Monday, March 3, 2008

Brooklyn is watching (us)

Pavig Lok, lead creator of the inimitable Greenies Home Rezzable, put a bug in my ear about a new mixed realities project that is just getting underway in Second Life. It sounded promising, so I set out to learn more.

Since March 1 and for a year, artist Jay Newt (aka: Jay Van Buren) of the Real Life art gallery Jack the Pelican Presents is going to navigate the virtual world of Second Life and hobnob with les pixelated artistes as part of his conceptual art project Brooklyn is Watching.


* "Brooklyn is Watching" is a project sponsored by Popcha, a New York based media technology company, and taking place simultaneously at the art gallery Jack the Pelican Presents in Brooklyn, New York and in Second Life. A performance space and presentation/sandbox in Second Life have been set up for this. (Teleport directly from here) An avatar, in the shape of an eyeball and under the name Monet Destiny will view and project the goings-on there at all times onto a large screen monitor at the Real Life gallery.

Brooklyn is Watching

* A computer at the gallery will run the Second Life application at all times when the gallery is open (every day from 9am to 3pm SLT, except for Tuesdays and Wednesdays) – via the eyeball avatar Monet Destiny - and when visitors to the gallery so choose, they may drive the avatar and take it wherever they want. The BiW avatar is scripted to follow anyone who approaches the stage, if its not receiving any commands from a person at the gallery. The stage itself, is rigged with a giant spring that raises the stage suddenly and violently when someone in the tower presses a special button, catapulting anyone on it, off it immediately. This creates a ‘gong-show‘ effect where people in the gallery can express their displeasure or boredom with the activities on the stage.

* Avatars will be able to send a jpg snapshot to the gallery and anyone inside the gallery will be able to email snapshots back to the BiW avatar. A dedicated blog will document the exchange and other activities.

* A weekly podcast called “Brooklyn is Watching” will be recorded at the gallery featuring 'guest stars’ from both the Real Life art world and Second Life. The format will be unabashedly patterned after Diggnation, a popular podcast about tech-news.

Jay Newt: Brooklyn is Watching is about “cultural colonialism,” marketing, the attention economy, critique, dialog, power-relationships, and the difference between potential and actual with four parts spanning the virtual, 3d space of Second Life, the two dimensional “traditional” Internet and the ultimate hipster mothership, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It is an artwork, an entertainment product, a venue for critical dialog and a marketing vehicle. It also will be a hell of a lot of fun.

Bettina Tizzy: Who is Jay Newt in Real Life and what are you all about?

Jay Newt: I am a painter mostly. Born in Kansas... moved to NYC in 1997 to get my MFA in painting at Parsons. I first found out about Second Life from Rubaiyat Shatner - who I met at a College Art Association conference. He told me about it and I got in world - this was about 2 years ago - and I immediately had this feeling on the back of my neck like "oh my god this going to be huge." It was like the Internet was in 1994... just about to break out.

I got involved in Ars Virtua - one of the early "serious" virtual art galleries - helping curate some things and sitting on the board that selected artists in residence, and then that gallery gave me a virtual show, which was really when I got more emotionally involved.

Jay Newt: Jack the Pelican Presents has been around for about five years. It's a gallery run by Don Carrol who has been an artist and an art critic for years. JTPP has an international reputation. When I had an artist residency in Holland, I was amazed that people had heard of this Brooklyn gallery that is a few blocks from my studio, and the same thing happened when I visited London. It's got a better rep in Europe than it does across the East River in Manhattan.

Bettina Tizzy: ... and your own art? What is it all about?

Jay Newt: I make paintings, and do events. The paintings are of stuffed animals, spaceships and fursuiters. The events have, up to now, been artworld-furry world combined happenings, like the "fursuit portrait paintoff' which I've done in Rotterdam, Brooklyn and Kansas City.

Bettina Tizzy: Are you a furry?

Jay Newt: I'm not. I call myself a "fan of the fandom." One of my furry friends calls me a "meta furry." I am fascinated and delighted by furries, partly cause I just don't quite get it and never will.

Bettina Tizzy: How close to your original idea is "Brooklyn is Watching?"

Jay Newt: It really is very close. Boris Kizelshteyn built everything just like I drew it.

Brooklyn is Watching in Second Life

Jay Newt: I'm convinced that Second Life is the future. So what is "fun" to me is to create a venue where people can show their stuff and have an audience that will take them seriously and help "break" Second Life to the wider world, especially the NY art scene. It's like a portal into another country or something.

Amy Freelunch (aka Amy Wilson) is a good friend of mine and for years we've shared a blog. She's a painter, and has been shown in lots of prestigious places. She went through a whole "SL sucks" and then "wait, no it doesn't" process. Had to do with meeting the right people.

In May 2007, she published a book called Postcards from Second Life.

Brooklyn is Watching
That's me, in an avatar by Yoa Ogee, interviewing Jay Newt

Jay Newt: We will have a weekly podcast starting next week. It will use the blog as its agenda to record everything that happens... well, everything of interest. We're just a bunch of people in Brooklyn with our own slant on things and no apologies for being biased.

Bettina Tizzy: What is Williamsburg, Brooklyn like?

Jay Newt: It's New York's young artist neighborhood, but it's also full of 23 year old trust fund kids with art degrees, and lots of people who work in media, advertising, etc. It's really cool and really annoying sometimes. Have you ever seen "Hipster Olympics?" That was filmed in Williamsburg, like a block from this gallery.

According to artist and scripter Sasun Steinbeck, there are 404 art venues in Second Life. Sasun knows this because, for the past two years, she has managed a gallery information kiosk system she created - and updates every week - that has dispensed 115,375 gallery lists, so far.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn is one of the five boroughs of the city of New York, and also the most populous borough, with more than 2.5 million residents. It is said that if Brooklyn were an independent city, it would be the fourth largest in the United States. Brooklyn has its own Sasun Steinbeck, better known as the Brooklyn Arts Council.

Brooklyn has many neighborhoods, but the two most recognized for their art and gallery scenes are the DUMBO district (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), and Williamsburg, which in 1992 was declared "The New Bohemia" on the cover of New York magazine. For years thereafter, Williamsburg - blessed with low rents, and a belly-to-belly proximity to the seat of power in the Americas: Manhattan - began its ascent up the hipster hill as buzz about it being a haven for the artist community got louder and louder. This had the reverse desired effect however, and rents have nearly doubled in the area in a very short while.