BIO
Domenico Quaranta (1978, Brescia, Italy, http://domenicoquaranta.com) is an art critic and curator. He is a regular contributor to Flash Art and Artpulse. He is the editor (with M. Bittanti) of the book GameScenes: Art in the Age of Videogames (2006) and the author of Media, New Media, Postmedia (2010) and In Your Computer (2011). He has curated various exhibitions, including Holy Fire: Art of the Digital Age (Bruxelles 2008, with Y. Bernard), Playlist (Gijon 2009 and Bruxelles 2010) and Collect the WWWorld (Brescia 2011 and Basel 2012). He is a co-founder of the Link Center for the Arts of the Information Age (http://www.linkartcenter.eu/).

My Life Without Technoviking: An Interview with Matthias Fritsch


Matthias Fritsch is an independent artist from Berlin, most well known for his work Kneecam No 1—the live video that brought Technoviking to the internet. Over a decade after he uploaded the clip that went viral, Fritsch now is enduring a long legal battle with Technoviking himself, who sued for the reproduction, proliferation, and unwarranted use of his likeness. In response to the process, Fritsch is making The Story of Technoviking, a crowd-funded documentary that aims to shed light on the legal issues surrounding viral images. Below, Fritsch talks about what it’s like do battle in court with a viking, the ownership of images in the internet age, and hopes for his current project.

My Life Without Technoviking—since the trial began, Fritsch is no longer allowed to use images of the plaintiff's face.

DQ: Matthias, I'm of course curious about the video that originated it all. What was, for you, Kneecam No 1 (2000) before it became an internet meme? Why did you upload it to YouTube? Were you expecting such a viral reaction? What did you think when it happened?


What's (Really) Specific about New Media Art? Curating in the Information Age


This text has been written for the proceedings of the international conference "New Perspectives, New Technologies", organized by the Doctoral School Ca' Foscari - IUAV in Arts History and held in Venice and Pordenone, Italy in October 2011


The "portal" designed by Antenna Design to show net based art in the exhibition "Art Entertainment Network", Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2000. Courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

 

In the late nineties and during the first decade of this century the term “new media art” became the established label for that broad range of artistic practices that includes works that are created, or in some way deal with, new media technologies. Providing a more detailed definition here would inevitably mean addressing topics beyond the scope of this paper, that I discussed extensively in my book Media, New Media, Postmedia (Quaranta 2010). By way of introduction to the issues discussed in this paper, we can summarize the main argument put forward in the book: that this label, and the practices it applies to, developed mostly in an enclosed social context, sometimes called the “new media art niche”, but that would be better described as an art world in its own right, with its own institutions, professionals, discussion platforms, audience, and economic model, and its own idea of what art is and should be; and that only in recent years has the practice managed to break out of this world, and get presented on the wider platform of contemporary art.

It was at this point in time, and mainly thanks to curators who were actively involved in the presentation of new media art in the contemporary art arena, that the debate about “curating new media (art)” took shape. This debate was triggered by the pioneering work of curators – from Steve Dietz to Jon Ippolito, Benjamin Weil and Christiane Paul – who at the turn of the millennium curated seminal new media art exhibitions for contemporary art museums; and it was – and still is –nurtured by CRUMB - “Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss” - a platform and mailing list founded by Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook in 2000 within the School of Arts, Design, Media and Culture at the University of Sunderland, UK. As early as 2001, CRUMB organized the first ever meeting of new media curators in the UK as part of BALTIC's pre-opening program – a seminar on Curating New Media held in May 2001.

In the context of this paper, our main reference texts will be CRUMB-related publications, from the proceedings of “Curating New Media” (2001) to Rethinking Curating. Art After New Media (2010), a recent book by Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook; and New Media in the White Cube and Beyond, a book edited by Christiane Paul in 2008. Instead of addressing the specific issues and curatorial models discussed in these publications, we will try to focus on the very foundations of “curating new media”, exploring questions like: does new media art require a specific curatorial model? Does this curatorial model follow the way artists working with new media currently present themselves on the contemporary art platform? How much could “new media art” benefit from a non-specialized approach? Are we curating “new media” or curating “art”? ...


The Postmedia Perspective


The following excerpt comes from the final chapter of my book Media, New Media, Postmedia, recently published in Italian by Postmediabooks, who kindly gave Rhizome permission to republish it in English. The book is an attempt to analyze the current positioning of so-called “New Media Art” in the wider field of contemporary arts, and to explore the historical, sociological and conceptual reasons for its marginal position and under-recognition in recent art history.



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“WE ARE ALL READY FOR A CHANGE”. INTERVIEW WITH STEVEN SACKS
by Domenico Quaranta

Wired called him “the king of Digital Art”. Maybe this headline is a
little bit exaggerated, but what's true is that Steven Sacks is one of
the few people in the world who are able to make New Media Art
digestible for collectors. Steven is the founder of the well known
bitforms gallery in New York, but what tickled my attention, and gave
rise to this little interview, is another - maybe less significant, but
more visionary - initiative: softwareARTspace
(http://www.softwareartspace.com/). He writes on the website:
“softwareARTspace was started to distribute unframed software art pieces
- art that is delivered on a CD and is viewed with a computer and screen
of choice... Although you can use software art on existing systems, it
is my belief and conviction that software art should and will become a
dedicated experience, just as you hang a painting or a photo. Once you
have a software art station in place, you can easily switch amongst your
collection.”
In my opinion, this idea of a “software art station” is 50\% naive, 50\%
ingenious. So, I drop a line to the naive genius who conceived it...
This interview was conducted via email in May, 2007 for an article
published in Flash Art, June 2007.

Domenico Quaranta. As a gallery owner, you are already dealing with
Software Art, and with New Media Art in general. How do you sell digital
works through the gallery? Video recordings? Prints? Installations?

Steven Sacks. I do not like the term “digital”. It's too narrow and
typically defined too commercially. I deal with New Media Art which many
times integrates new technologies or the influence of media on society.
Software-based works have been a major focus of the gallery and I
believe is the most significant “art practice” change of my generation.
We offer all types of media from video to sculpture, but the works must
have a connection to new media. Much of what we offer is sold just as
they have been for many years. Software Art works tend to be more
challenging to sell, but offer the collector an artistic experience
unlike any other. These works are driven by a computer and are either
generative or interactive or both. The software is typically offered on
a CD and/or embedded in a computer that the artist has specified.
Depending on what the work is, there are a number of back-up and
conservation methods that need to be addressed.

DQ. Why did you decide to open softwareARTspace? What's the difference
with bitforms gallery, concerning the way you sell Software Art?

SS. softwareARTspace was started to introduce and educate the main
stream and to some extent the art world about Software Art and some of
the artists engaged in the practice. These works were offered in very
large editions at affordable prices so more people could experience and
collect New Media Art from a range of well known software-based artists.
The work is only available through online purchase and is packaged very
nicely. Some of the softwareARTspace artists also show at bitforms gallery.

DQ. About experiencing the work, you talk about a dedicated machine, "a
software art station". It seems to me weird and provocative at the same
time. At the beginning, Net Art and Software Art tried to introduce new,
democratic ways to experience art: but, entering the art market, they
usually lost this visionary approach, looking for more traditional,
“materialized” interfaces (prints, videos, sculptures and so on).
softwareARTspace seems to look for a viable way to re-propose that
visionary approach. Do you think that we are now ready for totally new
ways to experience art?

SS. There are some very simple reasons why we are all ready for a
change. Access and price. It is now very easy to access computers and
screens and the prices have dropped dramatically. The thought of having
2-3 screens devoted to software or video art is not unreasonable and in
fact will broaden and diversify most people's collection. Also, for some
works of art it is ok to rotate between pieces on one screen which also
offers collectors a nice option for easily and quickly changing their
surroundings.

DQ. What I buy when I buy one of your multiples? Is it like buying video
art? Or more likely buying a software or a game? Why do you make
editions of 5000 instead of 50? Is it still art, when it costs 125 $?

SS. It is not video. It is code - Software Art. The work is on a CD and
must be viewed on a computer with a decent graphics card.
This is not about “collecting” and value. It's about experiencing a
sample of work from important software artists. When these artists
produce more “fine artworks” they will have the attention of a wider
audience who may be interested in smaller editions or unique objects.

--

Domenico Quaranta

mob. +39 340 2392478
email. qrndnc@yahoo.it
home. vicolo San Giorgio 18 - 25122 brescia (BS)
web. http://www.domenicoquaranta.net/

DISCUSSION

A LEAP INTO THE VOID: INTERVIEW WITH SECOND FRONT, by Domenico Quaranta


+Commissioned by Rhizome.org+
A LEAP INTO THE VOID: INTERVIEW WITH SECOND FRONT
by Domenico Quaranta

At first sight they may appear like a pop hybrid between the X-men and
the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, reviewed through the exaggerated
and postmodern aesthetics of a virtual world such as Second Life. Quite
the contrary. They are the first performance art group in Second Life:
serious guys, practicing artists, curators and academics in real life,
who decided to sound out the performative possibilities offered by a
public virtual space that is growing at an impressive rate and being
filled up by media agencies, stores, products, brands and inhabitants.

Second Front (http://slfront.blogspot.com/) officially formed on
November 23, 2006, gaining new members up right until the last few days.
Now they are: Wirxli Flimflam aka Jeremy Owen Turner; Tea Chenille aka
Tanya Skuce; Man Michinaga aka Patrick Lichty; Alise Iborg aka Penny
Leong Browne; Tran Spire aka Doug Jarvis; Great Escape aka Scott
Kildall; Lizsolo Mathilde aka Liz Pickard; Gazira Babeli aka CLASSIFIED.

The attention of “in world” media comes fast, even if Second Front
doesn't seem to work much on communication: its very first performances
are set up, unannounced, in public spaces, for a little, unconscious
audience. Then, almost immediately (January 5, 2007) comes the big
intervention scored at Ars Virtua Gallery - the most notable
contemporary art gallery in Second Life - for the opening of the
visionary installation by the American artist John Craig Freeman (JC
Fremont in Second Life). And may other performances...

Saying that Second Front is opening new paths in an unexplored territory
is not rhetorical; and the loose, immodest and a little bit punkish way
in which they do it is definitely unrhetorical. Their key feature is
openness: openness and plurality of visions and perspectives, quite
blatant in this interview (where almost each one of them decided to give
his/her answer to the same question); they are open about a wide range
of interventions, from reenactment to improvisation to code performing;
open about different ways of shaping their work for the art audience,
from prints to video to live broadcasting. They are growing up before
our very eyes. And, rest assured, they hold good things in store.

DOMENICO QUARANTA: What is Second Front?

MAN MICHINAGA: Second Front is an international performance art group
whose sole venue is the online world, Second Life. Second Front has
members from Vancouver, St. Johns, Chicago, New Orleans, and Milan (to
name a few), and works with numerous artists from around the world.

WIRXLI FLIMFLAM: As of January 14th, Second Front received official
legitimacy from The Ava-Star tabloid (owned by Die Zeit in Germany) as
the “first performance art group in Second Life”. This basically makes
us the in-world equivalent of Fluxus - perhaps we could also be
nicknamed “SLuxus”. This sudden rush from formation to celebrity has
been quite fascinating since Second Front officially formed on November
23, 2006.
As for a more detailed idea of what Second Front is all about, some
people in Second Life might confuse us with a “performing arts” group
rather than a “performance arts” group. We are not a circus act nor a
dance or a theatre troupe although our artistic practice might
superficially resemble those other performing acts at times.

TRAN SPIRE: Second Front is a network of performance interested artists
exploring new and different environments, specifically the online 3d
animated game world of Second Life. The members have come together
through a myriad of personal relationships that existed during the early
days of the group’s formation. This dynamic has morphed and mutated to
include and involve variations on membership based on who is available
and what presence can they perform with the others.

DQ: What does it mean, for you, to make performances in Second Life? Do
you make rehearsals or do you prefer improvisation? Do you work with
code or do you simply make what all other avatars do?

ALISE IBORG: So far we have done both. I think it depends on what kind
of performance we wish to make. If it is better improvised we will
probably do that. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. With
prerecorded performances, we can fine tune and edit out things we don't
want the audience to see. But with improvised performances, the work
takes on a life of its own fueled by the creative energy of our players
which really shows through. Also, many times, it's the surprises and
unintended actions that make the work really come alive!

MAN MICHINAGA: Performing in Second Life gives Second Front the
opportunity to work at scales they would not normally be able to work in
if done in the physical world, and often has the opportunity to play to
a wider audience. Our level of preparedness is dependent on the context
for the event.
In regards to whether we use code or not, Second Front is using a
growing set of code-based interventions in its performances, thanks to
our techno-doyen, Mama Gaz Babeli. In regards to our avatars, and props,
almost nothing we use is ‘standard’, but some of us retain a few basic
props like specific wings, or even old beginner’s props like hair as a
sign of their past as newcomers to Second Life.

WIRXLI FLIMFLAM: When we rehearse and plan scripts for major public
performance events, we still have to rely on individual improvisation.
Nothing is ever entirely scripted so each member can do their “own
thing” and have breathing room yet at the same time not be confused as
to what they should be doing. We use scripts and rehearsals etc. as a
guide to help the performing member to feel secure with the thematic
manner with which they wish to improvise. This allows for group cohesion
both on an optical and practical level.

GREAT ESCAPE: Second Life offers a unique space for performance. Without
the normal constraints of the body ― the usual center of performance -
and without a traditional audience, we can try and do things that have
been previously thought to be impossible.

TRAN SPIRE: Performing in Second Life introduces variables and
situations that complement and push further the understanding and
comprehension that the members of the group share as a sense of what is
real. By engaging the contrived space of an online gaming environment
the challenges to perform are exaggerated by the parameters that persist
as the interface with the context, the others members of the group,
audiences and the templates of performance as an art medium. All of the
tropes of performance are available to the group to use at will,
hopefully to ends beyond the surface of what may appear evident around us.

GAZIRA BABELI: The real performance starts with login, the rest is
performance record. The avatar just tries to forget being a code.

DQ: Do you prefer, for your performances, a public space or an art venue?

MAN MICHINAGA: Second Front chooses its venues to fit the context of the
piece and the performance. In the case of Border Control, it was done at
Ars Virtua, therefore the context was that of an art space. For our
Breaking News and Abject Apocalypse pieces, these were context specific
(the Reuters building and the Star over the Christmas Tree at the US’s
NBC Rockefeller Plaza), and were performed in situ, with the product
being the documentation.

WIRXLI FLIMLAM: Personally, I prefer a large and well-known public venue
that is not usually within the context of high-art. So for example, IBM,
Sears, American Apparel, Wired, and Reuters are all great examples of
the kind of venues I think are really inspirational for me. Again, this
is a personal preference and not necessarily reflective of Second Front
as a group.

GREAT ESCAPE: It depends on the nature of the performance. An art venue
is interesting because it brings Second Life into the physical space. I
think it is ideal to broadcast the performance at an art venue while
engaging a specific site in Second Life.

GAZIRA BABELI: In art venues you can be welcomed with cheers, in public
spaces with bullets. I prefer the latter, as death doesn’t exist.

DQ: What kind of audience are you looking for? Do you think that a
performance in Second Life could be displayed also in the real world?

MAN MICHINAGA: We are interested in reaching out to audiences who are
interested in Second Life, and are curious of the possibilities that
avatar-based performance art can have. Currently, Second Front is
performing in hybrid venues, such as simultaneous events in its home,
the BitFactory in Han Loso, and in physical spaces, like Vancouver’s
Western Front, and Chicago’s Gallery 416. We do hope that in addition to
our performances in Second Life, Second Front can have exhibitions of
its performances, imagery, video, and ephemera in the physical as any
and all possible media. We do not wish to be limited by media, and also
wish to spread our curiosity to the widest possible audience.

GREAT ESCAPE: One thing I think we’re looking to do is to question the
underlying assumptions of Second Life and what it means to be a virtual
being in that space. A dominant trend in Second Life is to shop, make
friends online and participate in a virtual economy. We think this can
be a venue for unique artistic expression.
In this way, anyone in Second Life is an appropriate audience. The
possibilities for the space haven’t been fully explored as of yet and so
I think people are much more receptive to performances that they might
be in real life. Because it is so new, we can have a huge affect on
people’s thinking.

TRAN SPIRE: I like the idea that the notion of an audience is being
blurred by my own participation in this group. I am conscious of the
fact that during all the stages of our performances from pre-production
planning emails to after-party videos, I am both a performer with the
group and
an audience to the many things taking place. Anything that contributes
to challenging this space and dichotomy between creator and audience I
think is an interesting thing to pursue.

ALISE IBORG: We are looking for open-minded audiences who are not afraid
to be part of the performance. And absolutely, Second Front could be
displayed in the real world. The term that I use to describe this
intervention into the real world, is 'virtual leakage'.
I define virtual leakage as a two way exchange between the virtual and
the real, through which new hybrid meanings can be made. Meaning-making
can no longer operate within the hermetic cases of the real vs. virtual,
but instead, becomes a back and forth exchange in which ideas migrate by
osmosis. While we as Second Life avatars become more real in the virtual
world, so too, that we as human inhabitants of the real world become
more virtual.
In my opinion, there is an amazing opportunity for Virtual Reality (VR)
to stake its own territory but in order for VR to produce meaning that
breaks from the real and from past artistic social practices, and to
become a medium that produces singular works, the binary of the real vs
virtual must be dismantled. Only then, will we be able to look at VR not
as a simulation of the real, but as a simulation of itself.

GAZIRA BABELI: I prefer an unaware audience, an audience who does not
necessarily have to understand what’s going on. Second Life is a real world.

DQ: Can you tell me something about the performances you had till now?
How did your approach changed from the first one?

MAN MICHINAGA: Like any experimental troupe, we are always learning, and
this affects our performance process. In addition, for Breaking News,
many of us were only recently active, so our first performance was a
really interesting experience. In short, Breaking News was an absurdist
play on the 18th Century idea of the Town Crier, played out in the
latest of 21st Century news facilities. By shouting out non-sequiteur,
moment-to-moment headlines, Second Front hoped to perhaps jam the usual
flow of information in the Reuters space, and possibly (ridiculously
enough) barge into Adam Reuters’ office itself! On the second occasion,
we did get an audience, as passers-by stopped and sat to listen to our
tabloid headlines. Of course (we assume) they did not take us seriously.
For Border Control, we knew we would have an audience, and that we would
need to fill a fairly set period of time with detailed orchestration, we
experimented at the BitFactory, rehearsing a series of vignettes that
fit the context of JC Fremont & Rain Coalcliff’s Mexican Border
installation. The first act, “Border Patrol” was a Dada-esque
performance of the increasing militarization of the borders throughout
North America. Following that, “Red Rover” was a play on the creation of
a border in the traditional children’s game, but in our case the border
decided to break down the audience instead of the other way around.
Lastly, the final act, “Danger Room” was a piece that was intended to
inspire a gestalt of danger and chaos in the age of Terror, but
unexpectedly, chaos erupted and the sim actually crashed, whether by our
actions or a combination of us and the audience isn’t really clear.
The approaches for the two pieces are quite different, as one is ad-hoc
and the other following a set choreography and set. Are we changing? Of
course; it wouldn’t be interesting if we weren’t. We learn new things
each performance, and while certain things get easier, we then try to
push the envelope harder in other areas.

TRAN SPIRE: I like to think that part of the script of each performance
is written in the code of the place or environment in which it is
situated. This lets the content be influenced by not only the art or
non-art context but also by the different terrains that can exist in the
real life as well as Second Life.

DQ: What do you think about art in Second Life? Is performance the only
possible way to make art out there?

MAN MICHINAGA: Absolutely not. While Second Life has limitations like
any medium, the members of Second Front are excited to see individuals
working in many different forms of expression, such as live music,
‘painting’, sculpture, even fireworks and aerial ballet. While Second
Life is relatively new, the possibilities for expression in virtual
worlds has yet to be fully explored. That’s why Second Front was created!

WIRXLI FLIMFLAM: Context is extremely important here. Part of what makes
Second Life itself is the fact that every moment seems like part of a
performance. The fact that everything can be customizable in Second Life
as well as the fact that just about any object can be wearable enhances
my personal impression that performance art is the most “authentic”
medium of Second Life in that Greenbergian sense.

GREAT ESCAPE: Right now, the Second Life galleries are mostly
replicating paintings and sculpture, enhanced with visual effects in
Second Life. These are what you’d expect with the first generation of
art-making in any new medium. I think that what we’ve seen so far in
Second Life is only a glimpse of what the future holds.

ALISE IBORG: Absolutely not. Second Life has offered the ability for
anyone to create in VR which means that there is boundless possibilities
for creativity and unprecedented work. In my opinion, VR is in itself a
new medium but what is unique about VR is that through its technology,
it can create work that can free itself from past art practices, though,
there is also amazing avenues of creation by referencing precedent
artists and works, For instance, our Last Supper performance
appropriates one of the most canonic religious events by producing an
event of binging and purging art itself!

GAZIRA BABELI: Second Life is a frame-space which can include all sorts
of artistic perversion. I call it performance, anyway. But if you find a
better definition, please let me know.

DQ. What is your relationship with your Real Life counterpart?

MAN MICHINAGA: There really is none. Patrick Lichty does not exist. Only
I am real, and I control him.
On a more serious note, the relationship between Man and Patrick is
completely in line with my RL life. I am very sensitive to context, and
the way I act in one context may be very different from another. In
Second Life I feel that one has to be “Larger than Life”, and that's
what Man is - He’s a big dark, figure - part angel, part rock star, part
architect, part actor. That is, all the things that Second Life gives
the individual more freedom to be if they so desire. I think that most
of Second Front do this with great effectiveness and aplomb.
My greatest concern is “the risk of the Artist”; that is, the bleed
between worlds that I take by making potentially controversial art in
Second Life. I think that Second Life is the first place where we can
say that sometimes our action online DO matter, and this is very perplexing.

GREAT ESCAPE: I think that the avatar Great Escape occupies a strange
nook in my subconscious. In many ways, Second Life operates as a
fantastical dream state. We can fly, teleport and pick up houses and
cars. My avatar has purple skin and fire out of his hair. When I go to
sleep at night, images of the other Second Front members often fill me
head. So for me, my avatar is embedded in my psyche, rather than an
extension of my self.

WIRXLI FLIMFLAM: In a lot of ways, the relationship between Wirxli and
Jeremy is much more closer than one might think from first seeing me.
I did intentionally want to make Wirxli more of an alien than human or
perhaps as a kind of first-generation “post-human”. I was also reading
up about the stereotypical shaman in most cultures who is
gender-ambiguous... so in this case, there is a slight departure here
from my Real Life self.

TRAN SPIRE: I prefer to triangulate, dimensionally shift my relationship
to each of the entities constituting themselves as versions of me.
Therefore, I am waiting for the two to have a discussion and then ask me
to join in on the conversation. I am interested to hear what they come
up with and how they define themselves in regards to existence in a
spatio-temporal plane, and whether they recognize each other.

GAZIRA BABELI: My body can walk barefoot, but my avatar needs shoes.

+++

LINKS:

Second Front - http://slfront.blogspot.com/
Gazira Babeli - http://gazirababeli.com/
The BitFactory - http://patricklichty.com.thing.net/bitfactory.html
Ars Virtua Gallery - http://arsvirtua.com/
Imaging Place - http://imagingplace.net/

+++

Domenico Quaranta is an Italian art critic and curator focused on New
Media Art. He is the author of the book Net Art 1994 - 1998: La vicenda
di Ada'web (Milan 2004) and, together with Matteo Bittanti, the editor
of GameScenes. Art in the Age of Videogames (Milan 2006,
http://www.gamescenes.org/). He curated several exhibitions in Italy,
including: GameScenes (Turin 2005), Radical Software (Turin 2006), and
Connessioni leggendarie. Net.art 1995 - 2005 (Milan, 2005). He teaches
“Net art” at the Accademia di Brera in Milan.
http://www.domenicoquaranta.net/

DISCUSSION

A LEAP INTO THE VOID: INTERVIEW WITH SECOND FRONT, by Domenico Quaranta


+Commissioned by Rhizome.org+
A LEAP INTO THE VOID: INTERVIEW WITH SECOND FRONT
by Domenico Quaranta

At first sight they may appear like a pop hybrid between the X-men and
the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, reviewed through the exaggerated
and postmodern aesthetics of a virtual world such as Second Life. Quite
the contrary. They are the first performance art group in Second Life:
serious guys, practicing artists, curators and academics in real life,
who decided to sound out the performative possibilities offered by a
public virtual space that is growing at an impressive rate and being
filled up by media agencies, stores, products, brands and inhabitants.

Second Front (http://slfront.blogspot.com/) officially formed on
November 23, 2006, gaining new members up right until the last few days.
Now they are: Wirxli Flimflam aka Jeremy Owen Turner; Tea Chenille aka
Tanya Skuce; Man Michinaga aka Patrick Lichty; Alise Iborg aka Penny
Leong Browne; Tran Spire aka Doug Jarvis; Great Escape aka Scott
Kildall; Lizsolo Mathilde aka Liz Pickard; Gazira Babeli aka CLASSIFIED.

The attention of “in world” media comes fast, even if Second Front
doesn't seem to work much on communication: its very first performances
are set up, unannounced, in public spaces, for a little, unconscious
audience. Then, almost immediately (January 5, 2007) comes the big
intervention scored at Ars Virtua Gallery - the most notable
contemporary art gallery in Second Life - for the opening of the
visionary installation by the American artist John Craig Freeman (JC
Fremont in Second Life). And may other performances...

Saying that Second Front is opening new paths in an unexplored territory
is not rhetorical; and the loose, immodest and a little bit punkish way
in which they do it is definitely unrhetorical. Their key feature is
openness: openness and plurality of visions and perspectives, quite
blatant in this interview (where almost each one of them decided to give
his/her answer to the same question); they are open about a wide range
of interventions, from reenactment to improvisation to code performing;
open about different ways of shaping their work for the art audience,
from prints to video to live broadcasting. They are growing up before
our very eyes. And, rest assured, they hold good things in store.

DOMENICO QUARANTA: What is Second Front?

MAN MICHINAGA: Second Front is an international performance art group
whose sole venue is the online world, Second Life. Second Front has
members from Vancouver, St. Johns, Chicago, New Orleans, and Milan (to
name a few), and works with numerous artists from around the world.

WIRXLI FLIMFLAM: As of January 14th, Second Front received official
legitimacy from The Ava-Star tabloid (owned by Die Zeit in Germany) as
the “first performance art group in Second Life”. This basically makes
us the in-world equivalent of Fluxus - perhaps we could also be
nicknamed “SLuxus”. This sudden rush from formation to celebrity has
been quite fascinating since Second Front officially formed on November
23, 2006.
As for a more detailed idea of what Second Front is all about, some
people in Second Life might confuse us with a “performing arts” group
rather than a “performance arts” group. We are not a circus act nor a
dance or a theatre troupe although our artistic practice might
superficially resemble those other performing acts at times.

TRAN SPIRE: Second Front is a network of performance interested artists
exploring new and different environments, specifically the online 3d
animated game world of Second Life. The members have come together
through a myriad of personal relationships that existed during the early
days of the group’s formation. This dynamic has morphed and mutated to
include and involve variations on membership based on who is available
and what presence can they perform with the others.

DQ: What does it mean, for you, to make performances in Second Life? Do
you make rehearsals or do you prefer improvisation? Do you work with
code or do you simply make what all other avatars do?

ALISE IBORG: So far we have done both. I think it depends on what kind
of performance we wish to make. If it is better improvised we will
probably do that. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. With
prerecorded performances, we can fine tune and edit out things we don't
want the audience to see. But with improvised performances, the work
takes on a life of its own fueled by the creative energy of our players
which really shows through. Also, many times, it's the surprises and
unintended actions that make the work really come alive!

MAN MICHINAGA: Performing in Second Life gives Second Front the
opportunity to work at scales they would not normally be able to work in
if done in the physical world, and often has the opportunity to play to
a wider audience. Our level of preparedness is dependent on the context
for the event.
In regards to whether we use code or not, Second Front is using a
growing set of code-based interventions in its performances, thanks to
our techno-doyen, Mama Gaz Babeli. In regards to our avatars, and props,
almost nothing we use is ‘standard’, but some of us retain a few basic
props like specific wings, or even old beginner’s props like hair as a
sign of their past as newcomers to Second Life.

WIRXLI FLIMFLAM: When we rehearse and plan scripts for major public
performance events, we still have to rely on individual improvisation.
Nothing is ever entirely scripted so each member can do their “own
thing” and have breathing room yet at the same time not be confused as
to what they should be doing. We use scripts and rehearsals etc. as a
guide to help the performing member to feel secure with the thematic
manner with which they wish to improvise. This allows for group cohesion
both on an optical and practical level.

GREAT ESCAPE: Second Life offers a unique space for performance. Without
the normal constraints of the body ― the usual center of performance -
and without a traditional audience, we can try and do things that have
been previously thought to be impossible.

TRAN SPIRE: Performing in Second Life introduces variables and
situations that complement and push further the understanding and
comprehension that the members of the group share as a sense of what is
real. By engaging the contrived space of an online gaming environment
the challenges to perform are exaggerated by the parameters that persist
as the interface with the context, the others members of the group,
audiences and the templates of performance as an art medium. All of the
tropes of performance are available to the group to use at will,
hopefully to ends beyond the surface of what may appear evident around us.

GAZIRA BABELI: The real performance starts with login, the rest is
performance record. The avatar just tries to forget being a code.

DQ: Do you prefer, for your performances, a public space or an art venue?

MAN MICHINAGA: Second Front chooses its venues to fit the context of the
piece and the performance. In the case of Border Control, it was done at
Ars Virtua, therefore the context was that of an art space. For our
Breaking News and Abject Apocalypse pieces, these were context specific
(the Reuters building and the Star over the Christmas Tree at the US’s
NBC Rockefeller Plaza), and were performed in situ, with the product
being the documentation.

WIRXLI FLIMLAM: Personally, I prefer a large and well-known public venue
that is not usually within the context of high-art. So for example, IBM,
Sears, American Apparel, Wired, and Reuters are all great examples of
the kind of venues I think are really inspirational for me. Again, this
is a personal preference and not necessarily reflective of Second Front
as a group.

GREAT ESCAPE: It depends on the nature of the performance. An art venue
is interesting because it brings Second Life into the physical space. I
think it is ideal to broadcast the performance at an art venue while
engaging a specific site in Second Life.

GAZIRA BABELI: In art venues you can be welcomed with cheers, in public
spaces with bullets. I prefer the latter, as death doesn’t exist.

DQ: What kind of audience are you looking for? Do you think that a
performance in Second Life could be displayed also in the real world?

MAN MICHINAGA: We are interested in reaching out to audiences who are
interested in Second Life, and are curious of the possibilities that
avatar-based performance art can have. Currently, Second Front is
performing in hybrid venues, such as simultaneous events in its home,
the BitFactory in Han Loso, and in physical spaces, like Vancouver’s
Western Front, and Chicago’s Gallery 416. We do hope that in addition to
our performances in Second Life, Second Front can have exhibitions of
its performances, imagery, video, and ephemera in the physical as any
and all possible media. We do not wish to be limited by media, and also
wish to spread our curiosity to the widest possible audience.

GREAT ESCAPE: One thing I think we’re looking to do is to question the
underlying assumptions of Second Life and what it means to be a virtual
being in that space. A dominant trend in Second Life is to shop, make
friends online and participate in a virtual economy. We think this can
be a venue for unique artistic expression.
In this way, anyone in Second Life is an appropriate audience. The
possibilities for the space haven’t been fully explored as of yet and so
I think people are much more receptive to performances that they might
be in real life. Because it is so new, we can have a huge affect on
people’s thinking.

TRAN SPIRE: I like the idea that the notion of an audience is being
blurred by my own participation in this group. I am conscious of the
fact that during all the stages of our performances from pre-production
planning emails to after-party videos, I am both a performer with the
group and
an audience to the many things taking place. Anything that contributes
to challenging this space and dichotomy between creator and audience I
think is an interesting thing to pursue.

ALISE IBORG: We are looking for open-minded audiences who are not afraid
to be part of the performance. And absolutely, Second Front could be
displayed in the real world. The term that I use to describe this
intervention into the real world, is 'virtual leakage'.
I define virtual leakage as a two way exchange between the virtual and
the real, through which new hybrid meanings can be made. Meaning-making
can no longer operate within the hermetic cases of the real vs. virtual,
but instead, becomes a back and forth exchange in which ideas migrate by
osmosis. While we as Second Life avatars become more real in the virtual
world, so too, that we as human inhabitants of the real world become
more virtual.
In my opinion, there is an amazing opportunity for Virtual Reality (VR)
to stake its own territory but in order for VR to produce meaning that
breaks from the real and from past artistic social practices, and to
become a medium that produces singular works, the binary of the real vs
virtual must be dismantled. Only then, will we be able to look at VR not
as a simulation of the real, but as a simulation of itself.

GAZIRA BABELI: I prefer an unaware audience, an audience who does not
necessarily have to understand what’s going on. Second Life is a real world.

DQ: Can you tell me something about the performances you had till now?
How did your approach changed from the first one?

MAN MICHINAGA: Like any experimental troupe, we are always learning, and
this affects our performance process. In addition, for Breaking News,
many of us were only recently active, so our first performance was a
really interesting experience. In short, Breaking News was an absurdist
play on the 18th Century idea of the Town Crier, played out in the
latest of 21st Century news facilities. By shouting out non-sequiteur,
moment-to-moment headlines, Second Front hoped to perhaps jam the usual
flow of information in the Reuters space, and possibly (ridiculously
enough) barge into Adam Reuters’ office itself! On the second occasion,
we did get an audience, as passers-by stopped and sat to listen to our
tabloid headlines. Of course (we assume) they did not take us seriously.
For Border Control, we knew we would have an audience, and that we would
need to fill a fairly set period of time with detailed orchestration, we
experimented at the BitFactory, rehearsing a series of vignettes that
fit the context of JC Fremont & Rain Coalcliff’s Mexican Border
installation. The first act, “Border Patrol” was a Dada-esque
performance of the increasing militarization of the borders throughout
North America. Following that, “Red Rover” was a play on the creation of
a border in the traditional children’s game, but in our case the border
decided to break down the audience instead of the other way around.
Lastly, the final act, “Danger Room” was a piece that was intended to
inspire a gestalt of danger and chaos in the age of Terror, but
unexpectedly, chaos erupted and the sim actually crashed, whether by our
actions or a combination of us and the audience isn’t really clear.
The approaches for the two pieces are quite different, as one is ad-hoc
and the other following a set choreography and set. Are we changing? Of
course; it wouldn’t be interesting if we weren’t. We learn new things
each performance, and while certain things get easier, we then try to
push the envelope harder in other areas.

TRAN SPIRE: I like to think that part of the script of each performance
is written in the code of the place or environment in which it is
situated. This lets the content be influenced by not only the art or
non-art context but also by the different terrains that can exist in the
real life as well as Second Life.

DQ: What do you think about art in Second Life? Is performance the only
possible way to make art out there?

MAN MICHINAGA: Absolutely not. While Second Life has limitations like
any medium, the members of Second Front are excited to see individuals
working in many different forms of expression, such as live music,
‘painting’, sculpture, even fireworks and aerial ballet. While Second
Life is relatively new, the possibilities for expression in virtual
worlds has yet to be fully explored. That’s why Second Front was created!

WIRXLI FLIMFLAM: Context is extremely important here. Part of what makes
Second Life itself is the fact that every moment seems like part of a
performance. The fact that everything can be customizable in Second Life
as well as the fact that just about any object can be wearable enhances
my personal impression that performance art is the most “authentic”
medium of Second Life in that Greenbergian sense.

GREAT ESCAPE: Right now, the Second Life galleries are mostly
replicating paintings and sculpture, enhanced with visual effects in
Second Life. These are what you’d expect with the first generation of
art-making in any new medium. I think that what we’ve seen so far in
Second Life is only a glimpse of what the future holds.

ALISE IBORG: Absolutely not. Second Life has offered the ability for
anyone to create in VR which means that there is boundless possibilities
for creativity and unprecedented work. In my opinion, VR is in itself a
new medium but what is unique about VR is that through its technology,
it can create work that can free itself from past art practices, though,
there is also amazing avenues of creation by referencing precedent
artists and works, For instance, our Last Supper performance
appropriates one of the most canonic religious events by producing an
event of binging and purging art itself!

GAZIRA BABELI: Second Life is a frame-space which can include all sorts
of artistic perversion. I call it performance, anyway. But if you find a
better definition, please let me know.

DQ. What is your relationship with your Real Life counterpart?

MAN MICHINAGA: There really is none. Patrick Lichty does not exist. Only
I am real, and I control him.
On a more serious note, the relationship between Man and Patrick is
completely in line with my RL life. I am very sensitive to context, and
the way I act in one context may be very different from another. In
Second Life I feel that one has to be “Larger than Life”, and that's
what Man is - He’s a big dark, figure - part angel, part rock star, part
architect, part actor. That is, all the things that Second Life gives
the individual more freedom to be if they so desire. I think that most
of Second Front do this with great effectiveness and aplomb.
My greatest concern is “the risk of the Artist”; that is, the bleed
between worlds that I take by making potentially controversial art in
Second Life. I think that Second Life is the first place where we can
say that sometimes our action online DO matter, and this is very perplexing.

GREAT ESCAPE: I think that the avatar Great Escape occupies a strange
nook in my subconscious. In many ways, Second Life operates as a
fantastical dream state. We can fly, teleport and pick up houses and
cars. My avatar has purple skin and fire out of his hair. When I go to
sleep at night, images of the other Second Front members often fill me
head. So for me, my avatar is embedded in my psyche, rather than an
extension of my self.

WIRXLI FLIMFLAM: In a lot of ways, the relationship between Wirxli and
Jeremy is much more closer than one might think from first seeing me.
I did intentionally want to make Wirxli more of an alien than human or
perhaps as a kind of first-generation “post-human”. I was also reading
up about the stereotypical shaman in most cultures who is
gender-ambiguous... so in this case, there is a slight departure here
from my Real Life self.

TRAN SPIRE: I prefer to triangulate, dimensionally shift my relationship
to each of the entities constituting themselves as versions of me.
Therefore, I am waiting for the two to have a discussion and then ask me
to join in on the conversation. I am interested to hear what they come
up with and how they define themselves in regards to existence in a
spatio-temporal plane, and whether they recognize each other.

GAZIRA BABELI: My body can walk barefoot, but my avatar needs shoes.

+++

LINKS:

Second Front - http://slfront.blogspot.com/
Gazira Babeli - http://gazirababeli.com/
The BitFactory - http://patricklichty.com.thing.net/bitfactory.html
Ars Virtua Gallery - http://arsvirtua.com/
Imaging Place - http://imagingplace.net/

+++

Domenico Quaranta is an Italian art critic and curator focused on New
Media Art. He is the author of the book Net Art 1994 - 1998: La vicenda
di Ada'web (Milan 2004) and, together with Matteo Bittanti, the editor
of GameScenes. Art in the Age of Videogames (Milan 2006,
http://www.gamescenes.org/). He curated several exhibitions in Italy,
including: GameScenes (Turin 2005), Radical Software (Turin 2006), and
Connessioni leggendarie. Net.art 1995 - 2005 (Milan, 2005). He teaches
“Net art” at the Accademia di Brera in Milan.
http://www.domenicoquaranta.net/

DISCUSSION

Gazira Babeli: [Collateral Damage]


PRESS RELEASE
April 12, 2007

For Immediate Release:
Gazira Babeli: Collateral Damage
- a comprehensive survey of works from 2006-2007
location: Odyssey (38,30,23)

"Gaz', Queen of the Desert". Text by Domenico Quaranta.
http://gazirababeli.com/SHOW/CollateralDamage/Queen-of-the-Desert.htm

On April 16th 2007, the ExhibitA gallery on the Odyssey simulator within
the online virtual world called Second LifeT, will present the first
comprehensive look at the pioneering work of Gazira Babeli.
Gazira Babeli is an artist creating works within Second Life and a
member of Second Front - the first performance art group in Second Life.
Gazira labels herself a "code performer" and indeed the code is at the
heart of her work, tying it to the system at a deep level and reaching
out to the viewer in ways that inherent to the SL platform. Her pieces
are alive with scripts created using the Linden scripting language - a
core component of Second Life. A Campbells soup can that is a trap, and
a self proclaimed menace disguised as pop art, encases the viewer and
takes him on a ride proclaiming "you love pop art, pop art hates you"
until the unsuspecting avatar manages to run fast enough to escape. The
sky filled with question marks, a vengeful tornado, these are a few of
Gaz's signature works that can be seen on her site: gazirababeli.com. In
the spirit of opensource - Gazira has licensed much of her code via
creative commons, and you can download it for your own use on her site:
gazirababeli.com.

Please join us for the opening of this exhibit. Press are invited to
attend at 1pm SL time. The general opening is at 6pm SL time. Inquiries
may be directed to Beavis Palowakski: rushchris@mac.com, or to Sugar
Seville: sugarseville@gmail.com.

Following are some press excerpts regarding Gazira Babeli.

"Born in Second Life on 31st March 2006, *Gazira Babeli*
(http://www.gazirababeli.com/) is an artist who turns the performativity
of the code into performance itself. Weedy and flexuous in her long
black dress which covers fashionably her polygonal haunches, Gazira
radiates a strange charm that makes her somebody in between a Voodoo
witch and an X-men heroine. Her charm that becomes even more evident
during her masterful performances, in which she activates scripts as if
they were spells, makes earthquakes happens, provokes natural fatalities
and invasions of pop icons (in the place of the biblical locusts).
Gazira Babeli is NOT the project of an artist who works in Second Life.
She IS an artist, who makes, records and signs performances based on
code. She is real, like you and me, even if her action platform is a
world of bits."
- Domenico Quaranta, 2006-12-02

"Linden Labs is a Fluxus-Project", jokes Gazira Babeli, the
pizza-throwing Second-Life-Artist and makes a reference to the Slogan of
Linden Labs. "Your World. Your Imagination". This is a indication for
the fact, that in the metaverse art and life are connected as far like
the fluxus-artist would have wanted to, she remarks ironically. [...]
Gazira Babeli is one of the few artists, who has created works, which
are subversively inflitrating the friendly environment of cyber-suburbia SL.
- Tilman Baumgartel, Kunstzeitung, March 2007

We keep forgetting that what we call Real Life has been a virtual frame
for a long time. Second Life offers the chance to build and deconstruct
this space in the form of a theatre performance. What's the difference?
I'm trying to find out. For the moment I like to say: my body can walk
barefoot, but my avatar needs Prada shoes.
- March 23, 2007 - Interview with Gazira Babeli by Tilman Baumgartel
http://www.turbulence.org/blog/archives/003987.html

Gazira: To realize an "artistic" or "aesthetic" experience, it requires
a frame-space that is contemporarily physical and conceptual; it could
be a frame, a museum, a computer network, a bedroom... or just a plain
box 'dressed' like a RL art-galley. This referential "cube gallery"
reminds me of the ironical artwork made by Marcel Duchamp called "Box
in a valise" (Boite-en-valise, 1942)
Although the "box gallery" could be a valid expression, I prefer
thinking the whole SL environment as (a kind of) frame-space. It means
that scripted and built objects, avatar-people and their behaviors
become essentially parts of the artwork...a "world in a valise", in this
case. :)
- Interview with Jeremy Turner (Wirxli Flimflam) for Slatenight magazine
http://www.slatenight.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id3

--

Domenico Quaranta

mob. +39 340 2392478
email. qrndnc@yahoo.it
home. vicolo San Giorgio 18 - 25122 brescia (BS)
web. http://www.domenicoquaranta.net/

DISCUSSION

A LEAP INTO THE VOID: INTERVIEW WITH SECOND FRONT, by Domenico Quaranta


+Commissioned by Rhizome.org+
A LEAP INTO THE VOID: INTERVIEW WITH SECOND FRONT
by Domenico Quaranta

At first sight they may appear like a pop hybrid between the X-men and
the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, reviewed through the exaggerated
and postmodern aesthetics of a virtual world such as Second Life. Quite
the contrary. They are the first performance art group in Second Life:
serious guys, practicing artists, curators and academics in real life,
who decided to sound out the performative possibilities offered by a
public virtual space that is growing at an impressive rate and being
filled up by media agencies, stores, products, brands and inhabitants.

Second Front (http://slfront.blogspot.com/) officially formed on
November 23, 2006, gaining new members up right until the last few days.
Now they are: Wirxli Flimflam aka Jeremy Owen Turner; Tea Chenille aka
Tanya Skuce; Man Michinaga aka Patrick Lichty; Alise Iborg aka Penny
Leong Browne; Tran Spire aka Doug Jarvis; Great Escape aka Scott
Kildall; Lizsolo Mathilde aka Liz Pickard; Gazira Babeli aka CLASSIFIED.

The attention of “in world” media comes fast, even if Second Front
doesn't seem to work much on communication: its very first performances
are set up, unannounced, in public spaces, for a little, unconscious
audience. Then, almost immediately (January 5, 2007) comes the big
intervention scored at Ars Virtua Gallery - the most notable
contemporary art gallery in Second Life - for the opening of the
visionary installation by the American artist John Craig Freeman (JC
Fremont in Second Life). And may other performances...

Saying that Second Front is opening new paths in an unexplored territory
is not rhetorical; and the loose, immodest and a little bit punkish way
in which they do it is definitely unrhetorical. Their key feature is
openness: openness and plurality of visions and perspectives, quite
blatant in this interview (where almost each one of them decided to give
his/her answer to the same question); they are open about a wide range
of interventions, from reenactment to improvisation to code performing;
open about different ways of shaping their work for the art audience,
from prints to video to live broadcasting. They are growing up before
our very eyes. And, rest assured, they hold good things in store.

DOMENICO QUARANTA: What is Second Front?

MAN MICHINAGA: Second Front is an international performance art group
whose sole venue is the online world, Second Life. Second Front has
members from Vancouver, St. Johns, Chicago, New Orleans, and Milan (to
name a few), and works with numerous artists from around the world.

WIRXLI FLIMFLAM: As of January 14th, Second Front received official
legitimacy from The Ava-Star tabloid (owned by Die Zeit in Germany) as
the “first performance art group in Second Life”. This basically makes
us the in-world equivalent of Fluxus - perhaps we could also be
nicknamed “SLuxus”. This sudden rush from formation to celebrity has
been quite fascinating since Second Front officially formed on November
23, 2006.
As for a more detailed idea of what Second Front is all about, some
people in Second Life might confuse us with a “performing arts” group
rather than a “performance arts” group. We are not a circus act nor a
dance or a theatre troupe although our artistic practice might
superficially resemble those other performing acts at times.

TRAN SPIRE: Second Front is a network of performance interested artists
exploring new and different environments, specifically the online 3d
animated game world of Second Life. The members have come together
through a myriad of personal relationships that existed during the early
days of the group’s formation. This dynamic has morphed and mutated to
include and involve variations on membership based on who is available
and what presence can they perform with the others.

DQ: What does it mean, for you, to make performances in Second Life? Do
you make rehearsals or do you prefer improvisation? Do you work with
code or do you simply make what all other avatars do?

ALISE IBORG: So far we have done both. I think it depends on what kind
of performance we wish to make. If it is better improvised we will
probably do that. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. With
prerecorded performances, we can fine tune and edit out things we don't
want the audience to see. But with improvised performances, the work
takes on a life of its own fueled by the creative energy of our players
which really shows through. Also, many times, it's the surprises and
unintended actions that make the work really come alive!

MAN MICHINAGA: Performing in Second Life gives Second Front the
opportunity to work at scales they would not normally be able to work in
if done in the physical world, and often has the opportunity to play to
a wider audience. Our level of preparedness is dependent on the context
for the event.
In regards to whether we use code or not, Second Front is using a
growing set of code-based interventions in its performances, thanks to
our techno-doyen, Mama Gaz Babeli. In regards to our avatars, and props,
almost nothing we use is ‘standard’, but some of us retain a few basic
props like specific wings, or even old beginner’s props like hair as a
sign of their past as newcomers to Second Life.

WIRXLI FLIMFLAM: When we rehearse and plan scripts for major public
performance events, we still have to rely on individual improvisation.
Nothing is ever entirely scripted so each member can do their “own
thing” and have breathing room yet at the same time not be confused as
to what they should be doing. We use scripts and rehearsals etc. as a
guide to help the performing member to feel secure with the thematic
manner with which they wish to improvise. This allows for group cohesion
both on an optical and practical level.

GREAT ESCAPE: Second Life offers a unique space for performance. Without
the normal constraints of the body ― the usual center of performance -
and without a traditional audience, we can try and do things that have
been previously thought to be impossible.

TRAN SPIRE: Performing in Second Life introduces variables and
situations that complement and push further the understanding and
comprehension that the members of the group share as a sense of what is
real. By engaging the contrived space of an online gaming environment
the challenges to perform are exaggerated by the parameters that persist
as the interface with the context, the others members of the group,
audiences and the templates of performance as an art medium. All of the
tropes of performance are available to the group to use at will,
hopefully to ends beyond the surface of what may appear evident around us.

GAZIRA BABELI: The real performance starts with login, the rest is
performance record. The avatar just tries to forget being a code.

DQ: Do you prefer, for your performances, a public space or an art venue?

MAN MICHINAGA: Second Front chooses its venues to fit the context of the
piece and the performance. In the case of Border Control, it was done at
Ars Virtua, therefore the context was that of an art space. For our
Breaking News and Abject Apocalypse pieces, these were context specific
(the Reuters building and the Star over the Christmas Tree at the US’s
NBC Rockefeller Plaza), and were performed in situ, with the product
being the documentation.

WIRXLI FLIMLAM: Personally, I prefer a large and well-known public venue
that is not usually within the context of high-art. So for example, IBM,
Sears, American Apparel, Wired, and Reuters are all great examples of
the kind of venues I think are really inspirational for me. Again, this
is a personal preference and not necessarily reflective of Second Front
as a group.

GREAT ESCAPE: It depends on the nature of the performance. An art venue
is interesting because it brings Second Life into the physical space. I
think it is ideal to broadcast the performance at an art venue while
engaging a specific site in Second Life.

GAZIRA BABELI: In art venues you can be welcomed with cheers, in public
spaces with bullets. I prefer the latter, as death doesn’t exist.

DQ: What kind of audience are you looking for? Do you think that a
performance in Second Life could be displayed also in the real world?

MAN MICHINAGA: We are interested in reaching out to audiences who are
interested in Second Life, and are curious of the possibilities that
avatar-based performance art can have. Currently, Second Front is
performing in hybrid venues, such as simultaneous events in its home,
the BitFactory in Han Loso, and in physical spaces, like Vancouver’s
Western Front, and Chicago’s Gallery 416. We do hope that in addition to
our performances in Second Life, Second Front can have exhibitions of
its performances, imagery, video, and ephemera in the physical as any
and all possible media. We do not wish to be limited by media, and also
wish to spread our curiosity to the widest possible audience.

GREAT ESCAPE: One thing I think we’re looking to do is to question the
underlying assumptions of Second Life and what it means to be a virtual
being in that space. A dominant trend in Second Life is to shop, make
friends online and participate in a virtual economy. We think this can
be a venue for unique artistic expression.
In this way, anyone in Second Life is an appropriate audience. The
possibilities for the space haven’t been fully explored as of yet and so
I think people are much more receptive to performances that they might
be in real life. Because it is so new, we can have a huge affect on
people’s thinking.

TRAN SPIRE: I like the idea that the notion of an audience is being
blurred by my own participation in this group. I am conscious of the
fact that during all the stages of our performances from pre-production
planning emails to after-party videos, I am both a performer with the
group and
an audience to the many things taking place. Anything that contributes
to challenging this space and dichotomy between creator and audience I
think is an interesting thing to pursue.

ALISE IBORG: We are looking for open-minded audiences who are not afraid
to be part of the performance. And absolutely, Second Front could be
displayed in the real world. The term that I use to describe this
intervention into the real world, is 'virtual leakage'.
I define virtual leakage as a two way exchange between the virtual and
the real, through which new hybrid meanings can be made. Meaning-making
can no longer operate within the hermetic cases of the real vs. virtual,
but instead, becomes a back and forth exchange in which ideas migrate by
osmosis. While we as Second Life avatars become more real in the virtual
world, so too, that we as human inhabitants of the real world become
more virtual.
In my opinion, there is an amazing opportunity for Virtual Reality (VR)
to stake its own territory but in order for VR to produce meaning that
breaks from the real and from past artistic social practices, and to
become a medium that produces singular works, the binary of the real vs
virtual must be dismantled. Only then, will we be able to look at VR not
as a simulation of the real, but as a simulation of itself.

GAZIRA BABELI: I prefer an unaware audience, an audience who does not
necessarily have to understand what’s going on. Second Life is a real world.

DQ: Can you tell me something about the performances you had till now?
How did your approach changed from the first one?

MAN MICHINAGA: Like any experimental troupe, we are always learning, and
this affects our performance process. In addition, for Breaking News,
many of us were only recently active, so our first performance was a
really interesting experience. In short, Breaking News was an absurdist
play on the 18th Century idea of the Town Crier, played out in the
latest of 21st Century news facilities. By shouting out non-sequiteur,
moment-to-moment headlines, Second Front hoped to perhaps jam the usual
flow of information in the Reuters space, and possibly (ridiculously
enough) barge into Adam Reuters’ office itself! On the second occasion,
we did get an audience, as passers-by stopped and sat to listen to our
tabloid headlines. Of course (we assume) they did not take us seriously.
For Border Control, we knew we would have an audience, and that we would
need to fill a fairly set period of time with detailed orchestration, we
experimented at the BitFactory, rehearsing a series of vignettes that
fit the context of JC Fremont & Rain Coalcliff’s Mexican Border
installation. The first act, “Border Patrol” was a Dada-esque
performance of the increasing militarization of the borders throughout
North America. Following that, “Red Rover” was a play on the creation of
a border in the traditional children’s game, but in our case the border
decided to break down the audience instead of the other way around.
Lastly, the final act, “Danger Room” was a piece that was intended to
inspire a gestalt of danger and chaos in the age of Terror, but
unexpectedly, chaos erupted and the sim actually crashed, whether by our
actions or a combination of us and the audience isn’t really clear.
The approaches for the two pieces are quite different, as one is ad-hoc
and the other following a set choreography and set. Are we changing? Of
course; it wouldn’t be interesting if we weren’t. We learn new things
each performance, and while certain things get easier, we then try to
push the envelope harder in other areas.

TRAN SPIRE: I like to think that part of the script of each performance
is written in the code of the place or environment in which it is
situated. This lets the content be influenced by not only the art or
non-art context but also by the different terrains that can exist in the
real life as well as Second Life.

DQ: What do you think about art in Second Life? Is performance the only
possible way to make art out there?

MAN MICHINAGA: Absolutely not. While Second Life has limitations like
any medium, the members of Second Front are excited to see individuals
working in many different forms of expression, such as live music,
‘painting’, sculpture, even fireworks and aerial ballet. While Second
Life is relatively new, the possibilities for expression in virtual
worlds has yet to be fully explored. That’s why Second Front was created!

WIRXLI FLIMFLAM: Context is extremely important here. Part of what makes
Second Life itself is the fact that every moment seems like part of a
performance. The fact that everything can be customizable in Second Life
as well as the fact that just about any object can be wearable enhances
my personal impression that performance art is the most “authentic”
medium of Second Life in that Greenbergian sense.

GREAT ESCAPE: Right now, the Second Life galleries are mostly
replicating paintings and sculpture, enhanced with visual effects in
Second Life. These are what you’d expect with the first generation of
art-making in any new medium. I think that what we’ve seen so far in
Second Life is only a glimpse of what the future holds.

ALISE IBORG: Absolutely not. Second Life has offered the ability for
anyone to create in VR which means that there is boundless possibilities
for creativity and unprecedented work. In my opinion, VR is in itself a
new medium but what is unique about VR is that through its technology,
it can create work that can free itself from past art practices, though,
there is also amazing avenues of creation by referencing precedent
artists and works, For instance, our Last Supper performance
appropriates one of the most canonic religious events by producing an
event of binging and purging art itself!

GAZIRA BABELI: Second Life is a frame-space which can include all sorts
of artistic perversion. I call it performance, anyway. But if you find a
better definition, please let me know.

DQ. What is your relationship with your Real Life counterpart?

MAN MICHINAGA: There really is none. Patrick Lichty does not exist. Only
I am real, and I control him.
On a more serious note, the relationship between Man and Patrick is
completely in line with my RL life. I am very sensitive to context, and
the way I act in one context may be very different from another. In
Second Life I feel that one has to be “Larger than Life”, and that's
what Man is - He’s a big dark, figure - part angel, part rock star, part
architect, part actor. That is, all the things that Second Life gives
the individual more freedom to be if they so desire. I think that most
of Second Front do this with great effectiveness and aplomb.
My greatest concern is “the risk of the Artist”; that is, the bleed
between worlds that I take by making potentially controversial art in
Second Life. I think that Second Life is the first place where we can
say that sometimes our action online DO matter, and this is very perplexing.

GREAT ESCAPE: I think that the avatar Great Escape occupies a strange
nook in my subconscious. In many ways, Second Life operates as a
fantastical dream state. We can fly, teleport and pick up houses and
cars. My avatar has purple skin and fire out of his hair. When I go to
sleep at night, images of the other Second Front members often fill me
head. So for me, my avatar is embedded in my psyche, rather than an
extension of my self.

WIRXLI FLIMFLAM: In a lot of ways, the relationship between Wirxli and
Jeremy is much more closer than one might think from first seeing me.
I did intentionally want to make Wirxli more of an alien than human or
perhaps as a kind of first-generation “post-human”. I was also reading
up about the stereotypical shaman in most cultures who is
gender-ambiguous... so in this case, there is a slight departure here
from my Real Life self.

TRAN SPIRE: I prefer to triangulate, dimensionally shift my relationship
to each of the entities constituting themselves as versions of me.
Therefore, I am waiting for the two to have a discussion and then ask me
to join in on the conversation. I am interested to hear what they come
up with and how they define themselves in regards to existence in a
spatio-temporal plane, and whether they recognize each other.

GAZIRA BABELI: My body can walk barefoot, but my avatar needs shoes.

+++

LINKS:

Second Front - http://slfront.blogspot.com/
Gazira Babeli - http://gazirababeli.com/
The BitFactory - http://patricklichty.com.thing.net/bitfactory.html
Ars Virtua Gallery - http://arsvirtua.com/
Imaging Place - http://imagingplace.net/

+++

Domenico Quaranta is an Italian art critic and curator focused on New
Media Art. He is the author of the book Net Art 1994 - 1998: La vicenda
di Ada'web (Milan 2004) and, together with Matteo Bittanti, the editor
of GameScenes. Art in the Age of Videogames (Milan 2006,
http://www.gamescenes.org/). He curated several exhibitions in Italy,
including: GameScenes (Turin 2005), Radical Software (Turin 2006), and
Connessioni leggendarie. Net.art 1995 - 2005 (Milan, 2005). He teaches
“Net art” at the Accademia di Brera in Milan.
http://www.domenicoquaranta.net/