life artist Igor Ballyhoo, putting together this interview. Igor left Second Life at the height of his artistic productivity, which at that time left a big gaping hole in the artist community. He returned eventually and continued creating, but kept a rather low profile and we have not heard much from him until recently when he contributed work to LEA (Cyber Orthodox) and SLB11 (Slave). What follows below is meant to be an interview, but really turned out to be more of a talk about how to make sense of Second Life and art and creativity and everything in between. It is such a pleasure to have the opportunity to present to you here the outrageously talented Igor Ballyhoo.

                   -Kate Bergdorf

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Detail from Cyber Orthodox. Photograph by Igor Ballyhoo.

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Slave. Photograph by Kate Bergdorf.

INTERVIEWER

You did some pretty incredible work when you first came to Second Life. I am thinking about art works like Axis Mundi, Kunst der Fuge, Cyber Shark, Forest of ScissorsSnow Crash, Metamorphoses and others, it is a long list. Then you left Second Life for a hiatus and returned again about a year and half ago. I also at some point left Second Life and then came back. I know for myself that in the beginning after having returned to Second Life I struggled a little with finding a sense of purpose. What I am trying to say is that it is really not that easy coming back after having been gone for a while. What has it been like for you coming back to Second Life, both in terms of creating art and on a more personal level?

BALLYHOO

It’s fine.

INTERVIEWER

The way people are creating in Second Life has changed tremendously since the introduction of mesh. I’ve noticed that you don’t use mesh. I think you told me once that you did not plan on getting the tools required, but I think maybe you prefer not to use mesh at all and I can’t figure out why. I am wondering if it has something to do with craftsmanship in general, but I really don’t know. Would you please expand on your thoughts on mesh and why you may or may not be using it yourself?

BALLYHOO

Mesh, prim, sculpt, particle…for me these are just tools. I always use the most suitable tool for what I want to do. I find mesh be too prim needy and overrated for about everything but wearable things. I can make mesh works, but I didn’t need to so far. Besides, mesh is made outside of SL. I create all my things mostly inworld, or create parts offline, and then assemble it inworld.

INTERVIEWER

Pretty much at the same time as mesh was introduced there was a wave of increased production of  all things related to interior and exterior design. I remember years ago, when I frowned upon unattractive, poorly designed and prim-heavy things like sofas and houses and wished they would have been made differently. These days, wherever you turn in Second Life, there is an abundance of beautiful things, it is like stepping into an Architectural Digest magazine, really. And it is not only things, whole sims are created in such as way as to perfectly imitate real life environments. While I eagerly keep on blogging about these places and things and love visiting them, I am also asking myself if this is really the point of the virtual space, to copy real life I mean. What are your thoughts on this?

BALLYHOO

The first thing I realized about SL is that most of the time you can use reverse psychology – you see what others gravitate towards and you can see what they don’t really have in RL. The most beautiful and attractive avatars are most often ppl who are crocodiles in RL. The most beautiful villas are owned by the poorest fucks in RL. SL is in a way a prosthetic for human needs. Me, for example, I was known for cybering around. Of course, that means I didn’t get much intimacy in RL. SO what ever thoughts I might have on if it is right or wrong to imitate RL in SL is actually irrelevant. SL has ability to be everything.

INTERVIEWER

You have succeed in Second Life in doing something only a small group of other creators have successfully done, namely, the work you produce is original. We see this done by other gifted artists in Second Life as well, like Simotron Aquila, Rebeca Bashly, Typote Beck, Baker Blinker, Rose Borchovski, Artistide Despres, blotto Epsilon + Cutea Benelli, Claudia222 Jewell, Meilo Minotaur, nessuno Myoo, Romy Nayar, Soror Nishi, Bryn Oh, Selavy Oh, Oberon Onmura, Maya Paris, Scottius Polke, AM Radio, CapCat Ragu and Bliss Violet. I am sure there are others, but these are the ones that come to mind at the moment. The point is, that the work created by these people, and by you, is groundbreaking in the sense that it is original for the virtual setting. I suspect it may not be that easy to speak of the creative process, but, if you could, please share what it is like for you to create, specifically as related to the virtual world.

BALLYHOO

It is easy. Effortless.

INTERVIEWER

To me, one of your most beautiful and meaningful works is the installation Axis Mundi, created in 2009. It could be seen at the space provided by the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) for a while, but, as the sim was recently closed, I suspect it is now gone. Thankfully, one can easily google your work and as most of it has been written about and/or captured on machinima so we have an archive of sorts. It is obviously not the same as experiencing your installations in vivo, but better than nothing at all. Please reflect if you would on Axis Mundi, how it came about and what is the meaning of it to you.

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Axis Mundi. Photograph by Igor Ballyhoo.

BALLYHOO

I was always obsessed with contrasts. At the time when I made Axis Mundi, I was trying to make conclusions in regards to what I had observed for about 35 years of my existence. And, of course, I came to the same conclusion that millions of others have come to – things are never black and white, they are always gray. NO. That can not be so. Something must be of an origin, something must be the true source of all good and all evil. So I realized that the source of all good and all evil must be in the center of existence and that all we have of it are logically mixed in waves of gray. Before anyone who might read all this shit thinks I am some religious wanker, I must declare that I don’t believe in existence of GOD or GODS or what ever.

INTERVIEWER

Let’s switch gears a little and talk about music and how it is part of your creative work and your life in general. I think it is pretty safe to say your taste in music is eclectic, anything from punk and heavy metal to classical music and opera? I know for a fact that you are a great admirer of Johann Sebastian Bach. One of your best works, Kunst der Fuge, also created in 2009, is based upon the work with the same name by Bach. How did this work come about? I think it was housed at the University of Western Australia (UWA) for a while, is it still there and, if not, can you tell us where it can be located inworld now?

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Kunst der Fuge, aka Chaos in Order. Photograph by Igor Ballyhoo.

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Kunst der Fuge, aka Chaos in Order. Photograph by Igor Ballyhoo.

BALLYHOO

YES, yes! I adore Bach. Kunst der Fuge… hm, it was like this: there was a soul in SL, AuraKyo, who was the absolutely best artist I knew and she was making some like group exhibit festival or something. She knew some of my works and she invited me to participate. I so fuckin’ wanted to impress her with some spectacular work, but I couldn’t think straight at all since I was obsessed with Kunst der Fuge. It is magnificent in it’s contrasts. It is true chaos in full order! So I said fuck it, I’ll never be able to make something worth seeing for that festival, I might as well make what ever I want. And I created a fine grid of contrapunctus. Then I needed demons inside of it and I made them. They moved randomly, just as they had to. I was sure nobody in world would find any interest in that work, yet it became the one things I made that ppl mention the most. So I think it is a product of me missing intimacy and Bach’s guidance. Everything has to be the product of something. I never did it before so now is a good opportunity – I dedicate Kunst der Fuge (aka Chaos In Order) to AuraKyo Insoo.

After she was gone I was still coming from time to time to have my hair brushed but all that she was became just reflection in her mirror

After she was gone I was still coming from time to time to have my hair brushed but all that she was became is just reflection in her mirror. Photograph by Igor Ballyhoo.

INTERVIEWER

Cyber Shark. It won the January 2010 round in the UWA 3D Art & Design Challenge (and, of note, it was also your second win in a row at UWA). This work is truly outstanding and mesmerizing in so many ways. I remember having been in an almost hypnotic state watching it gliding forward under water, its translucent structure forceful in a sort of quiet way. I was, I will not lie, a little fearful of its imposing presence alone. Do you remember what was on your mind as you made this creature?

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Cyber Shark. Photograph by Igor Ballyhoo.

BALLYHOO

Yes, of course, I remember. I was completely bored and I wanted to make myself a toy, a pet if u like. I spent much time on platforms and around sandboxes just building. Sometimes people would come to watch me build, but most often I was alone and wanted something that moved around while I was building. So, that shark was just my toy that people took too seriously. I sent it to Jayjay [Jayjay Zifanwe] as a toy and he entered it into the competition. I didn’t even know he did it, I think. And ppl liked it. Weird.

INTERVIEWER

I believe you made Forest of Scissors in 2010 before Snow Crash. This haunting installation, consisting of tall, extended scissors grouped together as a forest, was the subject of countless numbers of machinima and blog posts when it first opened. I visited the Forest of Scissors many times over the years, usually when I wanted to impress a friend or just needed to be reminded of the awesomeness of creation in Second Life myself.  Can you please share with us what is the meaning of this work and what the creative process was like? You told me once you had to position each of the scissors separately in different angles, must have been a lot of work.

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Forest of Scissors. Photograph by Igor Ballyhoo.

BALLYHOO

That was one weird dream that I had. I dreamed I was walking through the desert and all around me were these huge scissors that were falling from the sky. One of things that was the most impressive in the dream was the sound of the wind that went over the sharp scissor edges. I was not able to reproduce that sound in any way, so for me Forest of Scissors was never completed. At that time, I was hanging out a lot with one of the creators I admire very much in SL, Rose Borchovski. Forest of Scissors was supposed to be installed on her sim Two Fish, but we were fighting like two gypsies at that time (we don’t talk any more at all now). I decided I would put it somewhere else and I got the UTSA space in sky for it.

INTERVIEWER

You both curated and created your own work for Snow Crash, which was sponsored by UTSA ArtSpace in 2011. Rebeca Bashly took part in putting together this huge project as well. This large installation, inspired by the novel with the same name by the author Neal Stephenson, consisted of several smaller contributions by the best artists in Second Life at the time. Needless to say, it was a great success. What was it like for you to curate an event of that magnitude? And, in retrospect, would you have done anything differently?

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Detail from Snow Crash. Photograph by Rebeca Bashly.

BALLYHOO

Back then I was searching for origins of SL and stumbled up on a story that Philip Linden had read, Snow Crash, and then decided to make metaverse from the book. Personally, I didn’t like the book much, I found it to be something of a commercial copy of Gibson’s Neuromancer. I did like the moment in the book where some dude had an aircraft carrier, around which was tied all kinds of boats and rafts with international refugees. They were all traveling toward something different then reality. So I had to try to make that very scene, but where the refugees would be actual creators of SL from around the world. Back then, Rebeca was just starting building and I asked her to join me. It was an amazing colab between of us. Since then, she has outgrown me in technical ways as builder by far, but I think I still create with more freedom. The only thing I regret about the Snow Crash installation is that we didn’t have more strength and time to make it far bigger then it was. It was supposed to have hundreds and hundreds of rafts. Maybe one day.

INTERVIEWER

You worked on the installation Metamorphoses, sponsored by UTSA, for a long time and it was opened to the public in 2011. It was a dark, very beautiful and quite complex work consisting of layers and layers of meaning. Perhaps, to a certain extent, reflected in this installation was the discord experienced in the art community at large during that particular time. I don’t know. A short time period after that you left Second Life. What can you tell us about this work? And what are some of your thoughts on this time particular time period in the art community Second Life?

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Detail of Metamorphoses. Photograph by Honour McMillan.

BALLYHOO

I had not been in SL for about 1.5 to 2 years and then, a few days after I came back, I went to see Metamorphoses. When I saw it for the first time after such a long absence, I felt like it didn’t belong to me at all. Fuck, no, that work was genial, it couldn’t have been me who created it. The objects there were telling my life, I saw clear reflections of myself in each element, but I didn’t feel as if I had created them. In a way I probably didn’t create them, it was life itself that did it. I just took some time to paint it with prims. That particular time in SL was verrrry curious. Claudia222 just started creating her amazing works and, also, as you mentioned, other creators were at their peak. Then I just left. I came back and things didn’t move at all. Everyone was still recycling the same old shit. Or they had left.

INTERVIEWER

Maybe we can end this interview with some thoughts on the current state of the arts in Second Life. I’ll start with my two cents: When I am out exploring, looking for art galleries, I usually end up disappointed since an interesting small gallery is exceedingly hard to find. In terms of large installation sims, there are thankfully a few predictably really good ones (for instance, MetaLES [currently under construction], Mysterious Wave, Immersiva, Petrovsky Flux). While great efforts have certainly been made by the Linden Lab, specifically the Linden Endowment for the Arts, to promote art in Second Life, I think their attempt has only partially been successful. It appears the selection of artists for the sims available is the job of a small group of people with little or no input from the public. While some of the LEA installations are great, others leave a lot to desire. One wonders about selection criteria. What are your thoughts on Second Life art? What kind of changes should be made?

BALLYHOO

LEA killed SL art. It turned it into a gargantuan street fair. LL made a virtual burning man and a virtual SLB as a permanent thing, but art simply doesn’t work that way. In my opinion, small galleries by a few enthusiastic curators would be more valuable to SL art then are all these LEA sims now. I did recently show my work on a LEA sim, but, to be honest, it was not to support LEA but to support the man who asked me to do it – Jayjay (big respect). The biggest problem with the LEA sims is that from one sim u see the other sims that are located next to it. This creates the feeling of a sandbox. You can’t enjoy going to the opera if in the room next to it there is rock concert. Then all that shit with the ruling structures and all the bureaucracy… IF LL wanted to do something good for SL art, I think it would be wise to just to search around a little for people who like you had small galleries that they were paying for from their own pockets and provide them with sims to their disposal.

INTERVIEWER

Thank you, Igor, for agreeing to be interviewed for this blog. Hopefully we will see more of your work in Second Life on an ongoing basis.

BALLYHOO

 You are welcome.

Alt Out

Wanted: Real Life drivers of virtual avatars for over dinner conversation. It was unusual for me to be reading a newspaper, far less a local one and much less still its personals; a delayed train, a weak phone battery and a discarded copy of The Record on the bench next to me, however – and no other reading material to hand – left me with few other choices. Are you local to Basingstoke? Are you active in the Metaverse? As it happened, I was both. I’m looking to create a dining club for six to eight residents, meeting monthly for good food and stimulating conversation. I liked the idea immediately. Ring Edward, it said; I made a note of the contact number on the back of my hand.

A day’s work later I noticed the fading numerals and the memory returned, as it had with each successive hand wash of the day (only then to evaporate as I stepped out of the mens’ room and let the business of the moment back into my thoughts). Two more washes and it would be gone for good. I rang the number and asked for Edward.

“Ah,” said a gruff, but sculpted voice at the other end. “You’re ringing about the advert. Very good. Now, before you say another word, there’s a very important rule that I intend all members should follow – always assuming, of course, that you choose to become one. The rule is, you must never refer to your real life name during conversation. That includes the conversation we’re having right now. Am I clear?”

He expanded on his rules at the start of our very first dinner, some three weeks later. Edward was an imposing man, tall and elderly, but with an ageless vitality. He sat at the head of the table and the six of us fell naturally into position, three to each side. Whilst the wine was being poured, he tapped his fork against an empty glass and waited with a smile for us to turn.

“My friends,” he started. “I’ve greeted each of you individually, of course. I wish to say just a few more words to mark the start of our acquaintanceship; after that, there will be no more standing to occasion, I promise.”

“He’s a bit egocentric,” the woman to my right whispered. We’d exchanged a hello of sorts when we’d sat down.

“I like egocentric people,” I murmured. “They don’t waste mental capacity worrying about what others think of them.”

“That must be nice,” she said.

The rules were established thus: Absolutely no real life information was to be shared; avatar names were to be used at all times, though it was up to individuals how much of their metaverse identity they shared (and pseudonyms could be used if they didn’t want to share anything at all); everything spoken at the table was in the strictest confidence; finally, it was recommended that none of us met up inworld to prevent the formation of cliques. These policies agreed, we next introduced ourselves. The woman to my right, Mary-Anne Middlemarch, was a fashionista blogger, as was the middle-aged man immediately opposite me, though he introduced himself in the first instance as a photographer. When pushed for a name, he winced a little and checked that everyone agreed on the confidentiality policy (we all nodded vigorously). “I appreciate the option to come under a false name,” he said, “but what on earth would be the point if I had to just make stuff up all the time? Very well. My name inworld is Jennifer Bit. I play a female avatar, and none of my virtual friends know I’m actually male.”

Edward rubbed his chin for a moment about this. Meanwhile, the man to my left who had introduced himself as Raw Concrete, furniture builder, asked Jennifer, “So what are you? Gay? Bi? Transgender?”

“None of the above,” replied Bit, a little stiffly. “You are most welcome here, Jennifer,” said Edward, before further comment could be made. “Please feel free to adopt whichever gender role you feel most comfortable with.”

That left club owner and skin designer Indigo Williams to Edward’s left, a young woman with purple hair, yellow lipstick and black fingernails (she actually did look like an avatar), and Rainy September to Jennifer’s left, who declared that she did nothing at all in the metaverse except explore new places and party. I, of course, introduced myself as a writer.

“And what,” asked Edward, “do you write about, Leonard?”

“Anything in the metaverse that takes my fancy,” I replied, hoping that sounded grandiose. In fact, I didn’t really want to go into the details because people’s eyes generally start to glaze over when a writer they’ve never heard of starts talking about their work. I consider it an important quality as a writer to recognise that.

“And what do you do, Edward?” asked Mary-Anne.

“I role play,” he answered. “Which makes me similar to Leonard, because role play involves a lot of writing. But it also makes me similar to everyone around this table, since we are all, are we not, remaining in roles we have meticulously created.”

“Right,” Jennifer said and nodded his/her agreement

“Speak for yourself,” said Rainy. “How I am inworld is no different from how I am in real life.”

“You’re an explorer in real life, then?” I asked her.

“Careful now!” said Edward sharply, pointing his index fingers at each of us. “That question leads to real life discussion. If that happens I will simply get up and leave, and it will be the last you ever see of me. Sorry to be dramatic. Rainy, my dear,” he continued, more gently, “I don’t doubt for one moment that how, for example, you treat people is no different in the metaverse than it is out here – I would hope that that’s broadly true of everyone around this table – but that’s not really what I mean by role. Perhaps… ‘identity’ would have been a better word.”

The food came and, for a moment, the conversation went quiet. Presently, Edward commented, waving theatrically as he did a forkful of roast beef in the air, “So what I want for us to do, friends, is to discuss metaverse issues; to chew the fat over its unique curiosities; to keep each other’s counsel.”

“A council of avatars?” I asked.

“A dining club,” Edward asserted, “nothing more.”

“Would that make us a fraternity?” said Indigo, speaking from the lip of her wine glass.

“It would make us a dining club,” replied Edward.

“In any case,” commented Raw, who was clearing his plate with alarming efficiency, “fraternities are men only.”

“Historically,” said Indigo. “There’s no reason I can see why a male-female organisation with similar aims couldn’t exist. Not today.”

“Maybe not,” said Raw, “but you’d have to call that something else.”

“What would you call it, Mr Concrete?” Jennifer asked.

Raw actually tore his eyes from his dinner plate for a moment to consider the question. “Framaternity? Framternity? Friternity? Biternity? I dunno.”

“Is that with an I or a Y?” Indigo asked.

“How the hell should I know?” he replied, his attention now well and truly back on the pizza he had ordered. “Ask someone who’s not dyslexic.”

“In any case,” said Edward, “it just makes us a dining club.”

Raw said, “Well, since the subject of identity came up earlier, I have a metaverse puzzler that’s been playing on my mind the last couple of days.” He flicked an olive to a gathering pile at the side of his plate and carved himself out an enormous rectangle of pizza, which he then proceeded to fold in two.

“Why did you order olives if you don’t like them?” Rainy asked him.

“By themselves they’re diabolical,” he replied, “but I like the way they make the cheese taste.”

“Share with us your problem, please,” said Edward. “Perhaps we might collectively be able to shed some light on it.”

“Well it’s not really a problem as such,” Raw said through his mouthful. “I just can’t figure it out. You see, I got outed as an alt the other day and I can’t work out what gave me away.”

“You have an alt?” asked Rainy.

Raw looked at her. “You don’t?”

“Absolutely not.” She looked down at her plate quickly and skewered a carrot.

“Well good for you. I do.”

“So who called you?” Indigo asked.

“A friend I have in both circles,” Raw replied. “But there are only four or five in that overlap. As Raw, almost all my time is spent building. My alt’s my ‘off duty’ avatar and I mostly mix with other people when I’m using it.”

“And your friend didn’t tell you what gave you away?”

“Nope.” He flicked another olive to one side. “She told me not knowing would be my punishment for not having told her who I was.”

“Good for her,” Rainy commented.

“Bad for me,” Concrete retorted, “It’s driving me nuts!”

“Why didn’t you tell her?” asked Mary-Anne, who I noticed at this point had hardly started her turkey salad.

“Why should I?” Raw demanded. “What I do in the metaverse is my own business. It’s not like I’m partnered or anything; who has the right to know?

“In any case,” he continued, “I don’t even have these people in my friends list in my alt account. They just happened to be in the places I visited as him.”

“But they were on your list in your primary account,” I said.

“Oh sure. And Lilly’s one of my oldest pals.”

“Why didn’t you just lie when she asked if it was you,” asked Indigo. “It’s what I would have done.”

“In the first place,” replied Raw, “she didn’t ask, she stated.” He paused to swallow. “In the second, not telling her and actively denying the claim are two different levels of lie. I could live with a lie by omission, but telling her she was wrong when she was right would be diabolical.”

“Even so,” said Jennifer quietly, “you still have the right to privacy.”

Indigo swirled her wine glass in the air thoughtfully for a moment. “Perhaps it was what you were wearing that gave you away. Do you shop in the same places for both your avies?”

“Yes, I was wondering the same thing,” Mary-Anne commented.

“I haven’t bought a new outfit for Raw in at least a year.” The builder carved up the remaining half of his pizza into three precisely equal slices. “What do I want clothes for?”

“And your alt?” asked Mary-Anne.

“I buy for him all over the place. I don’t ‘shop’,” he added, forming the air quotes with his temporarily foodless cutlery. “I think up what I want to look like and then I hunt the look down in web stores. I don’t care where I get it from, so long as it looks like what I want it to look like. I can’t bear all the standing around in metaverse shops just to see if there’s something I like there.”

“Typical man,” said Indigo, and got nods of approval from Mary-Anne, Rainy and Jennifer. Raw just shrugged.

“Okay, so forget about the actual clothing,” she continued, “what about your skin and shape? If you hate experimentation, did you just stick with what you knew when you created the new avatar and buy those again before you got going on creating an outfit?”

Raw thought about that for a moment, chewing whilst he did. “Now that you mention it, I think I did buy the same brand of shape and skin when I created him as what I was used to, though definitely not the same specific products. It doesn’t make any difference, though: I’ve changed both at least twice since then. I haven’t worn those for at least a couple of years.”

“Hairstyle,” said Mary-Anne. “Good quality hair in the metaverse is so much harder to find for men than it is for women. Do you use the same hair on both avatars? A woman would definitely notice that.”

“Well, you’re right about it being hard to find anything worth wearing,” Raw said. “But it’s not like it’s impossible. Raw wears blonde dreadlocks. My alt has four or five different styles he alternates between – none of which are dreadlocks.”

“Are they all the same designer, though?”

“I don’t think so,” he replied and shoveled more pizza into his mouth.

“I bet it’s your animation over-ride,” wagered Jennifer. “Guys use about three. You’re either a foot-to-foot or a jiggler or a crotch-clutcher.”

Concrete dismissed all this immediately. “In the first place, I dispute your claim: there’s loads of good AOs out there for men, though I know the sort of thing you’re talking about and the crotch one is diabolical.”

“I didn’t say there was an absence of choice,” grumbled Jennifer, “just an absence of choosing.”

“In the second place,” Raw continued, “I use completely different animation sets for my two accounts. My building avatar has to remain still whilst I work: if he moves in front of small things I’m editing it drives me mad.”

“Well then, it has to be something about the way you write chat,” I said, pleased to be owning the query concerning words, “the way you say stuff or the type of vocabulary you use.”

“Actually I did think about that,” Raw replied, waving his fork at me whilst he spoke so that a mushroom slice fell onto the table cloth next to my plate of ravioli (I generally tend to choose pasta when eating out with people I don’t know very well; it’s just the safer option). “The thing is, when I’m working as Raw I really don’t chat all that much. And when I do, I tend to talk technical stuff related to building: my building, my friends’ building, builds I’ve seen, and so on. It’s not that I never chat informally, but it just doesn’t happen all that much.

“Now in my alt, on the other hand, I’m much more sociable. Well, the whole point of creating him in the first place was to have more fun. I’d even go so far as to say I force myself to take part more in local chat. It’s a completely different interaction.”

“What about your emoting style?” Indigo asked. Chat is one thing, but emotes can reveal your style much more clearly. Unless you’re a writer-” she looked at me on this word and I could swear she was dangling almost invisible quote marks around it, “-it’s like a fingerprint.”

“Simple,” he replied. “I never emote as Raw.”

“I’m guessing you don’t voice in both accounts either,” said Mary-Anne. “That would be too obvious.”

“I don’t voice in either,” Raw said with a grimace.

I wasn’t convinced by his dismissal of my point about writing style and said so. “It has to be that,” I insisted. “It’s just something you’re not aware of.”

“Maybe you’re right,” he said, “but I’m telling you, I talk in two completely different styles in there.”

“Well I still think it’s something you were wearing,” said Indigo. “Maybe you don’t consciously shop in the same places, but you could still have ended up wearing the same label.”

“If so, then it was a complete coincidence,” Raw replied. “And in any case, what if I was? Plenty of guys must go around wearing the same designer as others. It’s too slim a connection, and she was definite.”

All the obvious ideas depleted, the conversation suddenly lulled. I looked at our host, who had been taking in the whole thing with a large, satisfied smile on his face. “What do you think, Edward?”

He leaned towards me. “What I think, my dear fellow, is that this little idea of mine has already exceeded my best expectations. We must make this a regular occurrence. We must.””

“Just a shame nobody could solve my problem,” Raw said and commenced his assault upon the final slice.

Our host put down his cutlery and dabbed at the side of his mouth with his napkin. “Well, perhaps I might be able to help you there.”

“Edward, don’t tell us you’ve gone and worked it out whilst we’ve all been making fools of ourselves,” said Indigo, smiling for the first time that evening.

“Hardly fools, my dear,” said Edward. “All very helpful lines of enquiry, I assure you. I must agree with Leonard, however, that the most likely clue would have to be something said.”

“Fine,” said Raw. “But what?”

“Something – a single word, perhaps – which you might use as the situation demanded in both social conversation and discussions about building.”

“Like I said,” protested the builder, “I can’t think of anything.”

Edward smiled. “We are so rarely aware of our own mannerisms. Did you know, my boy, that on three separate occasions this evening you’ve used the word, ‘diabolical’ to indicate your disapproval of something? One could just as easily describe a building as diabolical as a behaviour or predicament.”

Raw’s fork, with its final mouthful of pizza, stopped halfway to his mouth. “Diabolical,” he repeated. “I do like that word. Really? Do you think that could that be it?”

“Oh come on,” said Rainy. “That’s even more tenuous than the branded clothing. It’s not like he said it every other word.”

“Indeed,” said Edward, “except we’re not actually talking about a word that ever has been said in the metaverse by our friend here.” He removed a ball point pen from his jacket and handed it to Raw with an unused paper napkin. “Be a good chap and write it down for me, would you?”

Raw frowned. “Well,” he said, “I’ll have a go. You really should be asking someone who’s not dyslexic.”

“Ah,” I said, watching.

“The word itself,” said Edward to Rainy, “would indeed probably only arouse at best a mild suspicion. But if there was something else about how the person wrote that word…” He held up the napkin, on which was written, “Diabolicle”.

“That’s not how you spell it, is it?” Raw said miserably.

“I’m afraid not, my boy,” Edward replied. “But it would scarcely matter in the vast majority of contexts. And I have to agree with you completely that it is a very fine word indeed.”

Written by Huckleberry Hax

Harbor Galaxy

As with most art genres in Second Life© the category photography is not easily defined. What we have are various photography subcategories like fashion photography, portrait photography, erotic photography, fractal photography, landscape photography, the list goes on. Then there is the fine art photography by Harbor Galaxy. I stumbled upon her work by chance whilst visiting an art gallery in Second Life. Struck by the beauty of her photographs, I was left with the sense that her work belonged in a class of its own. Besides that which is obvious to a viewer’s eye, like the well thought-out compositions, the bright colors and the subtle influence of light, reflected in Galaxy’s work is a sort of blurring of virtual and non-virtual boundaries. To me, this is the hallmark of her work; the seamless integration of both virtual and non-virtual visual aspects to the point where it becomes unclear which is which.

                 -Kate Bergdorf

 

INTERVIEWER

How did you get into virtual photography?

GALAXY

I am something of a purpose driven person. I had tried building but there were so many others who were doing it so much better that didn’t seem like such a good idea. I had always had an interest in photography and just thought “Why not?”

INTERVIEWER

What inspires you, in general? And is there anything specifically that inspires you to take photographs here?

GALAXY

I love the dream like quality of Second Life and how you can infuse a sense of mystery into your vision.

INTERVIEWER

I often feel the same way here. Can you say something more about the dream like quality experience?

GALAXY

Second Life provides me with an environment in which I can look at deeper emotions that I perhaps don’t access as much in my Real Life, I was going to say waking life.

INTERVIEWER

Your photograph And the Seas Shall Rise is very dreamlike to me. It reminds me a little of the watercolor paintings by the Swedish painter and illustrator John Bauer (1882 to 1918). Where in Second Life did you take this particular photograph?

GALAXY

I took that photo at Moving Islands, which is a LEA installation curated by Eupalinos Ugajin. The build itself was done by Meilo Minotaur. I was struck by the way she had the land sinking beneath the wave and the surreal nature of the creatures and it put me in mind of the global climate change and I felt I had to try to capture a kind of Cassandra moment. Does that make sense? I was thinking of those old master pieces where there is something going on in different parts of the canvas.

INTERVIEWER

It does make sense to me. I haven’t seen that build by Minotaur, but I think it is probably still there so I will take a look. Yes, I can see the sort of split up parts in the photograph, little scenes of sorts at different places. Very cool. I also love the colors in that photograph and your sense of colors in general. You know, I was so surprised to hear that you are not an artist in Real Life. You are not in any kind of creative field in any way?

And the Seas Shall Rise
And the Seas Shall Rise. Photograph by Harbor Galaxy.

GALAXY

Thank you. Meilo and her artistic partner CapCat Ragu are some of my favorite installation artists in Second Life. No, although I grew up with a mother who was very artistic and did oil painting and I have an aunt that does wonderful portraits. I never really took it up. I did do a bit of sketching when I was very young, but never kept it up. I was a theatre major in college so I do have a flair for the dramatic, but that’s about it. I wanted to say that one of the best things about Second Life as an artistic medium is how democratic it is and how forgiving. It is a place where you can really play and discover your inner artist.

INTERVIEWER

Yes. And in some way it actually also makes sense to me that you are not an artist in Real Life. I think this virtual environment is a great place for us to discover aspects of ourselves that we otherwise would not. Do you think your photography has changed over the time you have been here?

GALAXY

Exactly. I think as we age we forget our ability to play and in this environment it feels a little safer perhaps to experiment and see where your creativity takes you. When I first started, I looked primarily at this world through the builders perspective perhaps. I took a lot of abstract shots looking at angles and such. As I became a bit more confident I started working more with the avatar, which I thought was difficult. It is hard to bring an emotional content to something that has no mode of expression. Somewhere in there I began being involved in the use of saturated color and trying to use color to help provide emotional content. It’s a work in progress, always.

INTERVIEWER

Considering what you just said, do you think taking photographs gets more difficult or easier with time?

GALAXY

I think for me it becomes more difficult. When I’m taking pictures I’m looking for a moment, a kind of aha moment. It usually has some to do with the light and color of the space I’m in and then I try to build on that moment. But because I work this way it’s easy to say the same thing over and over again. This is why I think it’s becomes more difficult for me. I’m always in awe of artist that know what they want to say from the beginning and then go about putting it together. Very few of my pieces start out like that.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about the photograph Leave Taking. I like the contrasting red and black and also the way the female figure is almost absorbed in the black. Do you remember what you were thinking when you took it? Where was it taken?

GALAXY

I was taken by the color scheme and the almost architectural structure of her dress. I thought the black, white with the red elements gave it a strong graphic quality. And I loved the avatar walking out of the frame, it seems to give a sense of movement to an otherwise static shot. It was taken at a Rose Borchovski’s LEA installation, the Russian Avant Garde. I’m a big fan of some of the LEA installations.

Leave Taking
Leave Taking. Photograph by Harbor Galaxy.

INTERVIEWER

The thing that strikes me in many of your photographs is that you somehow are able to incorporate the virtual and the non-virtual. Do you know what I mean?

GALAXY

Maybe, and this is just a thought, because the work really isn’t about Second Life per se, it’s about a moment that is emotionally based taken from my Real Life experiences.

INTERVIEWER

Yes, I agree, it is about emotion and you capture it. Another one of your works, Red Cape Against Blue Sky, is more like a watercolor painting than a photograph. It has a Georgia O’Keeffeish quality to it. There is something incredibly sensual going on there! What inspired you to create this work?

GALAXY

It’s that damn cape! I love it and have used it in quite of few pieces. I think the structure of the cape itself in very sensual, it’s curves and flair and feeling of movement built into the garment. Whenever I wear it, it kind of demands a picture of some sort. I also like the faceless quality in that piece. The body language tells the story.

Red Cape Against Blue Sky
Red Cape Against Blue Sky. Photograph by Harbor Galaxy.

INTERVIEWER

Who do you think are some of the artists who have influenced your work the most?

GALAXY

That is really so hard to say because most of the influences are subliminal. I’m a big fan of Edward Hopper and I like the strong color of Van Gogh. You know, I really have no idea. I’ve had people tell me that a picture has a particular feeling to it like a certain artist but I really couldn’t say that any one artist is a primary influence.

INTERVIEWER

There is something wonderfully archaic about Sins Coming Home to Roost. I love the fantasy aspect, that the female figure is neither a human or animal. And, again, with this work I get the sense that it could be a watercolor painting, not necessarily a photograph. First I though perhaps you had taken it at A.M. Radio’s The Far Away, but looking closer it may have been shot elsewhere. Where did you take it? And what went through your mind as your were taking this photograph?

GALAXY

I love this picture. It was taken at a little temporary sim that was constructed for the Krosmomer Project. It was a project in which avatars and poses were provided to anyone who wanted them to create pictures or videos depicting various Norwegian folktales. The artists involved in creating this project were Heidi Dahlsveen, Mimesis Monday, Frigg Ragu, CapCat Ragu, Meilo Minotaur and Merete Grimeland. The only thing from this project I used for this shot was the location. I loved the sense of space and the fields of grass. The headpiece was one that was created by Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu. I loved the hearts hanging from the branches. When I took the shot or, several shots actually, the hearts reminded me of the regrets or sins that we carry around with us. I put the birds in to create a sense of menace, a price to be paid. Everything has a price. Oh, that sounds so dark!

INTERVIEWER

Beautiful, really. What do you want people to take away from your photographs?

Sins Coming Home to Roost
Sins Coming Home to Roost.  Photograph by Harbor Galaxy.

GALAXY

I want the viewer to, for just a moment, share that aha moment I experienced when I took the shot. A recognition of a shared emotion.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any advice or suggestions for aspiring virtual world photographers?

GALAXY

Play, play, play. Experiment with form and color. Whether you use Gimp or Photoshop, press all the buttons and see what they can do. It’s how you find your voice.

INTERVIEWER

Finally, if you could choose only one of your photographs for an art photography exhibit, which one would it be and why?

GALAXY

That’s like picking your favorite child! I do love Sins Coming Home to Roost and I have some others that aren’t as popular but I love because they are different. I just finished one called Still Waters that I like a great deal. It’s different from what a normally do and I have another favorite, Borderlands.

INTERVIEWER

Thank you, Harbor, for meeting with me at such a late hour and for answering these questions. It has been such a great pleasure spending time getting to know you.

GALAXY

Thank you, Kate. This is my first time being interviewed and it was painless, who knew? It was a real pleasure.

 

 

teleport

teleport

a touch is a click
a digital request for travel
aboard the metaverse transit

imagine the sound of the teleport
like that of the speeding force of a bird
like that of a passing jet

then, for a moment
suspended transition in between
this place and the other

then, landing
hesitantly emerging out of a puffy red cloud
shaking off the color like a wet dog

Written by Kate Bergdorf

blotto Epsilon + Cutea Benelli: Petrovsky Flux

Two creative Second Life© residents, backed by a grant from an educational institution, combined one of their existing projects from 2008, Bogon flux, and the idea of a Petrovsky lacuna (by the Russian mathematician Ivan Pertovsky) and completed in 2010 the project on the sim Spencer Art Museum they named A Petrovsky Flux. The basic premise of this work are clusters of things that are constantly changing and rearranging and surrounding the visitor with a sense of the surreal or perhaps the experience of being in a dream. Together with a handful other immersive art installations like, for instance, The Far Away (AM Radio) and Immersiva (Bryn Oh), A Petrovsky Flux has certainly stood the test of time. One can safely say it has become a Second Life classic. The visionary creators of all these mentioned virtual art projects share a high standard of work reflecting a sophisticated understanding of the creative process within the virtual sphere. Visitors find themselves returning for the artistic experience and, of course, for the immersion.

Scripter and builder collaborators blotto Epsilon and Cutea Benelli are the two brain children behind Petrovsky Flux in Second Life. The project is sponsored by the Spencer Museum of Art of the University of Kansas. Rumor in Second Life has it that blotto Epsilon, who has been a resident of Second Life since 2005, is one hell of a scripter. His co-conspirator, Cutea Benelli, in Second Life since 2007, is the founder of the infamous Grim Bros stores. In a whimsical note card that is provided together with a quite dramatic helmet when one first teleports into the Spencer Museum of Art sim, the two emphasize the importance of protection while exploring the intermittently rapidly shifting parts of the sim, noting that [t]he solid remains of this aggressively fecund process are brittle and failure-prone, so we recommend (and provide) protective headgear. Legitimate reasons for ignoring this precaution include preexisting brain damage and general stupidity (however, please note that in case of the latter, the helmet will make you look smarter). Visitors are also encouraged in the same note card to click things, poke stuff and try to sit on items. When interacting with objects on the sim the participant becomes part of an immersive experience. The Petrovsky Flux project has been part of the Spencer Museum of Art’s permanent exhibits since 2010. With this initiative, the museum has pondered about art in virtual settings, posing questions like How can a work of art created and seen in a virtual environment be meaningful in a real-world museum?, How can such work be shared in a real-life museum?, How does the Museum catalog and document such a work?, and Is Second Life a viable medium for the arts? Of note is also that the University of Kansas is in fact only one of three larger educational institutions showing interest in Second Life virtual art, the other ones are the University of Texas and the University of Western Australia.

When one visits whole sim art installations in Second Life one is more often than not struck by a lack of cohesion. While the objects placed on the sim are usually inspiring and well-crafted, the sum of these parts do not necessarily make up an integrated whole, which leaves an impression of the installation being disjointed. This is not at all the case on A Petrovsky Flux, where resides one might say an organized chaos. Random made-up items, like pink upholstered furniture on large springs, sheep with small helicopter-blade attachments or steam punk inspired large and small pipes with windows, are in a constant state of moving or shifting shape. The movements and shape shifts are not at all predictable, rather completely unexpected and random, consistently taking the visitor by surprise. There are static objects around as well, like a cluster of TVs or a small garden of light bulbs. There is a lonesome wandering chicken. The foundation upon which all of this rests consists of a dark organic seeming dry clay-like ground, interspersed with pockets of water. Wandering around on the Spencer Art Museum sim on which A Petrovsky Flux is installed one can’t help but experience a sense of childlike wonder. No doubt, the tremendous artistic talent, and the immersion that comes with it, is what makes this place shine. But, ultimately, it is the infusion of humor and, yes, the two creators’  obvious love for this build itself that entices a visitor’s return.

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Written by Kate Bergdorf
Photography by Helene Lytton