Senna Coronet

Senna Coronet‘s new exhibit Loss opens tomorrow at Berg by Nordan Art. We got to spend some time together planning the show and we ended up putting together this interview as well. I am so pleased that Senna will show his extraordinary photographs at the gallery and very happy we got to put together the interview too. So without further ado, I present to you the talented Senna Coronet.

~Kate Bergdorf

Interviewer

First, thank you Senna for agreeing to this interview. I know you are incredibly busy at the moment with all kinds of things, both inside and outside of Second Life. I very much appreciate you making time for this!

Coronet

No worries at all. Thank you for the opportunity to do this show in Amona’s place.

Interviewer

Let’s jump right in. You have been in Second Life since 2006, meaning you are now at least a decade old! Ten years of this virtual reality business. I remember when I first came here, in 2009, I never thought I would last longer then a week. But I did. Then I left a few times, I think I had doubts, and it wasn’t that easy coming back, but I did anyway. What is it do you think about this place that makes us somehow not take it seriously initially, but then eventually it turns into such an incredibly meaningful part of our lives?

Coronet

Well, I know from my perspective, when you first get here you don’t know what it is you’re supposed to do and then you realize you can do anything. Thereafter, you might ask yourself, should I do those things at all? I started taking images early in SL, back in 2008. That was also a time when I was just starting to revive my RL art skills, which I hadn’t used in a long time. SL was just another way to explore creativity. I was pretty raw back then. Very few controls and objects weren’t that great, but still, you could play with forms and color and the very basics of light to create compositions. But that all got a bit boring after a while and I was not happy with who I was in SL. I was doing a lot of magazine work and fashion shoots but that wasn’t really me. It became work, not art. So, I left SL for essentially 2 years. When I came back I dedicated myself to making images (photography) that were artistic. Now, SL is more fun and rewarding for me than ever. The talent here is amazing and my friends are just fantastic.

Interviewer

Many of us stay I think because we are drawn to and curious about the creative aspects of the virtual world. I’ve given some thought to virtual photography lately. It’s fascinating to me how much we get inspired, and also learn about technique, from our peers in our little Flickr community and how we develop as photographers there. I also think of photography in that particular context as a means of communication between Second Life residents. What are your thoughts on virtual photography in general and in the virtual Flickr setting in particular?

Coronet

The “photography” subject is very interesting and it’s a continuation of a discussion about what is art. I have been referring to this thing I do here as “image making” rather than photography lately simply because it’s not photography in reality. I’m not offended if someone calls it that, I just tend to think it’s something else so call it Image Making. Well, clearly I love this thing we do here in SL. The advent of mesh and the massive improvement in general of textures of objects, clothes, and skins/shapes, it just gets more fun every day to create images. I don’t say this enough but I really appreciate the people who create the viewers that we Image Makers use most often. They give us the features and tools that make our curious hobby easier to do (thanks guys!). Then, of course, you have the people in the community that just add all their talent in so many ways to make the experience so much better. I laugh sometimes when I shooting images I’m all by myself, yet think of all the hours that were invested by so many people to let me do this. It’s mind-boggling.

At the end of the day, all these improvements let us explore our individual creativity and express ourselves through the images we make. That process and the resultant art is as valid as any other art created today. It’s not second class art, not by any measure, it’s true art. That doesn’t mean everyone outside of SL (or inside SL for that matter) understands what we do or likes what we do, but it is a serious artistic endeavor none the less.

Interviewer

It seems that some of our virtual world photographers are also creative outside of Second Life, but not all. I am not, the virtual world is my only creative outlet. I am curious about if creativity is part of your life outside of Second Life as well. And do you think that it matters when it comes to quality of work produced in-world if a person is creative outside of Second Life or not?

Coronet

I went to fine art school (college) for classic art studies – drawing, painting, printmaking, and I worked in the commercial art world for about 10 years after getting out of college. But then got involved in other things professionally and my art laid dormant for many years. I don’t think it’s necessary to have prior art skills in order to be successful (whatever that means) with your work in SL, in fact, I tend to like to see when people “discover” their creative side through SL. It does not come laden with preconceived notions of what art is, and can be refreshingly raw. I love it.

I’ve started doing my own RL work again, and that will get more intense in the next few years. I owe that all to my renewed interest in creativity which came from SL. No question about that.

Interviewer

Let’s talk a bit about your photography style. You mostly take portraits, some are self portraits, but many of them are of female subjects, some of them with an erotic undertone, and in my humble opinion, all of them sublime. There is simultaneously something elegant, decadent, raw, and modern about your pictures. There is emotion and depth. Tell us about your work and how did you go about getting to where you are today?

Coronet

My artwork and style are just basically what I tend to like in the world. From a “style” perspective, while I like realism and even some “hyper-realism” (think Chuck Close), I also like to see that blended with surrealism. They are not mutually exclusive, so that works. As I mentioned early, the improvements in all areas of SL have made making images just better all the time. Even still, I’ve long given up the notion that I can do everything in world to get the images that I want so I spend many hours working on images in Photoshop after a shoot. Basically, my philosophy and advice to anyone creating images in SL is to create the best raw images you can, you can’t make bad images much better in Photoshop. I am very picky about images that I take to completion. For every image I finish, I probably shoot 10 to 20 that don’t make the final cut. This is a lot like RL photography. Which is basically to say, be a good editor of your own work, you are the best judge of whether it is “good” or not.

I do shoot a lot of Female subjects mostly because I found Female AV’s more interesting to shoot in SL (textures and clothes were better) and eroticism/sexuality comes across better with Female subjects. I do like to shoot mildly provocative images but not overtly sexual ones. My primary interest has been and remains to try and draw out some humanity in the AV’s. It’s not easy and it doesn’t always work but it’s a constant struggle. The one thing that I love about this effort in SL is watching the changes in my work and the people I follow on Flickr. It’s absolutely fascinating to look at someone’s image stream and literally see where they made a change or a jump in creativity in their images. Try it sometime with your own stream or someone you know, you can see the progress. It just means its not getting stale and boring and there’s more work to be done.

Interviewer

Clearly, and not only in Second Life, but in general, the creative process becomes a means to process feelings and experiences, which are then in turn reflected in the finished work. I have a feeling that the work you did on your new Berg by Nordan Art exhibit, Loss, will illustrate this. Can you share with us what that process was like, what were some of the hurdles and some of the triumphs, putting together that show?

Coronet

That’s a big question. This show is very important because now that it’s done, I’ve finally been able to put the hurt to rest following the death of my good friend Amona Savira back in February. It wasn’t just her passing that was at the root of the emotional storm I’ve been in for more than a year now, there are many other factors in RL contributing to that, but Amona’s passing was the straw that broke the camels back, it was just too much to deal with. She was just a very very good friend but I cried for 2 days when she passed. I was totally distraught and I couldn’t stop seeing her (SL) image in my head. As I said in my message on flickr, on the day I heard the news, Amona had transitioned from being just an SL friend to becoming a RL friend to me, as is true of other friends of mine in SL. I just didn’t know the depth to which she meant to me and that’s what was coming out in those days after she died. But it was more than that, I was leaving a home that I’d had for almost 2 decades, that event was coming and it became clear that I was far more emotional about that event than I realized. So in the end, the notion of Loss is very strong and not simply about Amona but just generally about the experience in general and how it messes with your mind, your emotional stability, and how you recover from it in the end.

Creating a show from this is a challenge, I didn’t want it to be trite, and I didn’t want it to be too depressing. In the end, it’s a story, shown as a series of vignettes, expressing the engrossing nature of Loss. Stepping back from the hundreds of images i made for this, in the end, I had to pick the ones that told the story but were also beautiful art as well. The final edits and image selection is a difficult process. I’m pleased how it came out but like all of us, we finish something and start seeing all the faults, but I’ve been through that so many times, I just ignore it now!

Interviewer

Thank you very much, Senna.

Coronet

Thank you so much Kate!

Photograph 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