From Performance Art, to Public Art, to Parades, to a Coffee Shop
I started my avatar journey as a Virtual Performance Artist and along the way evolved into a Virtual Public Artist.
It started on Saturday, 18 April 2009 at the Vista Hermosa Art Center in Second Life. That day I presented VB 01 – Girl Next Door, a living sculpture of 9 avatars dressed in the then familiar noob “Girl Next Door” avatar.
My virtual performance art phase ended 4 years later, on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 with the presentation of VB 50 – Farewell at Alice in Cornelland at LEA 11.
What I learned in 4 years and 50 performance works is that you can find avatars willing to be in just about any living sculpture or performative project you care to choreograph. But, what they really love, is the chance to express their own identity.
Perhaps more than most virtual worlds, Second Life is an Identity Factory. Avatar customization is essentially infinite. The choices in bodies, clothes, tattoos and more are endless. Avatars take delight and pride in creating looks that express their identity.
It is impossible to overestimate the power of avatar self-expression.
In the Virtual Public Art “Activities” that followed the performance works, I tried to focus on less design, wardrobe, and choreography by me, and more opportunity for avatars to express their own identity.
This evolved, eventually, into the Pride Parade. The parade seemed like the simplest way to gather a group of avatars and let them express both solidarity and uniqueness.
In July 2020 I decided to open a coffee shop. My career has been so much about creating projects where I do less and less design, and simply allow avatars to express. What if we skipped even the marching? What if I simply offered coffee, croissants, some comfortable furniture, and a few games? What would happen if I offered a place and a time, a few hours on Saturday morning, for avatars to gather and interact?
By July 2020 the 200 (plus or minus) countries of the world were just about all practicing some degree of “Social Distancing”. A better term might be “Physical Distance & Social Connection”. 2020 is not a great year for RL coffee shops, and one more reason why opening a space in a virtual world felt like such a good choice.
In July I rented a parcel in the Truro region of Bay City. In this pilot phase we opened on Saturdays from 10 am – 1 pm SLT (SLT = Second Life Time = Pacific Time = UTC/GMT-8).
Coffee, Conversation, and Art
For the 4 Saturdays of July, the 4th, 11th, 18th, and 25th, I invited avatars to visit the new coffee shop at Truro, and each week exhibited the work of a different artist on the non-walls of the virtual coffee shop. Actually, the large-scale 2D prints I exhibited became the “walls” that defined the space of the coffee shop.
- 4 July ’20 – Terrygold
- 11 July ’20 – Botgirl Questi
- 18 July ’20 – Dido Haas
- 25 July ’20 – Mrags Writer / Michael Wright
A New Home
After a month of renting at Truro, I found a parcel to “buy” in the Innu region. In RL, even when you “own” a house, you still have to pay thousands in property tax, or the house won’t be yours anymore.
In cyberspace we often use the word “buy” when we are really “renting”. We “buy” a Domain Name. And we “own” it. As long as we keep paying our “rent”. If, for example, you “buy” vanessablaylock.com, then you “own” it. Until your credit card lapses. Then you don’t own it. Then a Domain Name Squatter buys it. Then when you realize you’ve lost it and your site is down the squatter offers to sell it back to you for $10,000. Then you decide that “vanessablaylock.xyz” for $15 will work just fine. (you are here!)
Whether you “buy” or “rent” a parcel is a small point. We are mortal and everything is ultimately transitory. Still, “buying” a parcel doesfeel more permanent. I think I’ll be at Innu for some time to come.
At Vanessa’s Place II at Innu I transitioned from weekly art exhibitions to longer duration runs. The first was a 14-year retrospective of selfies by Connie Arida. The current (November) exhibition is the Morning Coffee Challenge, a flickr group I created for avatars to share photographic experiences of their morning cup of coffee.