Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Phaylen Fairchild's Divas

     Those of you who have been around a while will remember Phaylen Fairchild's funny machinima series called Divas, which is about a Second Life girl who goes to World of Warcraft by mistake.  
Here is an example of one episode below.

Good news! I saw on Kara Trapdoors blog that after years she is coming back with a new season.
The trailer is below

Sunday, July 20, 2014

An interview with Alpha Auer


                  Alpha Auer 

Alpha Auer is the first artist I have interviewed.  She is not only a very talented artist whom I have collaborated with on the Exquisite Corpse build Further Along the Path and also more recently with The Golden age of the Russian Avant-Guard, but also an academic writer and editor for an arts magazine.

Bryn Oh: Where are you from?  And who are the most renowned artists from your country in your opinion?
Alpha Auer:  I am Turkish, living in Istanbul, Turkey. My RL name is Elif Ayiter and I am a professor at the visual art and visual communication program at Sabanci University in Istanbul. (http://www.citrinitas.com/
I am not sure who the most prominent artists from Turkey would be. But, there is a significant amount of artistic activity here in Turkey (and especially Istanbul) these days. Especially noteworthy is that our huge young generation (65% of Turkey is under the age of 35) is very active, both in art and in design. And new media art is also a very hot topic amongst them.
Two of my personal favorites are actually people that are also close friends: Murat Germen (http://muratgermen.com/) and Erda─č Aksel (for whom I  can't seem to find a website, but here is a link to his work on google images: http://tinyurl.com/oq58zgr)
Bryn Oh:  Often the average person outside SL  is perplexed with virtual worlds in general.  When people unfamiliar with the virtual ask you what you do how do you explain it?
Alpha Auer:  Very very hard to explain it, as I am sure you know also. I usually try to draw analogies to online gaming worlds, with which most people seem to be more familiar with, and then throw in the building stuff to explain further.
Bryn Oh:  Who are a few of your favorite artists and why?
Alpha Auer:  If you are asking RL - then most of my faves are long dead. I like Nordic Renaissance art and I look at a lot of it. I also like illuminated manuscripts, miniatures, old copperplate gravures, maps, celestial atlases - things like that.
But if you are asking SL - then the list is quite long actually...
Bryn Oh:  Whose artwork do you personally dislike the most and why?
Alpha Auer:  I really dislike Cloaka by Vim Delvoye (http://vimeo.com/45127139). For all the obvious reasons, but I am especially outraged by the amount of money that cultural foundations across the world shelled out to manufacture this thing.
Bryn Oh:  Which of your own works are you most proud of?  Do you feel any failed and if so do you now know why?
Alpha Auer:  Whatever I am currently making I like best. And as soon as I have made it, I lose all interest.
As for failed work - I have several external hard drives, all larger than 600 gigabytes and they hold some of the rejects, that I may go back to and try to salvage at some point. Because that is the thing about working in the electronic medium - there is no such thing as failed stuff, one can always go back to it. Sometimes I do, more often than not, I don't. However, I do copy paste a lot of bits and pieces from the unwanted stuff when I make new things.
As to why they failed - I find that hard to explain actually. Usually I end up not liking how something looks or it fails to come together somehow. So, mostly my rejection criteria are visual ones. And also, I noodle around quite a bit with making my own soundscapes, and there I have even more problems like that, since music is not a native medium for me. So, more often than not, things don't sound right, no matter what I do...
Bryn Oh:  Do you have a method when creating? If so how does it often progress?  For example do you sketch or write out ideas first for weeks or do you perhaps just jump directly into the project with little planning and adapt as you go?
Alpha Auer:  When it comes to the visual stuff, I am a complete un-planner Bryn. I just get an idea and do it, and adapt as I go. And very quickly, I like to work very fast. And very often what I started out with has absolutely nothing to do with what I actually do as I go along.
I make things because I have fun making them. And so, another criterion is having a good time. If I am not having a good time while I am making something I lose interest very quickly. And then I guess, it becomes yet another "reject."
However, when I write it is different. Then, there is no issue of fun, and I do plan. I write because I have to. As an academic it is a professional necessity - as in "publish or perish." And so, since it is a chore rather than a play session (as the visual stuff always seems to be), I proceed very rationally. And, trust me, I loathe every minute of it...
Bryn Oh:  What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to inspire your work?
Alpha Auer:  I am a crime fiction addict. I have a very large collection, accumulated over decades. I always become hooked on new authors, but then I also re-read the books that I already have. And I have so many that I can do this in a very long cycle. I especially like procedurals, and one of my all-time favorites is the Rebus series by Ian Rankin and another one is Ed McBain's 87th precinct series.
I am not a big music person. I never listen to music when I do other stuff. I really only listen to music on the shuttle going to and coming back from work. And then, it is usually hard rock that I listen to. But, I can't say that the things I read or that I listen to directly inspire what I make, except maybe in a very general way - as in crime fiction which is usually a "dark" genre and I think most of the thingies that I make are "dark" also. ;-)
As for visual stuff - I already gave this rather quaint list above, like manuscripts, maps, old paintings etc etc. These things do inspire what I make directly and I am very conscious of the fact that quite a bit of what I do are actually a remediations of these antique artifacts.
Bryn Oh:  Does your work have an overall theme and if so what might that be?  If not please describe how you tend to pick your topics. 
Alpha Auer:  Ummm... No, I don't think that I have an overall theme. Except maybe for this very generalized "dark" thing that I was just talking about. In fact, the reason why I made alpha.tribe was that there were several styles/themes that I was working with, and this seemed to be a very good reason to investigate the idea of multiple creative identities through a bunch of fashion designer alt avatars. Each of the designers of alpha.tribe has his or her distinct theme/style, but ultimately of course it is all me that does it.
I think this also has to do with the fact that I am a graphic designer first and foremost, and I have had the ground rules of that profession pounded into me for as long as I have been professionally active: Graphic designers work with multiple styles depending upon the product or client that they are designing for. And, as an art director (which is what I was before I became a nasty old professor) I spent almost two decades doing just that - changing styles between one campaign and another as a routine part of the work.
Bryn Oh:  Have you ever had to deal with negative publicity or a disappointing rejection of your artwork?  How do you deal with it?
Alpha Auer:  But of course. :-). Especially with academic writing. So much gets rejected in that world. And also back when I worked as a graphic designer, where clients will routinely decimate your work and furthermore seem to take a huge kick out of doing so. So, yes, I am very used to the rejection of my work given that as a professional designer I have had a long life to get used to it.
So, rejection doesn't get to me in a big way - I take it very much as par for the course of creative activity.
Bryn Oh:  Would you like to take a stab at explaining what defines virtual art?
Alpha Auer:  For me it is really one word alone: "Play!"
Bryn Oh:  What would you say makes virtual creations unique over other art forms?
Alpha Auer:  I would actually prefer to use the term "digital" rather than "virtual" here, to begin with. Because, I think that a major part of the uniqueness resides in digitality, which deals with a completely new medium for artistic activity - bits. While in the analogue realm we work in a medium of atoms, inside the computer we mould bits. And, that is a huge difference right there since atoms deteriorate as we work upon them and their earlier states cannot be recalled; whereas bits can be manipulated endlessly and their earlier states can be recalled - just look at the photoshop history palette. Or the fact that we can save endless phases of the process and can always go back to them. And then we can make copies of digital work and every copy is an original in its own right and these can also be combined with other "original copies," resulting in even more original work. And meanwhile the first "original" that we started out with has stayed intact.
This turns digital work into a perpetually "unfinished" process - and I will in fact quote Brian Eno on this:
“Think of cultural products, or art works, or the people who use them even, as being unfinished. Permanently unfinished. We come from a cultural heritage that says things have a ‘nature,’ and that this nature is fixed and describable. We find more and more that this idea is insupportable – the ‘nature’ of something is not by any means singular, and depends on where and when you find it, and what you want it for. The functional identity of things is a product of our interaction with them” (Eno 1995).
And virtual art, after all, is a part of this larger digital medium. True, in the metaverse we do not have the "undo" quite in the same way that we have in photoshop. So, what we do instead, is that we take back copies of the work in progress into our inventories. And that is our "save." But then, the rest is the same really: We copy, we duplicate, we combine. And, most importantly, I think what we do also remains perpetually unfinished. I think that this is the big uniqueness. Something that we simply do not get with non-digital art.
Does this make virtual/electronic art better? No. Just makes it different, I think.
Bryn Oh:  Centuries ago there was no such thing as an "artist" just craftsmen, as time progressed superior technical ability and creativity created the elite "Master" artist whose work stood recognized above all others.  In 1917 Marcel Duchamp submitted a work entitled "Fountain" to the Society of Independent artists.    He stated "... He (the artist) CHOSE it. He took an article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object"  He wanted to shift the focus away from technical craft to more of an aesthetic intellectual interpretation.  Some say that because of him almost everything is considered art today.  From an elephant painting with its trunk, a Banksy, a child's drawing to someone vomiting paint onto a canvas.  What is your perspective on this?
Alpha Auer:  Well, at the risk of sounding a bit like a fuddy-duddy elderly person - my vote goes to all the craftsmen who evolved into "master artists." And I do not think that this evolution was just due to technical ability or even creativity, but also due to the intellectual sophistication needed to transform abstract concepts into visual artifacts (religious paintings, for example), which they accomplished through the usage of highly evolved skills and techniques.
Yes, Duchamp made his point, and it is a valid one. What I think however is that ultimately there is no difference. A crafted work which grabs us, engages our imagination, which transports us, will hold as high levels of "aesthetic intellectual interpretation," as will work based upon the "object trouve," I would say.
But, even though my personal preference is for the "old stuff" (it just inspires me more, I find more imaginative material in it); at the end of the day, it is all a question of how good the individual artist who has created the work (crafted or found) is. So, no need to make a drastic choice, I guess.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

upcoming artist interviews

soon to receive a punch in the face
     Every month or so I will be posting an interview with an artist from our virtual world whose work I find interesting.  What I decided to do was to create a dozen or so questions which each artist would answer in their own way.  For me it has been fun to see how the artists interpret the questions, which they avoid and so on.  I am going to post the questions below and explain a bit why they were used and then next week I will post an interview.

1-Where are you from?  And who are the most renowned artists from your country in your opinion?

Simply to give a context from where the artist is creating.  For example, when I lived in Florence,


Italy for a year studying art, the Canadians in the program would have group shows in a space we would share with Italian art students.  One thing people would often comment about is how completely bizarre the Canadian artwork often was.  Some terrible and some quite interesting.  When you looked at the Italian work in the same show you could often see artworks that were following the traditional teachings of masters from centuries before.  What this meant to me was that, historically, Canadians don't really have a long list of well known artists whose shadow the students fell under.  Canada is a pretty young country and to be honest there is not a whole lot of pressure to follow in footsteps.  Italians on the other hand have endless history and perhaps the most legendary artists ranging from Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Caravaggio and so many more.  It was apparent to me that there was much more pressure on the Italian art students to live up to those masters, the rich history was both a gift and a curse.  Renowned doesn't necessarily mean "best" but rather a selection of historical artists from ones country which may create some context in order to view the artists work within this frontier of a new art movement.

Georges de la Tour

2-Often the average person outside SL is perplexed with virtual worlds in general.  When people unfamiliar with the virtual ask you what you do how do you explain it?
Ah the question about whether we should even bother to try to explain what we do here.  Perhaps there will be some insights.

3-Who are a few of your favorite artists and why?

     This was interesting to me as I wanted to see if those "favorite artists" would also include Second Life ones, be predominately Second Life ones or not include them at all.  Also it is a chance to learn a bit about the artist themselves and, in some cases, discover new artist who were previously unknown to us.

4-Whose artwork do you personally dislike the most and why?

     It is rare for an artist to point out another (well known) artist whose work they dislike, and then explain why. For example I find many of Modigliani's drawings to be fairly shitty, while I do enjoy his paintings.  I recall seeing a show just of his drawing at the AGO in Toronto once and thinking how they were trying to elevate his drawings into masterworks when really he just wasn't very good with a pencil, and he may have agreed with me if not extremely dead.  It is just my personal aesthetic though, I love the drawings of Van Gogh and Degas for example, they were both known mainly as painters but they were brilliant draughtsmen as well, but there is no rule that a good painter must also be good with a pencil or vice versa.

5-Which of your own works are you most proud of? Do you feel any failed and if so do you now know why?

     It is interesting to see how an artist evaluates their own work, especially the ones that didn't work
out as well as they hoped, and then their insight as to why they failed.

6-Do you have a method when creating? If so how does it often progress?  For example do you sketch or write out ideas first for weeks or do you perhaps just jump directly into the project with little planning and adapt as you go?

I always find the process of art creation to be interesting, there are so many different methods ranging
Ray Ceasar
from months and months of preparation and detailed drawings before the work even begins, to people whose attempts to connect to their subconscious requires spontaneity to achieve it.

7-What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to inspire your work?

I always enjoy hearing of the varied and sometimes disjointed ways people get inspired, or the quirky unexpected things people read like an encyclopedia of insects for example (ok thats me)

8-Does your work have an overall theme and if so what might that be?  If not please describe how you tend to pick your topics.  

Swoon

Banksy

For many artists, their entire careers focus on a very precise interest or theme which is sometimes quite small in scope.  They twist and rearrange the way they see that theme over an over always trying to understand it, this question might uncover what these artists focus on.


An Elephant

9-Have you ever had to deal with negative publicity or a disappointing rejection of your artwork?  How do you deal with it?

     I recall having a painting rejected from a juried exhibition once only to have the exact same painting win a much larger juried show later that same year.  Had I let the rejection from the first show affect me then I would likely not have put the same work out to the second, and much more prestigious, show.  For some artists it is very difficult to accept any criticism at all, or if they do, for some, it can fester in the back of their mind spoiling any positive words of encouragement, even if there are ten times more accolades than criticisms.

10-Would you like to take a stab at explaining what defines virtual art?

Ah the art trap.  It is usually a lose/lose situation when an artist tries to define "art" as there are often people waiting on the sidelines ready to hammer them.  Most artists prefer to side step this question.

11-What would you say makes virtual creations unique over other art forms?

Sharing a space with people from around the world simultaneously?  The powerful immersion it is capable of?  An open ended medium that gives the viewer the ability to chart their own experience within a medium that uses colour, composition, sound, interaction and emotion without being a static painting or the fixed camera of cinema?... or maybe its not unique?

12-     Centuries ago there was no such thing as an "artist" just craftsmen, as time progressed superior technical ability and creativity created the elite "Master" artist whose work stood recognized above all others.  In 1917 Marcel Duchamp submitted a work entitled "Fountain" to the Society of Independent artists.    He stated "... He (the artist) CHOSE it. He took an article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view  created a new thought for that object"  He wanted to shift the focus away from technical craft to more of an aesthetic intellectual interpretation.  Some say that because of him almost everything is considered art today.  From an elephant painting with its trunk, a Banksy, a child's drawing to someone vomiting paint onto a canvas.  What is your perspective on this?
Marcel Duchamp

Another tricky question, Duchamp is revered by many and any criticism aimed towards him can result in you being unfairly categorized as an "elitist".   He made the world think of art in a different way, but did his message get twisted over time?

Next week I will post the first artists responses to these questions.

Friday, July 4, 2014

biometrics and things

    A few weeks ago I attended an event at GEL (the Gaming and Entrepreneurship Lab) within IDEAHUB, in a charming small town called Port Hope in Ontario, Canada, about an hour outside of Toronto.  The event essentially drew forth local enthusiasts with ambitions of creating their own games.  There were stations set up where people could play the games developers were working on or just socialize with like minded people.  One of the companies, Capybara games, had their game Super Time Force featured at E3 for XBOX.  It was funny actually, the owner of that company was talking to the Mayor and a member of Parliament who attended the event, then excused himself saying he had someone asking questions in relation to his game and needed to go attend to them.  He then went off and began enthusiastically talking to a boy of 8 about his game and they played Super Time Force together with him being almost more animated that the boy.
    What really impressed me though, was this permanent remarkable set up they had to test peoples

reactions as they played the games.   Before someone was to play a game, sensors were attached all over their body (though they didn't hook up everything as some were a bit invasive for a public event) but there were things which measured the heart, sweat or even little muscles above the eye.  Then on a series of monitors streamed a wide range of data in real time.  One screen showed the hands of the person playing, then another screen the game itself.  A screen showed the face of the person playing and there was another but I forget what it showed.  So this highly advanced system measured, in great detail, what was going on with a person, emotionally, as they played a game.   
     This was fascinating to me as, as an Immersivist artist, because it tells you what works and what may fail in an environment you have created.  So for example, suppose you create a scene in a narrative where you want the viewer to be scared or perhaps heartbroken for a character.  Say you create a build up to a spooky event and arrange the music accordingly.  You work with colours and composition to try and attain a certain mood within the viewer.  With this monitoring set up you can see if what you think works, actually does.  You could watch someone navigate your carefully planned artwork and then perhaps see them have almost no reaction in the manner you expect.  Seeing this you could tweak things and so on until you have achieved what you desire.  I just found it really interesting watching a teenage boy try and try again to figure out a puzzle.  Watching his face and this meter (which can show either joy or fear as the same reading) and seeing him complete the puzzle and his happiness meter shooting way up, but his face carefully showing almost no reaction.  We were all laughing like crazy half the time as the teenagers readings were going "YES I ROCK!" while his face carefully said I am bored.  Anyway just very insightful and thought I would share it here.  They say video games will reach 55 billion this year and so I wouldn't be surprised if this kind of testing became the norm.

     This final bit of info is just for myself to read in five years or so from now.  I found this thing on my blog that tells me where traffic comes from across the world to my blog.  I am close to a million page hits now and so here is the current list of the top ten countries that come to my blog.  It does vary apparently but this is how it currently looks.  Kind of surprising that Germany and Japan are ahead of Canada.  Spain and the Russian Federation were just outside the top ten.

1-United States
2-Germany
3-Japan
4-Canada
5-United Kingdom
6-Australia
7-Italy
8-Netherlands
9-Sweden
10-France