The call for the first round of Second Life Endowment for the Arts (SLEA) land grants went out yesterday. Will SLEA represent the full range of creative ideas in Second Life?
The answer depends on us! Will the community propose a wide range of ideas? Will the selection committee be open to diverse thinking if we submit it?
SL has been home to countless wonderful art galleries, museums, and other cultural institutions. Over the years there have also been a few “Art Incubators” that have had remarkable impact.
There are probably others (please LMK in the comments below!) but the 3 I’m personally aware of are:
- Odyssey Performance Simulator (Odyssey)
- Linden Endowment for the Arts (LEA)
- University of Western Australia (UWA)
All 3 of these art incubators have been home to numerous sublime and important works. Each has embraced great diversity. Yet, to be a bit simplistic, LEA often featured singular artists with virtuosic builds of deeply personal, psychological introspection.
By contrast, so many of the great projects at Odyssey were Performance Art and Public Art projects that involved many SL residents not merely as audience but as active participants in the co-creation of works that often featured cultural critique and analysis.
Will SLEA be all psychological introspection and no cultural critique?
The Supremacy of Object-based art?
There is a sentence in the SLEA Grant Applications released yesterday. It is presented as though it is some sort of Guiding Principle of SLEA:
Art is a diverse range of human activities involving the creation of visual, auditory or performing artifacts, which express the creator’s imagination, conceptual ideas, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
Art is not artifacts!
While some in the art world have always fetishized objects, others have focused on process and experience. The RL “Art Market” fetishizes objects. It loves to sell hundred-million-dollar objects! But that object commodification has little to do with the process and experience of art in our lives. Little to do with art’s ability to connect people and build culture.
In my judgement, this SLEA guiding principle, a sentence Wikipedia adapted from the Oxford English Dictionary definition of art, is narrow and anachronistic.
This sentence embraces the work presented at LEA. But, it completely ignores the work presented at Odyssey. The business of art requires artifacts, objects, and commodities to sell. The experience of art in our lives does not.
Monorail tour of the 93 artist’s studios at Medici University at LEA23, 2015
Spelunking in Lascaux
When 18-year-old Marcel Ravidat and his young friends went spelunking on Thursday the 12th of September 1940 they had no idea that they would make the greatest discovery in the history of art. What they found was an elaborate system of heavily decorated caves. Near the entrance, The Hall of the Bulls, is a large room with large murals. There is evidence of 14-thousand-year-old scaffolding there and it seems to be a communally created room.
Did you ever see the Ken Russell/Paddy Chayefsky film Altered States? Remember the scene where Eddie Jessup (William Hurt) takes psychedelic amanita muscaria mushrooms with the Hinchi Indians of Zapatecus, Mexico? Perhaps the ancient ceremonies in Lascaux’s Hall of the Bulls were a bit like that.
From this large, communal room, the caves venture off in different directions. In one side passage, The Shaft, Ravidat had his friends lower him on a rope to a lower level. When they pulled him back up he was as white as a sheet. Why? Partly because The Shaft is a natural source of carbon dioxide. But also because he had experienced one of the most unique images in all of cave art, The Broken Man. The Broken Man is an image of a man that has been killed by a large horned animal. We know he has died both because the rendering seems to depict him with a broken neck, and also because he has an erection which is consistent with a broken neck. Although the man appears human, his hands are bird talons and he has a bird totem with him.
One interpretation of this scene is that the man has died to his initial, mortal life, merged with this bird, his spirit guide, and returned to be a shaman for his people. Whether his death is literal, or a metaphorical transformation through his experience in the cave, no one knows.
In another remote location, The Chamber of the Felines, there is very simple imagery. For all the grandeur of the murals in the Hall of the Bulls, the images in the Chamber of the Felines are simple and crude. They aren’t paintings or pigment-based drawings, but a sort of etching. Perhaps a simple image of a feline that a single person scratched on the dark wall as they crawled through the tiny passage. And then a palimpsest as different vision-questers draw their own experiences on the secret walls, one on top of the other.
Where is the Art?
Where is the art at Lascaux? Is it the artifacts? The objects? If Sotheby’s could cut the paintings and drawings off the walls and auction them off to wealthy bankers, would they?
If an SLEA artist could install a Byzantine Lascaux-like full-region installation for others to crawl through, would that be the art?
Or is the true “art” of Lascaux the experience that those ancient humans had as they built their culture in that cave?
Yes, we are fortunate today to be able to see a few artifacts of that culture and its practices. But the paintings on the walls are only the surface of an elaborate cultural practice that we can but guess about today.
SLEA seems poised to embrace the best of LEA. I hope SLEA will also find a way to embrace the Public Art and Performance Art legacy of Odyssey in their programming.
In addition to the departing UWA and the arriving SLEA, there are at least 3 new-ish incubators (do you know of others?) that have tried to fill the void left in the wake of LEA’s ending:
You Should Apply!
We are in a rare moment. Today you can submit to both the last-ever UWA exhibition and the first-ever SLEA exhibition!
Whether you are a maker of objects, or a co-creator of ephemeral community experiences, I encourage you to participate!