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

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Still Life

Still Life

Everyday you pose,
stripped, clothed,
identifying, mystifying
you submit to the exposure,
resenting attempts to iconify your soul.
Now just a static blur stamped out of nature,
Abused blues dyed in your melancholy.
Try to add colour to your desaturated self,
It’s only a matter of time
before you fade into someone else.
Just a matter of life-forming into a lost cause.
Step out the lines you’ve been drawing,
And away from a mesmerizing paralysis;
Becoming your own canvas,
Reaching outside your frame,
Still-life is worth it.

Written by Artistik Oluja

Arianna – Chapter 3: First Insights

Arianna’s hometown seemed to be a peaceful, almost sleepy one. There was little the local constabulary seemed to have to do to maintain a modicum of order. The majority of criminal cases that were reported in the local press were victimless crimes, such as illegal gambling. Murder cases were few and far between, and were covered in a rather sensationalist manner. On the other hand, white-collar crimes and domestic abuse cases were usually covered up, often at the behest of local MPs, so that balances in the Town Hall and within families wouldn’t be upset.

“Inappropriate allocation of scarce police resources, my ass,” thought Stevens as he read Arianna’s suicide note again. “They never bother to investigate anything, unless a body riddled with bullet holes or brutally slaughtered is involved.” It was already ten o’clock in the morning and very little in the way of work seemed to be happening at the station. He asked McMahon to join him on patrol. It would be a good excuse for him to mingle and ask questions. After all, there were other officers to handle citizens’ bureaucratic needs.
“Have you contacted any of the schools Arianna went to?” he asked Sally.
“Yes. Some of her old teachers are still in town, one of them retired.”
“How come none of them spoke to the media?”
“No idea. Perhaps they’re wary of appearing on TV,” Sally replied.
“Can’t blame them.”
“So, where do we start?”
“St. Mary’s High School. It’s the last school she attended before leaving town for her higher education, so perhaps they can tell us more about her formative teenage years. It also seems its headmaster is still the same as when she was a student there,” said Richard as they fastened their seatbelts.
“Who’s that?” asked Sally.
“A man named Philip Hendricks. He also ran that school when Helen went there.”

Sally’s mobile phone rang. It was a journalist friend of hers from Dagenhull.

“Yes? Uh-huh. Yes. I see. Yes, yes, thank you Mike. I’ll tell my colleague. Perhaps this will give us greater freedom to act. Thanks again!”
“What did he say?” Asked Richard.
“Dagenhull aren’t ruling out foul play yet.”
“How so?” said Richard, surprised. “It’s as obvious a suicide as they come.”
“Obvious it may be, but are we sure she wasn’t driven to suicide by parties that wanted to silence her?” asked Sally. “Harassment, bullying, threats, intimidation… These things can drive someone to suicide, and it’s happened before.”
“Still, she wasn’t an investigative journalist. Who and why would want her silenced?”
“Even opinion columnists and non-investigative journalists can get in trouble. It happens often. Hell, it’s even happened to ordinary teenagers who’ve been bullied on the internet,” said Sally, as the car reached St. Mary’s.
Richard stopped the car.
“Arianna was known for her feminist perspective, and this caused her to be harassed by online trolls and MRAs,” she told Richard.
“MRAs?”
“Men’s Rights Activists,” replied Sally, her speech becoming quicker. “They’re loudmouth misogynists, usually posting on the internet about how women have all the power in the world and men are disenfranchised. Some of them, however, in collaboration with ultra-conservative circles and the far right, have gone beyond their usual whining and have orchestrated campaigns against women in various industry sectors, such as computing. Their attacks can get pretty nasty and obsessive. And they can keep it up for many years.”
“And what do these people want to achieve?”
“In a nutshell: They want women to shut up and accept being inferior to men. Among other things, they’re pushing the line that rape is acceptable and a way to show women how much they’re appreciated.”
Richard cringed.
“And there are people taking them seriously?” he asked.
“Apparently. There are many conservative pundits ready to pamper them.”
They exited the car and entered the school’s premises.

Back in Dagenhull, Sergeant Amanda Bennett and her partner, Police Constable Anthony Cavers had gone to the Dagenhull Herald’s offices in search of information. The Dagenhull Herald is a newspaper with progressive leanings and one of the few led by a woman. The Dagenhull Herald was the highest-circulation newspaper in its area, and even nationwide it was remarkably popular for a newspaper not based in the capital.

Arianna’s death was a great shock to everyone at the paper. Everybody in the offices had words of praise for her writing and her supportive, compassionate, but also determined personality. Her writing focused on gender issues and, in particular, how women from disenfranchised social classes were affected by central and local government policies.

Bennett was a seasoned police officer, who had successfully worked on numerous mysterious criminal cases in the past, including cases of sexual abuse within families. While it would seem odd that she, a policewoman whose main strength was solving cases where much was going on beneath the surface, would be appointed to investigate what was obviously a suicide, the chief inspector had not ruled out foul play. Arianna’s outspoken writing had attracted violent threats from various people associated with the far right and the MRA movement. Furthermore, while Bennett was politically more moderate than Arianna, she still admired her writing and shared her dream of a society that would be safe for women.

The Herald’s editor was an affable, balding man in his late fifties, with a round head, sporting a short, grey beard. His name was Henry Sanders. A veteran investigative journalist, with many successes under his belt, he was now running the Herald as Dagenhull’s largest progressive news source, and was quick to adapt to the capabilities offered by new technologies, from a full-featured portal to web radio, including a successful subscription model. Under his management, the Herald was going from strength to strength in the internet era, while other newspapers faltered.

“Arianna has been with us for six years until her death,” he told the officers. “She joined us as an intern when she was twenty-five and was an intern for… ” He paused for a bit to remember, and continued. “Five months, I think, and then she was hired as a regular columnist. Her death shocked all of us here, because she was one of our best contributors, she was deeply appreciated and we never thought she’d end up like this.”
“What did she write about?” asked Cavers.
“Gender issues, mostly. She wrote a lot about how various policy decisions made by the central or local administration affected the lives of women, especially those in more vulnerable situations. You know, single mothers, women working in low-income jobs, women in the LGBTQ community, domestic abuse victims, sex workers… Her advocacy pieces for sex workers and domestic abuse victims frequently caused the ire of the conservatives, but what can you do?”
“Had she ever received threats for her work?” asked Bennett.
“Yes, many times. Each time it happened, we advised her to ignore them and to not give the abusers the pleasure of knowing they can influence her actions in any way. She took our advice, but I think she was still affected. She often complained about how no one in the newspaper would say a word and how this gave others the impression that she was really alone and exposed.”
Bennett wanted to dwell on this subject for a bit.
“Were her feelings on this justified?” she asked.
“With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps they were. Each time these attacks on her person were happening, or resuming, she seemed depressed. Or, I should say, more depressed than usual.”
“More depressed than usual?” asked Cavers.
“Yes… Arianna was never a particularly happy person. She rarely smiled and I could see something was bothering her.”
“What was bothering her?” Bennett asked.
“I’m not sure. She never complained about her pay, so I’d say it must have been something personal, and it must have been running pretty deep.”
“Such as?”
Sanders took off his glasses.
“I’m not sure. Family matters? Personal issues? Clinical depression? She didn’t open up.” He paused for a bit, sighed and continued. “Whatever it was, it must have been eating her up from the inside for years. Now that I think about it, I’m beginning to wonder if her complaints and her requests for a few words of support when she was attacked were a cry for help that hardened investigative veterans like me didn’t listen to.”
“Did she have any support network that you know of? Anyone she could turn to?” asked Bennett.
“Here in the newspaper, she was closest with another columnist, Emma Rowlings. She handles music, theatre and movie reviews, and also writes on social issues occasionally. There were also rumours that they were together romantically. She’s also the one who wrote her obituary.”
“Can we talk to her?”
“Yes, she’s here. I’ll take you to her office,” Sanders offered.

Emma Rowlings was one of the Herald’s shining stars – in fact, she was the Herald’s most famous columnist and was considered as the leader of a trio of influential progressive writers, and Arianna was one of them. Her knowledge of music, cinema, theatre and literature was vast, and her reviews were extremely influential. Her collection of movies and books was a movie buff’s delight, and her personal library was always very well-stocked with fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and even included a sizable collection of scholarly books and articles on various subjects. She also wrote, from time to time, very poignant and well-received articles on social issues. She was admired by many, and Arianna never hid her own respect and admiration for her. Even in her own articles, she frequently referenced her with great reverence. Sanders led the two officers to Rowling’s office. He knocked on the door.
“Come in!”
Sanders opened the door and showed the officers in. Emma was sitting at her desk; she was a very elegant woman in her early forties, with a cosmopolitan air. Her hair was black, straight and cut shoulder-length, with two white streaks; intense, almond-shaped brown eyes gazed gracefully, if a bit distantly, at those around her. Her nails were cut short and featured a perfect french manicure. Her black, three-piece outfit was very elegant, and, although the furniture in her office was the standard fare purchased by the newspaper, she had brought her own style to it, with books on architecture, oriental culture, classical and jazz music, various decorative pieces from her travels around the globe, and mementos from friends and loved ones. Despite the rumours about a romantic liaison between her and Arianna, no picture of hers was to be seen anywhere; instead, there was only a picture of Rowlings with a pale-skinned woman with long, straight blond hair.
“Emma, the officers here would like to ask you about Arianna. Do you have some time?”

She rose from her chair and offered her hand. Introductions were made, and she asked the officers to sit.
“How may I help you?” she asked.
“Ms Rowlings, Mr Sanders told us that, of all the people here, you were the one who’s most likely to know enough about Ms Smith to help us in our investigation. Is there something you could tell us?” Bennett asked.
Emma sighed.
“Arianna was…” she paused for a few seconds, trying to consider her words. “A valued and trusted friend. She confided in me, and I did in her. We spent many hours together, discussing topics which later found their way in our articles. We also opened up to each other, sharing much of our life stories. She was by far the most intelligent columnist I’ve ever worked with, although there were many issues that got in the way. I wish I could have prevented what happened. To be more honest with you, I wish I could have seen it coming.”
“What issues are you referring to?”
“From what Arianna had told me, she was coming from a very dysfunctional family that never gave her the affection and support she needed while growing up. This made her extremely insecure and hesitant to reach out and make friends. As far as I know, in this whole newspaper, I was the only person she approached to befriend. Even as she gained acceptance and respect through her writing, she still didn’t believe in herself and her own worth, as a writer and even as a person. She didn’t have much of a social circle, either. She was known by many, but it seems I was the only one she ever got out with and, I dare say, the only one she felt close to. This, unfortunately, caused frictions between us.”
“There are rumours your relationship with Arianna went beyond the confines of a mere friendship.” noted Cavers.
Emma paused for a bit. She gulped, and continued.
“That’s true. Me and Arianna had shared some intimate encounters a long time ago. It was a rather stupid mistake on my behalf that I’d made when I should have said no. Afterwards, she kept wanting to get back to the way we used to be, although I tried to keep things as friends. But I’m not sure how information on this could help you.” She had started feeling more uncomfortable with the conversation.
“Were these intimate encounters just what one would call ‘one night stands’?” asked Cavers.
“What do you mean?” Emma asked, turning her annoyed gaze at him.
“Was there any emotion in these encounters? Were they just all about sex, or was there a deeper connection?” he insisted.
“I don’t see how this is relevant, or how it could help your investigation.” Her speech had become abrupt.
“Ms Rowlings, we’re trying to determine what caused her to jump off that bridge,” intervened Bennett to calm her, seeing that her partner’s upfront approach was angering Rowlings. “No one makes such a decision lightly. There are factors that lead someone to it. We need to find out what influenced her. What caused her to end her life. From possible harassment problems that may have been brought about by her articles to personal issues, we need to find out. You told us earlier that you valued her as a friend and a confidante. Don’t you think she deserves the truth to be told about her? Don’t you think you yourself deserve the truth about what caused your friend’s death?”
Rowlings paused for a bit, her lips slightly parted. Her stern expression slowly became softer, then what looked like a shadow of sorrow set over her eyes. She looked at the officers and reached to her calling card holder, picking up two of her calling cards. She offered one to each officer.
“I’m sorry for overreacting. This is my card. Please call me so we can talk in private.”
Bennett and Cavers thanked her and gave her their cards in return.
“Thank you. Also, please give us a call if you think of any information that might help us,” Cavers said.
“Oh, and… Before we leave. Since you seem to have been the closest person to Arianna in this city, I think we should give you this copy of her suicide note. The original has been sent to her parents,” Bennett said and, producing an envelope from her bag, gave it to Rowlings, who reluctantly took it with trembling hands.
“Th… Thank you.”
The two officers got back in their car to return to the police station.

“So, we have our first two leads. One: Smith was most likely trying to cope with depression. Two: She was romantically involved with Rowlings,” Bennett said as they were waiting at a traffic light.
“An unrequited love, if Rowlings’ words are anything to go by,” Cavers noted.
“Unrequited? To me, this looks more like a regretted affair that caught Smith off-guard and kicked her out of balance and deeper into depression, with other factors adding up and making her situation worse.”
“Could be. Now we’ll have to wait until we can compare notes with the guys that went to her place. And we’ll have to talk to her again, of course.”

In Sunford, Stevens and McMahon waited at the lobby of the headmaster’s office for about ten minutes before he could see them. The secretary stood up, went in the office and showed them in.
“Police Constables Stevens and McMahon,” said Stevens. “We are investigating the circumstances of Ms Arianna Smith’s suicide, and we would like to know if there is anything in her background that could perhaps help us explain what happened to her.”
The headmaster, Philip Hendricks, was a greying man nearing his sixties. Conservatively dressed, with tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses, he paused a bit and thought.
“Arianna Smith… Yes, I remember that name. She was a student of remarkable performance. She never failed a single exam or test, and her grades were always among the top three or four. However, she never participated in any extra-curricular activities at all. And several teachers also expressed concern about her complete lack of friends.”
“Let’s start with what you mentioned first. Why didn’t a student of such extraordinary performance participate in any activities?” asked McMahon.
“When asked, she used to claim her family couldn’t afford it, but that certainly wasn’t true,” answered the headmaster.
“How do you know it wasn’t so?”
Hendricks took off his glasses, opened their case, which was lying on his desk, cleaned them and put them on again.
“I know they could afford other things that were more expensive than a student-grade guitar or a melodica. And her older brother, Kyle, was always dressed in upmarket clothing, in stark contrast with Arianna, whose clothes always were on the shabby side and looked like hand-me-downs from other kids.”
“What did her parents do for a living? questioned Stevens.
“Her father was a farmer and gardener. Not the most successful one, but he never seemed to be in dire straits or have trouble finding clients. Her mother was a housewife.”
“So, at least financially, there was no reason why she would be unable to participate in activities. Is that correct?” Stevens wanted to confirm.
“Correct. While they were never particularly well-off, they had no problem keeping the wolf from the door. Or at least that’s what outsiders were allowed to see.”
“You also mentioned she didn’t have any friends. That’s very strange for a child anywhere, isn’t it?” asked McMahon.
“Oh yes. Very strange. She was very isolated. During breaks, she would just sit alone, either studying for her next class, or just waiting silently,” answered Hendricks. “We tried to get her to mingle with the other students, but it never worked.”
“Why?” asked Stevens.
“She was often ridiculed for her clothing by some of the richer, and more influential girls. You know how peer pressure works and how the ‘cool kids’ can influence others to isolate someone. We tried intervening when we saw it, but we didn’t get the desired results. She was further isolated, and I think we might have done more damage. And, even when we tried to introduce her to other students, we could feel she was uncomfortable. She soon reverted back to her isolation. I feel rather angry with myself and my school. We failed her, because we never managed to make her feel welcome here. We saw the signs, but we just failed to act accordingly.”
“What signs?” McMahon asked.
“Well, her parents never came to take her grades. They were ‘too busy’ or sick or any other excuse you could think of. They never had any time to come over and ask how their daughter was doing. If she had difficulties. If she had any problems. Nothing. We even called them from time to time when we saw she was given a hard time by other kids. They never seemed to care.”
“Have you ever tried to contact child protection services?” asked Stevens.
“I and a colleague had contacted them, but, with the laws being what they are, as long as a child is fed, clothed, doesn’t miss schooldays and shows no obvious signs of abuse, there’s nothing for them to do. Dealing with a kid’s loneliness isn’t part of their job description.”

After Bennett and Cavers left the Herald’s offices, Emma went to Sanders and asked to depart early, promising she’d continue working on her piece, which was scheduled for the end of the week, from home. She could barely hide her upset. He agreed, and she left.
On the subway route back home, she stared into the dark tunnels through the window, paying no attention to her surroundings. She almost missed her stop. She went on the street, and absentmindedly walked to her home.

Once there, her cat, a black-and-white moggy named Sonny, greeted her, wanting his lunch. “Oh Sonny…” she said, with her voice breaking up. She knelt, petted him, and proceeded to feed him. After feeding Sonny, she went back to the coat hanger near the entrance and opened her bag to take the envelope with Arianna’s suicide note. She opened it and began to read, walking to the living room. Emotions started overwhelming her. She sat on the sofa and tried to finish reading the note. She couldn’t. She let it fall to the floor. “Arianna… I’m sorry. I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m…” she said, sobbing, and burst into tears a few moments later, covering her face with her hands.

Back at the police station, Bennett and Cavers met with the officers who had gone to collect evidence from Arianna’s apartment. Among other things, they had brought back her desktop computer, an external storage system, two portable hard drives, six USB sticks, a few notepads, a careworn, leather-bound organiser, her tablet, and her laptop.

“We’ll need to have our personnel look for the passwords for these devices. Perhaps she’s written them down somewhere. Or we could have the passwords cracked, but I don’t know how successful that could be. In the meantime, would you like to visit her place, to see if you can find anything else now that you’ve been to her workplace?” one of the officers asked Bennett.
“Yes, I think we should do that. In the meantime, I want a warrant to have a look at her belongings, her email account and her computer in her office at the Herald. And witness summons to be sent to her blog’s ISP and to the providers of any webmail accounts she had,” she said.
“I’ll handle that,” said Cavers.

Written by Mona Okiddo-Eberhardt

This is the previously unpublished third chapter of Mona Okiddo-Eberhardt’s fictional story Arianna. The previous two chapters have been published in her Second Life© blog Living Virtually (Chapter 1 – Bridge and Chapter 2 – A Cold Response).

Tutsy Navarathna

Tutsy Navarathna immediately struck me as a visionary, as someone ahead of his time. A virtual world film maker extraordinaire, he consistently intelligently questions the meaning of the virtual world as we know it. Tutsy is about film, photography, art, psychology, philosophy, language and, of course, the internet. He is also about sensuality, sexuality, nuances, symbolism and metaphor. A former resident of Paris, France where he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, Tutsy now permanently lives and works in the beautiful Pondicherry, India. For a few weeks, we communicated via email and IM across the oceans to put together the interview that follows below. It is my great pleasure and honor, really, to introduce to you here the immensely talented Tutsy Navarathna.

     ~Kate Bergdorf

Interviewer

Congratulations again on winning the University of Western Australia (UWA) MachinimUWA VII Transcending Borders Challenge. There have been seven UWA Machinima challenges so far, you have won four of them. To what do you attribute your success?

Navarathna

The techniques used when creating Machinima are still in the early stages and require the Machinima-producer to have plenty of experience. But regardless of this fact, I notice new and emerging talents every year which, of course, offer new challenges for me to overcome. There is a healthy competition preventing me from resting on my laurels. 🙂

Interviewer

Let’s talk about your MetaPhore Machinima. In this work aspects like music, voice, location, avatars and plot seem somehow to magically come together to create a coherent whole. Addressed in this Machinima are not only issues surrounding gender, but also the notion of what it means to be an avatar in a virtual world in general. What was going through your mind when you created this particular Machinima?

Navarathna

What does it mean to be an avatar today? What kinds of feelings does an avatar have? With your question you have certainly put your finger on the core issue. This is exactly the purpose of my Machinimas, trying to identify and show the different aspects of being an avatar. How and in what way has the radical and rather brutal intrusion of virtuality taken hold of our daily lives? How do we evolve from passive spectators into active participants and content creators? What are the implications of these new forms of relationships? How will our brains manage the effects of these new “virtual extensions?” When Mark Zuckerberg speaks of the Oculus Rift, he does not hesitate to speak in terms of teleportation and notes that “[p]eople will develop and construct interactive connection models, with remote locations and it will be almost equal to teleportation.” But in contrast to the prevailing opinion I belive that virtual life does not isolate us. On the contrary, I think it has significantly increased our options in the areas of  interaction and communication. For instance, we often feel closer and more intimate with an avatar that we never have met (or with a virtual FaceBook friend) then with our next door neighbour who we call real. I do not believe that this excitement will pass; this is just the beginning of a phenomenon that will gain power and expand rapidly. But we have much to learn in a short time. And, importantly, we need to ask the right questions in order to fully grasp the phenomenon of our transition into an augmented reality.

Interviewer

In all of your Machinima you beautifully capture the essence of what it means to be in Second Life©. Your work is a great representation of the virtual world to someone who has never visited. Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process when it comes to actually creating a Machinima? Do you have a plot in mind from the start or does it all fall into place as you go along?

Navarathna

I am particularly attuned to and quite sensitive to things generated by the metaverse. Before a film project I’ll usually hang out in different places. I am on the lookout for a clicking sound, for something to get me started on my story. I am looking at avatars and their profiles. I am very curious about this great need that so many people seem to have here, namely the desire to express and share their inner visions by creating their own worlds. Thanks to the internet this is possible. I often have a simple idea about a Machinima that develops further as I visit places in Second Life. I am also very focused on creating characters; the look of the avatar and what he or she may be wearing are important. These factors will eventually all contribute to the change of scenes in the Machinima itself. In fact, the character of an avatar alone may be a reason for me to make a film. I find that the collage technique that I used as a painter in the past now is a big part of my virtual world filmmaking. Machinima, unlike traditional cinema, is mostly graphic and pictorial. It is really altogether a different mindset. Production and filming of a Machinima are also totally different from traditional filmmaking. For example, one can easily go back and forth between the editing timeline and the virtual world and change scenarios while editing. Besides the time that is actually spent creating the Machinima, production costs are minimal. YouTube and Flickr have become to Machinima channels to “reality.” These are small windows that are wide-open to the world, offering snapshots of what is happening in the metaverse. Keep in mind, that all virtual worlds, creations, installations, exhibitions, sculptures and photographs are for the time being only being seen by the residents of Second Life. Thus virtual art is still very much confidential. Yet in my view, there is a true revolution going on here in terms of observing and sharing creativity. We find in the virtual world a profound change in our relation to the art object, which is expressed in its weightlessness. The object loses its materiality and allows for interaction and immersion.

Interviewer

So many of us find purpose in being creative in Second Life. Some of us bring with us experience from outside the virtual environment and others just learn about creating as we go along in Second Life. Did you have any prior film making experience or were you creative in any other way before you joined Second Life? If not, how did you go about teaching yourself how to make virtual world films?

Navarathna

I graduated from the Beaux Arts in Paris, which was followed by a lot of painting and exhibitions. Then I became curious about electronic images, video and computer. This area fascinated me right away. I did not have to dip my brush in the pot anymore. 🙂 As I gradually abandoned painting to explore these new mediums, they quickly started to fill my life, both artistically and professionally. I have worked for TV and for the institutions. When I first entered Second Life, around 2007 or 2008, it was like stepping into a childhood dream. I experienced the same emotional state as when I was a kid looking at my first remote-controlled car. Totally magical; I could remote control a character that was me!!! I very quickly became aware of that this was a fantastic tool for creating and communication. Around that same time, I befriended a well-known noo-cyber movie maker who told me it was possible to film in the virtual world. And the idea of making films inside the internet excited me. In fact, at that time, to me, it was almost unimaginable! There was an abundance of images and inventions in Second Life, great for use to to make films. However, there was still very only few Machinima that had been made and no tutorials available at all. Becoming familiar with the tools and catch every little trick was not a simple achievement. Ultimately, my experience with video, computer and especially film editing helped me a lot.

Interviewer

I am curious about what kind of films might inspire you outside the virtual world. A few days ago, I watched the movie I Am Love (2009), directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring Tilda Swinton. There was something about that movie that made me think of your virtual world films. Have you seen it? And can you tell us about some of the movies outside of the virtual world that have inspired your machinima making in Second Life?

Navarathna

I have not seen I Am Love but you make me wish to do so. 🙂 As a cinephile I have an eclectic taste and I am driven by the passion for either a film, director or movie style. I like to watch or re-watch all the works of great directors. For example, I watched all films by Akira Kurosawa in ten days. I am also captivated by some French filmmakers with true cinematic style, like some of the films by Robert Bresson. I recently re-viewed his A Man Escaped. Above all, it is the originality of creating a movie that I love. I would like to say that for me cinema is neither radio, nor theater, nor a series of pretty pictures. I have a weakness for non-linear narrative structures such as in 21 Grammes by Iñárritu. The clever structure feels very chaotic to us at first, but forces us to be creative and in the end makes us feel completely immersed in the story; it is like a collage. That being said I don’t think I am being influenced by any director in particular. My inspiration is linked to a set of things, painting, cinema and literature. My real culture is the image. Sometimes a single image can be the trigger of a story. I can even suddenly change an idea that already is being edited because I am captured by a picture, experiencing it as a scene that speaks to me. Strictly speaking I am not a filmmaker, I prefer this definition: I switched from painting with fixed images to moving images, to tell stories.

Interviewer

Over the past years the interest in virtual world filmmaking has grown tremendously in Second Life. Both beginners as well as more established film makers produce compelling work. What do you think are some of the most important things to keep in mind when starting out making a virtual world film in Second Life?

Navarathna

In some ways we are pioneers because we still are traveling blindly into virtuality. The main idea throughout the works of Herbert Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher of communication theory and a public intellectual, can be summed up in one sentence, namely, the medium is the message, meaning that the communication channel used is in fact a true message. Nowadays, the internet is undoubtedly the medium provided a new extension to our senses. In regards to Machinima, I would like to say that it’s important to research and try to discover the specificity of this medium. I wouldn’t use the Machinima in Second Life for something than can be done better with another medium. For instance, making the movie Avatar as a Machinima would be like making Apocalypse Now with black and white 16mm, a completely wrong choice of medium. This does not mean one cannot create masterpieces in 16mm, it’s just different kind of medium! Another example, A Trip to the Moon, by Georges Melies, was created with very limited techniques, yet it still affects us. Virtual worlds such as Second Life underwent a huge graphical improvement during the last years. And even though the avatars are becoming more and more sophisticated, they unfortunately still lack expression and smooth movements.When you are immersed in some average unimportant action, the brain can somehow compensate and invent what we need to make us feel less average. We function through metaphors. From a movie spectators point of view it is very different. People who are unaware of the current virtual worlds will encounter many difficulties to connect with our graphic universe. They are used to see great images in superb 3D productions or animations, made by major studios. Compared with that our Machinimas offer really pale figures. I think we need a different aesthetic vision to achieve an approach that will represent virtual reality in a good way.

Interviewer

Not only are there more virtual films produced lately, there are also different types. Some are more mainstream, while others contain complex plots and are more like independent films. One quite sophisticated virtual world filmmaker who comes to mind is Hypatia Pickens. I think one of the things the two of you share is the ability to in your films draw a connection between the virtual and the real. Can you speak more of this, the boundary of the virtual and the real and how they merge in the machinima that you create?

Navarathna

We’re back to reality and virtuality duality, which actually is close to my heart. Hypatia Pickens approaches this issue with talent, not to forget Draxtor Despres with the series The Drax Files: World Makers is at the heart of the matter, as well as some others. But it always takes some time before new talents will emerge in something as complex as expressive strength in a film. Virtuality nowadays allows the mind to speak without borders or limits. Exciting and breathtaking! But is it not a human’s reason/need/drive to live their dreams and incarnate fantasies through mental projection? This notion has always has existed. I am thinking of the epistolary love affairs that existed in the past centuries and of two sometimes for years separated lovers, writing passionate letters to each other. Is and was that not virtuality?

Interviewer

You have made many beautiful Machinima over the past years. This is probably not easy to do, but, if you had to pick a favorite one, which one would it be and why?

Navarathna

MetaPhore as the youngest of course. 🙂 But I also like MetaSex because it’s analysis of avatar feelings. Or Welcome To The Other Side, which is almost only made from artistic creations in Second Life.

Interviewer

Thank you so very much for agreeing on such short notice to be interviewed. And thank you for the beautiful virtual world filmmaking you consistently produce. We are very fortunate to have you in Second Life.

Navarathna

Merci à vous. 🙂

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.

Kunst der fuge 5_2

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.