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.