An interview with 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 Erdağ 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.
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.