Art in Second Life, an interview with Richard Minsky

Richard MinskyI interviewed Richard Minsky for an upcoming article on art in Second Life (SL) for The Brooklyn Rail (which will appear in the April 2007 edition–here), and found his insights into the burgeoning art medium to be insightful and clear. So, I decided to post it online to help anyone interested in the online arts.

slartlogo2a.jpgRichard founded Slart, a new art journal about SL art, and is an accomplished artist himself.

[Click below to watch a YouTube video (04:13) that explains the basics of Second Life.]

Hrag Vartanian (HV) – When and why did you becoming interested in art in SL?

Richard Minsky (RM) – Last November I heard an interview with Julian Dibbell, author of Play Money, on National Public Radio and that made me interested. I logged in and was amazed at the work that was going on. I started doing research and discovered that there was a symposium at the New York Law School in Tribeca scheduled the first week in December, organized by State of Play and Terra Nova. I registered for it, and bought some key books on MMORPEG culture–Julian’s Play Money, Edward Castronova’s book Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games, and T.L. Taylor’s Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture. Dibbell and Castronova were among the speakers at the symposium, which turned out to be a fabulous introduction to the issues. You can listen to a webcast of the symposium at http://www.nyls.edu/pages/5215.asp and the 2003-2005 State of Play conferences are archived, with videos, at http://www.nyls.edu/pages/2713.asp

HV – What are some of the characteristics of SL art?

RM – There is a huge variety, as there is in terrestrial art. There are many artists who photograph their art and import it to SL in the hope of either attracting interest in the global market or in selling enough images in-world to pay their rent in SL. There are also artists whose work bridges both worlds. And there are a growing number who use the in-world object creation tools to make art, including sculptural and scripted works.

HV – You’ve started a new journal about the topic (SLART), why did you think it was necessary?

RM – I saw that there was no critical evaluation of the art in SL, and that nobody was bringing the art that was being created there to the attention of the outer world.

HV – What will be some of the journal’s characteristics?

RM – It will be primarily in-world and web based, with a periodical paper issue that will document the developments in archival form, so that the history of the developing SL art world will not be lost. Electronic media are transient, and ten years from now we don’t know if SL will exist, or if it does, in what form. It’s a 3-D world, and currently is rendered in perspective on 2-D screens. In January researchers at the University of Michigan 3D lab made stereo projection of SL a reality, using the GeoWall technology [ http://geowall.geo.lsa.umich.edu/home.html ]. Currently SL is introducing streaming chat. You can put on a regular stereo headset with microphone and the voices of the other avatars will appear to come from where they are in space. When the 3D technology is implemented you will be able to wear VR glasses and be immersed in the environment in both video and audio. Having an archival paper edition of SLART will insure that in 100 years people will be able to look back and find documentation of the beginnings of all this. Besides, some people like to read about stuff like this in the bathroom.

HV – What do you think are some of the landmark events in SL’s art world? Has there been a watershed moment? If not, what would you consider a turning point for SL art?

RM – The presence and disappearance of Starax Statosky was significant. Starax was a master builder who created work that was native to the SL environment. Whether you found it hokey or of aesthetic value, the key element was that it used the building tools in-world to create complex works, many of which had scripted elements that made them interactive. You can see a retrospective exhibition at http://www.nmc.org/sl/2006/10/17/starax/ [you can also click to see it below]


Now there are many more artists in SL. There are over 200 art galleries in the Gallery Owners Group. There are artists from all over the world and of many disciplines. SLART has begun interviewing artists. This week it’s the hyperformalist and mathematical artists. They have found Second Life to be a place they can realize works that are not possible in terrestrial space.

HV – Who are the major players in SL art?

RM – Among the mathematical artists are Seifert Surface [Henry Segerman: http://www.segerman.org/2ndlife.html ; http://www.segerman.org/ ]; and Bathsheba Dorn [Bathsheba Grossman: http://bathsheba.com/ ]. Dancoyote Antonelli [DC Spensley: http://spensley.com/hyperformalism/] calls his version Hyperformalism. An article we are working on now will discuss the similarities and differences in this sort of work, which vary from conceptual to mathematically rigorous. There are some examples at http://slartmagazine.com/hyperformalism.htm

artopolis.jpg An artist who is working across worlds is Filthy Fluno, who creates drawings in the outer world that are based on in-world events and places. He imports the drawings, which can be quite beautiful, and sells them in SL as limited editions. He also sells and exhibits them terrestrially as Jeffrey Lipsky [ http://www.jeffreylipsky.com/ ]. The work incorporates Biomorphic Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism, coming out of Arp, Tanguy, Matta, Gorky and de Kooning, along with more contemporary graffiti and cartoon elements.

Nomasha Syaka picks up where Starax left off, with monumental classical style sculpture, and also produces highly detailed guitars and watches, which might be seen as an update on Pop Art. http://slartmagazine.com/nomasha.htm

Some of the most interesting art is the avatars themselves. SLART is photographing the avatars as works of art. We have started putting some of the photos on the website: http://slartmagazine.com/artist-avatars.htm

HV – As a book artist (can I use that term to describe you?), what is your interest in a virtual medium…one with no physicality?

RM – Yes, I can sometimes be described as a book artist, as it’s one of the things I am known for. I’m not sure that this medium has no physicality, or that the notion of physicality is relevant to my interest in books. The computer has a physical screen, creates and receives physical signals that are information. It stores that information and can retrieve it. The codex is an older form of physical information storage and retrieval, but not the first. Paintings store information that we decode through photons and cognition. We have image sequences in caves that go back 30,000 years. Clay tablets and scrolls predate the codex. Book artists use many forms to codify their texts and images. Ulises Carrion wrote a great manifesto in 1975 titled The New Art of Making Books: http://www.centerforbookarts.org/art/carrion.html

The first sentence in his manifesto is: A book is a sequence of spaces. This medium enables many approaches to this concept, from in-world books, of which there are several varieties that function like “regular” books, to machinima, which is video shot in “real” time in-world.

My interests are not exclusively in book art. I’m an Economist by training, have been a fiddler for over 50 years, dance the Tango and fence sabre. I lecture on Advanced Thought Particles, the Theory of Museum FInish and Material as Mataphor. Internationally I participate in discussions as a member of the Guest Panel at http://interdisciplines.org/artcog and http://interdisciplines.org/artcognition

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RM’s addendum - The motto of SLART magazine is “WHAT IS REAL?” Inside Second Life there are many live concerts every day. You can listen to streaming video played by musicians in Japan, Europe and all over the USA. I have been to performances where a singer in Germany played with a guitarist in Texas. There is a wonderful range of styles, from blues and cocktail music to jazz and ambient music. I often work in my studio to live performances streaming on Second Life. Architecture and land art are major forms in this world. Last week 300 new islands went online–private land masses that can be terraformed by the inhabitants, who then construct the architecture.