Posted by Bettina Tizzy
Net Art/New Media artist Jon Rafman has been getting rave reviews and first-rate press coverage with the likes of Rhizome and other coveted art outlets as the Kool-Aid Man in Second Life®, offering free guided tours in-world. His dedicated website features a promo video that I guarantee will produce an emotion in Second Life residents, and invites folks to sign up. I first got wind of this video when Paddy Johnson of the art blog Art Fag City twittered “Best Link Ever! Kool Aid Man gives a guided tour of Second Life and it doesn't suck (like most SL art)!”
Unlike every other machinima I have seen that strives so hard to get past the technical challenges to convey the beauty, the love, the horror, the possibilities within, because of, and thanks to our virtual lives, Jon’s is a breezy, often hilarious tour that celebrates the absurdity of our immersiveness. Second Life users will recognize many favorite builds and installations.
WARNING: This video contains a lot of X-rated content.
Jon rezzed in Second Life on 12/10/2006 but used it sporadically until recently. I’ve spent a couple of evenings this week in-world with him and I can tell you that he’s a pleasant, intensely curious, and intelligent fellow. He received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the Art Institute of Chicago, and double majored in philosophy and English. I’d call him spontaneous, easily bored, and a fascinated yet detached explorer. I expect you’ll be as curious as I was to hear what he had to say about this. I sent him some rather open-ended questions via email to see what I’d get back.
Why did you elect to omit music to that video?
Jon Rafman: There is a tendency to use music as a crutch and let the soundtrack manipulate the tone of the work. I want the visual aspects of the video to speak for themselves. The formal qualities of the landscapes should dictate the mood of the piece rather than the soundtrack. Moreover, I always felt like the generic in-world sound effects, like the ominous low-pitched wind that blows across SL, creates a subtler emotional resonance than music.
Kool-Aid Man is on a quest for sublime kitsch in Second Life. Music used inappropriately corrupts the underlying mundanity of my avatar's search.
At certain points in the video there is music; however it's always what was streaming in that sim during the time of capture.
I don't want to assume anything so I have to ask: Are you really going to give guided tours?
Jon Rafman: I like this question. It forces me to ask myself: Where's the "Art" happening in this project? How important is the actual tour-giving process to the Kool-Aid Man in SL? Is the core of the artwork the video and photo collections? Or is it the process of the tour itself and the interaction with people in a virtual world that is the core of my project?
Yes, I'm giving tours. It is not a hoax!
Even if the tours were a hoax and the project existed only conceptually, I'd be cool with that, too. I'm a big fan of work that walks the line between fake and real, ironic and tragic, fiction and documentary.
Do you intend to continue your work in Second Life?
Jon Rafman: I'm currently integrating some videos I've captured in SL into a larger documentary film about professional video gamers. I'm searching for ways to transcend the kitschiness inherent in the SL aesthetic and haven't decided yet on how significant of a role SL will have in the film yet.
I'm also toying with some story ideas for a few Kool-Aid Man in Second Life short video series. There's so much potential with Second Life machinima, but I have yet to see a work of machinima that's truly inspired me. Maybe I haven't looked hard enough though.
What do you want Second Life'rs to know about you most of all?
Jon Rafman: I found an analogy for surfing the web in the act of exploring Second Life as Kool-Aid Man. User-generated realms of Second Life can be viewed as a 3D virtual expression of the Internet’s anarchic psyche. Kool-Aid Man is my alter-ego, a secular icon that resonates with decades come and gone.
I see Kool-Aid Man as a self-conscious professional web surfer “breaking through walls” into various Second Life communities and subcultures. He never fully fits in, but he empathizes with whatever he passes. Like Baudelaire’s Flaneur, wandering the arcades of Fin-du-Siecle Paris, Kool-Aid Man keeps a cool and curious eye, strolling through the virtual world in search for the banal sublime. Kool-Aid Man's motto is best summed up by a line at the beginning of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil: "I've been round the world several times and now only banality still interests me. On this trip, I've tracked it with the relentlessness of a bounty hunter."
I wondered as I read Jon's response if he was aware that French author, photographer and film director Chris Marker is very active in Second Life. Perhaps there are two bounty hunters then? It is unlikely we'll ever know, given that Marker famously does not take interviews.
Jon Rafman: The Kool-Aid Man in Second Life project is partly an attempt to investigate certain 'outdated' concepts from bygone eras and to reframe them or test them out in distinctly contemporary pop-cultural contexts. I am interested in the disjuncture between earlier uses and my own use and what this reveals about how consciousness has changed over the past decades. Whether a fundamental change has occurred is an open question as the forms of alienation that existed one hundred years ago are present today in mutated forms. But these subtle changes are revealing of what it means to be alive today. What are these subtle changes I mention?
The fragmentation that started with the emergence of mass culture has only intensified. Decentralized global society is epitomized in the World Wide Web. This is not to say that the power of centralized authority has declined or that a new genuine techno-democracy has been achieved. This is far from the case; I’m interested in the ways that self-regulating authority manifests itself from the ground up.
I do think that the task of grasping the present clearly has become more difficult because so much now obscures us from seeing it. I frame my quest for the banal sublime as doomed from the beginning because I am trying to highlight the loss of a certain type of consciousness.
Am I nostalgic for Fin-du-Siècle Paris?:
Yes, my project is a somewhat melancholic attempt at pointing towards the importance of understanding the historical context in the digital age. I can’t deny my nostalgia for earlier modern periods; however I am also aware that the image of the past that I yearn for reveals less about the past and more about an acute lack that exists in the present. And it is this “lack” that I want to point towards.
Jon moved to Montreal from Brooklyn, NY recently. He prefers that I not reveal his in-world name. So what do you think, Second Life residents?