Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is Second Life the theatre of the absurd? Ask the Kool-Aid Man in SL

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.

Kool-Aid Man in Second Life (.com) - Tour Promo from on Vimeo.

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?


Pavig Lok said...

There's something very charming about this. I'm not quite sure what it is.. and it comes and goes... but it's got a _thing_ of some sort. I really like the innocence of it. The grotesque portions I think maybe less successful.

It's certainly heavy on Fin de siècle SL... but i have a personal hope that Fin de siècle twitter and facebook will draw so much attention that SL folk will calm down and see the world for what it is. (For folk who haven't studied it, "Fin de siècle" means end of the century, or end of the line... the last enthusiastic flaps of a dying fish on the pier... or the Paris art scene at the end of the last century.)

The strange thing for me watching this is that it is so well formed. A lot of it is very beautiful and emotive, beyond it's kitsch references. There's a wise innocence to it that makes me smile.... err... i dunno.... maybe like Jay's Furry Portraits

jay2 said...

i want the tour!

i'd emailed him to let him know about BIW a few weeks back thinking it could be a location on his tour -but he didn't write back - now that i've read your interview with him i really want to meet him because he sounds very smart.

i think his project has some things in common with BIW

BIW is more narrowly focused on SL residents who are self-consciously trying to create something that is "art" and trying to see what happens if we take SL seriously as a potential art medium, looking toward the future and making the assumption that artists are leading us into the future potential of this medium - whereas koolaid man in SL seems to be taking a look at SL as it is (well as the majority of it is in all its giant-shopping-mall-of- banal-fantasy glory) right now.

its a great article, Bettina, I'm curious to read what everyone else thinks about it!

-Jay Newt

jay2 said...

hey! thanks pavig!

Bettina Tizzy said...

@Pavig Especially good to get a comment from you because I can't think of anyone who walks the line more between being totally immersed (as the artist/content creator and participant that you are) and someone having a more clinical/best practices view as a veteran of virtual worlds in general.

Bettina Tizzy said...

@Jay Heeee! Sipping the Kool-Aid as opposed to the big gulps I take.

I think SL is going to be different only in that it will grow in size. Its kitsch, mall-like aspect is a reflection of its residents; unlikely that it's going to get more high-brow, generally speaking. The number of serious artists using virtual worlds as a platform to create will surely increase though, so it's reassuring to know that you and BiW are on the Welcoming line.

sororNishi said...

Well, sorry to be a wet blanket,
I was bored after 4 minutes and after 7 I stayed simply cos Bettina wanted to know what I thought.

Mediocre, at best..... and the interview a lot of self-conscious crap.... (and NO, you didn't catch me on a bad day..:)))

I think ugly is ugly and see no reason to accept Fin de siecle or any other post-design rationalisation as good enough to redeem it. .(..and...NO I haven't missed the point.).

I understand the attempt but am very unimpressed by the result.


jay2 said...

It may not get more high-brow percentage wise, but i do think it will become less kitchy as I have argued elsewhere (with awesome fake charts!). As the percentage of people using SL as a fantasy / escape goes down and the percentage of people using it as a communications medium goes up, i think the content will change.

Dusan Writer said...

I'm hardly an art critic but I have to say, this video feels, well, monumental. I have this strange suspicion, however, that it may be monumental for an accidental reason - as Pavig points out, the fin de siecle quality, and the focus on kitsch - when in fact I think it carries with it other themes and resonates in ways that at least as a resident I can 'get'.

I'm reminded of Gwynn's post this week on the esoteric and spiritual in SL:

"First, it’s a personal path. There are no “rules” that apply to all human beings, since by definition, every human being is different: the path is individual, and you have to pick your own. You can get a set of guidelines, but you have to thoroughly analyse them to see if they make sense to you. Just because someone claims they make sense, you should never, ever accept the guidelines for granted — if they don’t make any sense for you, you should avoid them.....

So the whole point of esoteric traditions with their images and symbols is really to “hide” the teachings from the eyes of someone who happens upon them without having the right mindset or being prepared to understand them. The notion of a “hidden meaning” is present in all religious texts; except for Christianity, which has severed all ties with esoterism, formally and brutally, in the 6th century AD, all other texts have an exoteric (i.e. literal) reading and an esoteric one. Purely esoteric texts exist, but they look like gibberish to someone who is not prepared to read them. This is deliberate — you’re supposed to have people out there willing to explain the meanings and help you out first, until you’re able to reason properly and see what makes sense to you or not."

This video captures that sense of the individuals journey through a landscape of symbols that "hide" their teachings from the casual observer.

The icon of the Kool Aid man to me can be interpreted as either bringing our commercial sensibilities to this strange land and how our notions change as a result, or what I prefer, which is that we are all strange, we are all anthropomorphic yet not entirely human, and whether we look like all the other avatars on the grid, our journey nonetheless feels unique, we always feel like strangers to some Boellstorff says - we are always "virtually there" without ever being able to actualize that presence.

SL IS an esoteric journey and, I'd propose a spiritual one. This video captures the many ways in which that spiritual journey can be actualized, but again I feel as if it's an accidental discovery (but then, maybe, all of our journeys are accidental, and the planned ones never turn out intended or are the reasons we log off and don't return).

The sexuality, the kitsch, the emotion - any one of these symbolic landscapes hold a key to our journeys, so long as we can avoid having an ironic remove.

It reminds me a lot of my post about strange loops - the landscape (the world) provides a reflection through which we come to an accommodation with our avatars, our avatars provide a reflection into the state of our own spirits - and there is a recursiveness that creates moments in which we experience fragmentary and disjointed senses of self that are both the peril and the promise of virtual worlds and immersive experiences.

More to say - but I think I need a night to think it through. :)

Great post Bettina, thanks for sharing this with us all.

Bettina Tizzy said...

Good point, Jay. Also, the more time each user spends in Second Life, the more it becomes a communication platform, albeit a VERY visual one, too.

Bettina Tizzy said...

soror - I made you look! :D Awww, sorry it bored you. Good to get another view point, and I expect there will be more, whether they comment here or not. In fact, where are all the dissenters? Too busy having fun and making stuff in Second Life, I'll bet.

Caliburn Susanto said...

Well I don't know that I have anything to say after Dusan's analysis (heavens! -- goes and reads it again, yup, nothin' from me).

I am an avid (but not rabid -- I have a sense of perspective and big sense of humor about it) defender of Second Life and I was prepared to scoff. This video was totally ludicrous but still charming. The contrast of the cartoony bizarre Kool-Aid Man against the beautiful and compelling environments in SL definitely had a silly-but-sweet quality that compelled me to watch. And the giant pitcher face mutely overshadowing a porn scene was hilarious. (Hopes Kool-Aid® doesn't get uppity about it.)

Also, except for the robot battleground, I recognized every location. It amazes me how many of the gorgeous and interesting places in Second Life most people miss seeing because they hang out at the same places regularly. Explore!!

Unknown said...

this is the best introduction to the question I am often asked ("what is SL and what can you do there?") that I've seen so far -- I esp loved that the travelling avvie was so abstract.

HomerTheBrave said...

One thing I noticed about the video: The beautiful places are empty. The naughty places are crowded.

Alpha Auer said...

@ Dusan: I sense an underlying and very fundamental critique of the entire endeavor here. Very subtle but nonetheless I do not think that I am too far off the mark? And (if I am indeed reading this correctly) it reflects my sentiments precisely: I have visited Brazil. The longest I have stayed there has been 2 weeks. Could I undertake being a tour guide of Brazil with any degree of credibility? Would I be at all privy to the esoterica of Brazil? And would I comprehend those secrets, even if I were allowed to see them? Does "sporadic usage" give license to becoming a "tour guide"?

@ Bettina: Sadly, I do not share your hope when you say that "the number of serious artists using virtual worlds as a platform to create will surely increase". I doubt that it will. If anything, I suspect that we shall see a gradual exodus of serious creators out of Second Life as the world continues to acquire a very bad name for itself in the serious art world out there:

In the last 2 years I have attended several acclaimed electronic art events to present my own output: As far as I can make out the bulk of the visual work to make it out of SL into these venues is generated by artists who create an account in SL for the sole purpose of creating pieces which are intended to be shown only in RL, at some "serious" art event or other. And due to the extremely steep technical as well as emotive learning curve of SL, these in-and-out-in-a-couple-of-days projects lack visual sophistication and/or credibility to quite an alarming degree. For the overwhelming part SL-art shown in RL is intrinsically problematic for me: It lacks depth. It is created in a 3D environment and yet despite the presence of a z-axis it manages to remain flat and devoid of substance. Indeed in some of what I have seen ("witnessed with paralyzed horror" would probably be a far more accurate description actually) even shaders and windlight are not utilized, since it would seem that the person responsible for the work has not even hung around in SL long enough to familiarize themselves with all the menu items on the interface. And then on the flip side, the "serious" SL creative crowd (who has in fact put in the necessary time and graft to attain the skill of building properly under SL's appallingly inadequate lighting conditions, lack of shadows, complications of texturing, absence of detailed meshes, etc) is not all that interested in showing their work out of SL. And highly understandable too, given that the work lives (as in, is "alive") in SL...

So, here is what I have seen happen over and over again at these events: Half the audience gets up and leaves during the break just before the presentation starts: They have read in the program that there is some SL-art coming up and they go "o-oh..." and get the hell out of dodge. And then at least half of those who have remained get up and leave during the first 5 minutes once it gets started - and who can really blame them if they do? Believe me, I have learned my lesson: I do not mention SL in my abstracts nowadays, I talk around it somehow. At least maybe that way I will get an audience... Isn't that somewhat ominous? If I am now doing this, other SL creators who have any sort of a foothold in RL, must also be formulating their contingency plans? And beyond what my in-world colleagues might be contemplating in terms of the future of their own individual output and where it might eventually take them - I would imagine that, in general terms, it would probably be a very clever thing to conjoin SL-art with concepts such as "kitsch" and "fin du siecle" at this very moment in time. Would seem to me to be something that would get a person some pretty good kudos in the big wide "real" art world out there right about now...

Bettina Tizzy said...

I've been letting this one simmer with me for a few hours.

I was initially offended by the Kool-Aid Man concept and video for a number of reasons: 1) Concern that the Paddy Johnsons of the art world would continue to refer to SL art as sucking when they hardly know what they are talking about, especially since they haven’t seen it; 2) No attribution (and by the way, Jon's really setting himself up for trouble with use of the Kool-Aid AND the SL logos on his website, etc. Using someone’s art in your own without attribution in real life is not okay in real life. It should be okay in Second Life? The virtual creations featured here are somebody’s creations; 3) The ripple effect of the Kool-Aid Man/Jon Rafman’s detached view (versus immersionism).

Then I calmed down and saw the whimsy in it.

Jon’s answers disturbed me though the Fin de Siècle aspect of it was intriguing. It's not so much what he did but the consequences of it that concern me. I presented the facts in my post in the hopes that we’d have a lively discussion about these new media/net art folks popping into SL, spending a little while putting something together and then calling it art. The equivalent is hmmm, a bit like a Jasper Johns’ paint splatter versus spilling your cereal milk and calling it “art.” While this is not the case with Jon who has taken the trouble of learning his way around the user interface in Second Life, I’ve interacted with quite a few who come up with a number of excuses for not taking a moment to log in and see what I want to show them (though I know they read this blog frequently), when we all know that it’s a result of their own discomfort with the UI and avatars.

Then we have someone like Gazira Babeli who is really doing landmark work, knows the SL code backwards and sideways... and she's a new media star. I'll be blogging about her tonite. The contrast there is an interesting one. Gaz works the system and has breakthrough after breakthrough but with an appreciation for the platform and its possibilities. In fact, she routinely creates new possibilities. Jon, on the other hand, seeks the "banal sublime" and frames it, mostly for an audience that can't even begin to understand the immersive qualities of the 3D platform and its creative tools.

jay2 said...

Alpha you should come to williamsburg, you could fly your SL flag proudly. There's a micro-culture of RL contemporary aritsts who have grown to respect SL art through sustained engagement with it. I've had dozens of artist say to me how they use to think SL was "only for nerds" "only about sex" or whatever other misconception that leads to the kinds of attitudes alpha is speaking of, and now they realize that it is way more than that.

It may be true that SL will retain its bad image, but if so it will only be because it is supplanted by some other virtual world which will be thought of as "normal"- just like the people who thought i was a huge nerd for being on friendster 6 years ago now think that being on facebook is "like totally normal and stuff" even thought the fundemental concept is exactly the freaking same. Friendster was too early, it didn't look as well, didn't have the exact right mix of features, it wasn't marketed to quite the right people in the right order.

Social media is tricky. User-generated content means initial-user-generated-tainted-reputation. Virtual worlds are going to be a very important medium with serious respect, its only a question of time.

Alpha Auer said...

@ Pavig: To what extent can innocence converge with the fundamental tenets of visual expression, which (at least from where I like to consider it's problematics) would be all about metaphor? That is, go to the search/expression of underlying meanings and layers of meanings which cannot be adequately expressed through the spoken word alone. Can there even ever be any "innocent" visual output of substantial merit? Are Raphael's Madonnas "innocent"? Could they really be so?

However, to approach this from a totally different vantage point (in continuation of my last sentence above), is the kool-aid tour guide really all that innocent?

@ Soror: I would be very interested to know if Jon Rafman has ever built in Second Life? I have cast an eye over the website linked to the post above: Low quality JPEGs with overlaid mono-space type and/or fuzzy audio files were all very well in the early days of internet art, when ultra low bandwidth compelled those early day pioneers to develop a visual language based upon them out of sheer necessity. Almost 20 years later, the effort would be derivative at best? Today I have students who are creating online "data radios" which make music (not noise! - proper music!!!) out of multivariate datasets, others who make RL mirrors in which you can watch yourself break into tears... All with fully articulated, cohesive visual languages... Need I elaborate?

@ Jay and Bettina: Yes, I am aware of these micro pockets. We have them here as well. And yes indeed there are the likes of Gazira Babeli who do one proud to be a co-Resident of the metaverse. However, In face of the avalanche of what it is out there now (what I was trying to describe above), I seriously doubt that they are sufficient to reverse the stigma. My one hope is that in time (and hopefully quite soon) the in-and-out-in-a-flash artists will lose interest precisely because of this very stigma. That very soon it will become totally "un-cool" to be making art in SL... And after that, in time, who knows? I think that, the damage already inflicted is quite severe and it will take some good few years and maybe much longer (time enough for the development of technologies which will vastly supersede the current metaverse: a 3D internet, a substantial merging of ubiquitous computing with virtual existences, etc, all of which will bring probably about an entirely novel discourse), to generate a process of healing to online, realtime, participatory 3D creativity.

Sponge Bob said...


sororNishi said...

I think that there is a substantial difference between the process of creating and that of surveying the (bi-) product of that process.

Intellectualising about art is like going to a movie about life...(....instead of living it)

I am really very little interested in how my work is viewed by the outside world, or what kudos SL does or doesn't have.... comments and opinions on " her early work" [i.e. early soror Nishi] just crack me up.... especially as the critics don't know the difference between a two prim build and one using 500.

I know this to be a totally new medium, and there are artists, as Aura mentioned who are learning to find their way around and through this new area. I don't want anything out of this except my own continued personal development, in my case through creativity. There are many ways that other people use for this personal path tho...and they aren't kitch to them.

@Bettina "The number of serious artists using virtual worlds as a platform to create will surely increase though,"...yes...I think so, for purely practical reasons.

@ Jay..."as the percentage of people using SL as a fantasy / escape goes down and the percentage of people using it as a communications medium goes up, i think the content will change".....omg.... a 3D Facebook....well...I'd have left by then....

@ Dusan..... I am reminded of the tale of the Martian archeologists who came to Earth after we have become exinct.... they find... a pair of sissors, the Venus de Milo and the skeleton of a frog...they conclude that Venus de Milo once sculpted the frog with the sissors...then that the sissors were once alive and ate frogs while working on Venus...and finally conclude that the frog kept Venus as a slave to make sissors...

You can find anything you want to in a piece of poor, unsubstantial images and facts.

I still find no redeeming qualities in this video.... I don't need 14 minutes to know whats crap in SL, I saw that on Day One here.

My "crap" may well be anothers "process" tho.... (but I don't need to enjoy it.)

Loony Columbia said...

Hi, I'm Eln.
I don't know much about art, but I thought how he waddles around was cute.

Unknown said...

@alpha: re: bridging SL art to RL art - I agree with you that there is a big problem that needs to be solved. It's just not reasonable to expect someone (or an audience of people) to sit down at a PC, take a crash course in SL, learn the interface, get in here, and really experience some of the amazing art installations "in person" like they were designed to be experienced. Or worse, stare at some monitor hanging on the wall in some gallery for 30 seconds wondering, wtf?

SL is a big fat open interface - anyone can write a viewer. So... what I really think needs to happen is some basic research on how to solve that problem - how in the world can someone that just walks in from the street immediately be immersed in some SL art installation/experience? Don't think "PC" and "Viewer" - someone simply needs to really think about the problem, break it down, and innovate - what kind of non-PC, non-traditional interface would really work to engage RL people in SL art immediately with ZERO learning curve. I have no idea what that is, but this seems like a really juicy research project to me that could make a significant difference in legitimizing, or at least promoting, SL art. I want an SL holodeck so I can walk people right into my sculpture, have them touch it and play with it, through some kind of beautiful, intuitive, non-techie interface.

Regarding the sexual content of this video, people that get the impression that "SL is all pr0n omg" really need to do some google searching with some (in)appropriate key words and see all the same - and far worse - crap you can find on our very own cherished internet. You want some smut, well if there are humans around, you'll find it. So if SL is "bad" because it's got some seedier content, then let's banish the internetz while we're at it, because it's got some seedy neighborhoods too, for crying out loud. I'm kinda tired of the stigma of SL having that sort of content but the same people aren't screaming to ban pr0n sites on the internet. Or at the local pr0n shop in their own neighborhoods, while they're at it.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised when I saw this blog entry. I was wondering what it had to do with the concept of NPIRL, and why this movie is considered an art work at all. Is it some kind of conceptual “joke” or “hoax”?

It got me thinking, however. As many have written the movie is pure crap. Actually I have seen amateurs do much better, although one could argue for the (machinima) dogme concept (similar to the movie concept).

What came into my mind was that perhaps this is a study on the concept of digital waste. Waste in the sense of unused (I couldn’t come up with a better word. “Waste” is not meant in a negative way).

Much of the work presented on his web-page I would consider as digital waste, from both a practically and concept point of view. Take, for example, the video we are discussing here, 112 MB of raw and useless information, or the photo series (PDF file), 13.6 MB. Neither do I see the concept of ”Fin-du-Siècle” relevant unless it refer to the ”end of internet” due to the increasing amount of digital waste.

Unfortunately, as someone wrote, few people take time to find or explore beautiful places that artists have spend many hours on. Some might be included in the movie (havn’t had time to explore for a long time). They remain unused, therefore a kind of digital waste.

If the concept of his works is digital waste, though, I think he does a good job.

I am neither a professional artist nor educated in art, so please accept my apologies if I completely misunderstood everything.



Nebulosus said...

I've been meaning to leave a comment to this post for days; so, here goes.

The video was entertaining in a way -- I like that only the "natural" sounds of SL's environment were used. And it made me really nostalgic for my newbie days -- traveling aimlessly, seeing all these random places out of context, the preoccupation with sexuality, etc.

But other than that, I don't really see what all the fuss was about. It was kind of a cute video, but the fact that it's getting all this attention is kind of ridiculous in my opinion. I think too much is being read into it.

Anonymous said...

All art is subjective of course; take Tracey Emin’s infamous bed ‘sculpture’, a clear case of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ in my opinion…but Charles Saatchi paid £150,000 for this ‘art’.

So if enough people call this video ‘art’ (and seriously critique it), then maybe it really is (for them), but for me it’s no better than a newbie’s first attempts at making a machinima, some of the surreal juxtapositions of his ‘Kool-Aid Man’ are amusing but that’s all.

It seems it’s supposed to be a wry commentary on the banality of Second Life and it’s ‘residents’ but instead it’s a lazy film that spends far too much time showing one of the ‘red light’ districts of SL.

Second life is like the internet, there isn’t one author/builder, so yes, there is a lot tasteless &/or kitsch content. If you seek out the banality it‘s not hard to find but to imply that all of SL is banal is obviously unfair

It’s ironic that by commenting on this, I’m probably giving it a validity that it doesn’t deserve - so that‘s all I‘m going to say.

Disclaimer: I don’t claim to be an artist or art critic.

jay2 said...

chizpalen, the story of the emperor's new clothes is about a fraud that no one is willing to uncover - that's not how it is with conceptual art like Tracy Emin's bed -- or the uber-example, Marcel Duchamp's fountain. The people who enjoy conceptual art are not being duped by con-men (or women) they, we, have good reasons to like what we like that relate to the history of ideas about what could be art and how art can mean what it means and the people that pay so much money for some works are doing it because they believe that those works will be influential on later art- they could be wrong, but they're not being conned. An awful lot of Conceptual art is really boring - its pretty hard to do it well, and it takes a lot of education to kind of catch up to the game- but its the difficulty that makes it fun! Lots of people look at if from the outside without the background or education and it seems absurd so they think its a con- that is a common misperception. You might think that alot of people are wasting their time talking about art that you don't like or don't care about, and that's fine- but thinking its like the emperor's new clothes is a mistake. Its like me and wine- i can't tell the difference between a $20 bottle and a $200 bottle and i don't care- (i like beer) but i don't assume there is no difference. I might even think those people are stupid for paying that much for wine, but i realize that its not that they're being conned, its just that they care about tiny differences in wine that don't matter to me.

Now if this video is art, its art as a kind of record of the whole conceptual project of being Koolaidman in SL - its either interesting or its not... i guess that's what everyone is debating here...

Anonymous said...

"Lots of people look at if from the outside without the background or education and it seems
absurd so they think its a con- that is a common misperception. You might think that alot of
people are wasting their time talking about art that you don't like or don't care about, and
that's fine- but thinking its like the emperor's new clothes is a mistake." Jay2

I wasn’t going to comment further on this subject but I’ve just read your patronising reply, so I felt compelled to.

Reading between the lines you seem to assume that if someone isn’t an artist or didn't study art to say at least degree level, then they’re an ignorant philistine and therefore, aren’t qualified to comment.

Most ‘Conceptual Art’ I’ve seen or read about, just isn’t ‘my thing’ - but I am interested in ‘Land Art’, which I believe could be said to be born out of Conceptual Art; in particular I‘m a fan of Andy Goldsworthy’s ephemeral works, which are things of beauty.

In fact I didn’t actually say that all Conceptual Art was a “con” or that the followers of it were being “duped” (although often they may be..) - I was specifically referring to Tracy Emin’s ‘work’ - “My Bed”. I’m aware that Tracy Emin’s work is informed by her often tragic early life but whatever the ‘story’ behind the unmade bed, it is still just that - a messy bed. I haven’t missed the point, I know what it is supposed to allude to, but that doesn’t make it art or a masterpiece in MY opinion.

Yes maybe it’s all Duchamp’s fault but I suppose you could argue that at least he was being anarchically original at the time… or was he just (to use a British phrase) ‘taking the piss’?

I’m sure you’ve heard about Piero Manzoni’s ‘joke’ in which he apparently intended to expose "the gullibility of the art-buying public" with his tins of "Merda d'Artista" (Artist's Shit) - so it’s really not that hard to imagine that certain Conceptual artists could be similarly be cynical.

If I’m critical of Conceptual Art, it’s because it generally requires you to do all of the work; the 'story' is the art, with little or no aesthetic input from the artist, therefore you can call virtually anything art and leave the interpretation to the viewer.

So in relation to much of Conceptual Art, the story of the 'Emperor's New Clothes' is a very good analogy as far as I’m concerned. The story’s theme wasn't really the 'fraud' at all but more about the fact that nobody wanted to appear stupid by actually pointing out the truth that the Emperor was in fact naked. It’s about self delusion. I’d rather be the individual that points out the reality, than a slave to the hype or art world groupthink that often surrounds pretentious ‘works of art‘.

Anyway returning to this video…in my opinion it isn’t worth taking that seriously…but as I said before, art appreciation is subjective, so who am I to tell you what to think about it…and who are you to tell me that I’m mistaken or that it‘s “not how it is“?

jay2 said...

chizpalen- you say

"Reading between the lines you seem to assume that if someone isn’t an artist or didn't study art to say at least degree level, then they’re an ignorant philistine and therefore, aren’t qualified to comment."

you are not reading between the lines here-- you are totally making stuff up.

i never said you were an ignorant philistine or unqualified to comment- i was merely saying you were wrong. That's all - and i mean no condescension I can think you are wrong and still respect you-- I hope you can do the same.

Its absurd to say that people are afraid to "appear stupid" by pointing out that a bed is just a bed - they know that its just a bed- AND they are taking it seriously as a meaningful gesture...

seriously- you have millions of people on one side- most people in the world probably, who would say its just a bed and it can't mean anything and you have a handful (relatively speaking) of conceptual art fans who can see that it could mean something and want to talk about that and value it because of that and you're saying that the millions are afraid to speak their mind? They're worried about sounding stupid to a few pointed-headed art-nerds? what planet are you living on?

The only reason I mentioned this is because people just say this kind of thing all the time and I get really sick of it.

Notice, i'm not saying that anything that gets sold in any art gallery for high prices is good-- I think there's plenty of crap out there that will go down in price over time as it proves to be unimportant and un-influential - but it won't be because they wake up and say "oh my god its only a bed" - there are reasons why people think that's an important work- they could be wrong but they're not delusional.

Making good conceptual art is all about the craft of the idea - and people that appreciate it, appreciate that craft (rather than the craft of making something beautiful- i have nothing against beauty but it's not the only possible criterion). If you don't like it, that's your taste and c'est la vie, but the emperor's new clothes is just not an apt comparison at all.

I'll give you an example of a really brilliant work of conceptual art to prove the point because i don't think that Tracy Emin is really all that...

I wish i could remember the name of the artist who did this but it escapes me at the moment -which sucks- i'm sorry- i have a terrible memory - but anyway- an artist got someone to put up the money for a grant to do this- they took a bunch of money- not sure how much but a lot and they bought bars of gold with it. Then they put that gold on a pedestal in a museum- that was it. But the real substance of the work was what had to happen to the museum because that gold was there- they had to hire extra armed guards, put in metal detectors, concrete barriers around the outside, etc etc. just because these bars of gold were sitting there where anyone could grab them- the whole museum had to change around the gold. Now that's a brilliant idea- an elegant, simple gesture- that points out a lot of things all at once about the nature of our society- about wealth, about the connection between violence and wealth- lots of interesting ideas -yes much of the work is in the mind of the viewer - but no, you can't just do something like that by accident- and its not all subjective- it is a well-crafted idea and although it was no work to execute, it was work to think of - and to keep it that simple. If it was more complicated, it would not be as good. If he'd carved a beautiful portrait into the gold, it wouldn't have been as good. What was good about it, was the simplicity- its a beautiful idea.

You could say "its just a pile of gold" and you'd be right- but you can't say that the only reason people think its meaningful is because they are deluding themselves and are afraid to point out that its just a pile of gold. You might not like it, and that's fine- but emperor's new clothes? sorry- it's just not.

I love andrew goldsworthy too btw.

Anonymous said...

Apologies for my over the top reaction, I was tired and it seems that I may have misinterpreted what you were saying…but unfortunately you can’t edit posts once they’re published here.

I’m not the first person to use the “Emperor’s New Clothes” analogy and I doubt I’ll be the last, after all, we’re talking about art that’s almost entirely based on the acceptance of the ‘idea as art’, so no matter how many times you categorically state that I’m wrong, I’m not going to accept it.

Let’s just agree to disagree.