Sunday, May 8, 2011

Response to Sorir Nishi blogpost

Response from Patrick Lichty/Man Michinaga to Soror Nishi's recent blog post about the LEA Opening.

I have a few notes regarding Soror Nishi’s post regarding the opening of the Linden Endowment for the Arts opening, the expulsion of SaveMe Oh, and the protest by Dancoyote Antonelli regarding Rhett Linden’s statement that art is such great free advertising. As one of the leading members of one of the world’s foremost virtual performance art groups, Second Front, I would like to say that in regards to Linden Labs’ form of support for the arts through the LEA, etc. I don’t really care.

That’s not true. I think that a more accurate statement is that I really don’t think it matters. Why?

First, I’m not performing the usual trumped-up promotion of one’s own group one finds in Second Life. There are plenty of other very respected “Real Life” artists, such as Scott Kildall, Joseph DeLappe, Micha Cardenas, Stephanie Rothenberg, and Cao Fei who use SL as a medium who will probably never bee promoted by Linden Labs, with the probable exception of Cao Fei. Why?

Because the paradigm of Second Life is a solipsism, pure and simple. The problem with SL Art is that it focuses on SL as a paradigm that rotates around Linden Labs, and not as a medium. It focuses on the residents that are trying from within SL to get respect for it by the exterior world, rather than working with respected artists period who merely use SL as a medium.

The issue is that artists who wish that Linden Labs would act as an advocate for them are looking in the wrong direction, not only because of LL’s mindset that the Residents are assets for free marketing, but that Linden Labs itself has lost a great deal of its ability to leverage credible PR for its content in the past years.

Second Life has lost much of its lustre, but the reasons why are not important. What is important is that at the LEA kickoff, we had artists actually engaging with LL’s policies and culture as if they were relevant, which it is not. Why?

Because most of the more greatly recognized artists mentioned above, showing in venues such as the Performa Performance Art Bienniale in NYC, the Moscow Museum of Contemporary Art, the Donaufestival Krems, the Sundance New Horizons Festival, the Australian national Portrait Gallery, the Yokohama Trienniale, Ars Electronica, and so on simply aren’t on the radar in SL because of this cognitive dissonance. Period.

The paradigm of trying to promote SL Art through LL as a revolutionary new form that the world has to come into to see simply _does_not_work_. Many of the leading artists using SL are not the most visible names in the community, and that’s another disconnect, and many of them have moved on by now.

It’s a problem. SL has had its prime and now it is a mature platform with artists who use it without relying on its “sex” factor, and the Linden Endowment for the Arts providing servers is a good start, but will not really leverage the artists without proper PR and contextual framing.

As for the rest of us who do our SL work for RL and don’t really engage much with the LL culture, we’re doing fine. It’s not that we’re against Linden Labs; far from it. It’s that we understand that they don’t understand the art and festival world because they’re a software company, and high artists are a) not amateur assets, and b) don’t really care if they’re famous in Second Life. Don’t gvet me wrong, no one’s looking down on the SL community, again – far from it, they’re a great bunch of people, but SL’s myopia serves the needs of Linden labs and its promotion of SL, and That’s just not relevant to an artist’s practice. It’s like voluntarily promoting a type of oil paint because you use it, and only associate with the artists who use that oil paint. It’s just not relevant.

So going back to the Linden Endowment for the Arts opening, Dancoyote’s protest of Linden’s leveraging its artist for PR, and the expulsion of the avatar SaveMe Oh for creating her signature visual noise – in art world terms, it was nonexistent. Why that is important is as long as Second Life seeks normal credibility, it has to think in terms of partnerships with the contemporary art world, and not just trying to create new promotional plans for its community. And, until LL understands its role as a platform rather than paradigm again, it will continue on its road of solipsistic cheerleading into an uncertain future.

As for the rest of us, we will be diligently doing our work, appreciatively working in SL, but all the while knowing that it is the larger frame of reference that serves our work, not the frame of Linden Labs.

Patrick Lichty/Man Michinaga

10 comments:

  1. Great writing Patrick, I fully agree!

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  2. This is really a great response and I would like to add to this the recent news that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has opened up its 2012 submission window this month, and surprisingly, the guidelines have been updated with a new section called "Arts in Media," which includes games. The official description reads,

    "Projects may include high profile multi-part or single television and radio programs (documentaries and dramatic narratives); media created for theatrical release; performance programs; artistic segments for use within an existing series; multi-part webisodes; installations; and interactive games. Short films, five minutes and under, will be considered in packages of three or more."

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  3. Second Life is technically not a game but it is a virtual world and much of the work SL artists create in it may fall under the new guidelines. It is actions such as this that create paradigm shifts in contemporary art and media.

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  4. As an artist who works and teaches with many media I agree with Patrick Lichty's remarks - particularly about the Lindens missing the point and in doing so missing a great opportunity to expand their presence in the world. But that is true of most corporations.

    Each artist posits their work in a particular way so I do not object to those who see their work most importantly as being a reaction to the Lindens and their world but many artist worry about the Lindens about as much as we do about Adobe's use of art to demonstrate their Photoshop filters...

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  5. Esteemed Art Colleagues,

    While I cannot speak for the motivations of other members of the LEA working group, I would like to speak a little about my involvement in this body.

    Professor Lichty likes to make mention of the fact that he (and his list of friends) are representative of the legitimate "Art" world (with a capital A) as opposed to people with a somewhat lesser pedigree. And it may be that he has earned this high place from whence to pronounce the rest of us moot. (I'm not so sure everyone on that list would agree with Patrick) Professor Lichty supports and promotes his own gang, and promotes a very specific strain of conceptualism. Anyone not fitting into this view is dismissed.

    The Art world however, is far from monolithic (in the words of Professor Lichty himself when we had lunch in Chicago a few years ago) and it is not possible to lay claim to the whole territory of Art emerging in the virtual world with one essay, one body of work or one way of working.

    Not everyone doing interesting and relevant Art in SL is located so clearly within the Situationist ideology that Professor Lichty subscribes to. How comforting it must be to adopt an existing Art movement to orient oneself within the conditions of telepresence and network transportability. This strategy provides a safe way into plug into the existing "Art" world and a useful transition between late 20th century conceptualism and a practice in SL that is emergent phenoema, influenced by history but focused on unique conditions in the virtual space.

    So while Professor Lichty may be legitimately situated in a region of the Art world that can afford to simply ignore the dramas of artists who are not in such a comfortable position, some of us exist on the borderline between the virtual and the material, between the situationist and what comes next, between emergence and obscurity.

    These artists cannot afford to dismiss Linden Labs better-late-than-never recognition of the incredible flowering of art within their framework. Second Life brings up a whole world of contemporary questions about the relationship between Arts and business, between freedom and control. Nowhere else is the tension between social media, art and commerce so intertwined. This is truly contested space.

    So while I agree with much of what my colleague says, I would have to respectfully disagree when he dismisses the important conversation taking place around LEA and ignores this attempt at building community. I am serving on the LEA, not for my own self aggrandizement or to help me climb the ladder of success in the sanctified Art world, but rather to help shape the relationship between Art and commerce within this contested space. This relationship is by no means a done deal and CAN be influenced, although that window will not be open forever.

    Serving on this board is difficult and contentious work, and the comments of Rhett Linden and the subsequent protest by DanCoyote indicate that there is much work yet to do. I have chosen to do this work and my intent is to help Linden Labs understand what they have helped bring into being and work out how best to contribute to the flowering of Art practice that Second Life has made possible. Its true that they don't get it…yet. But how else will they get it if artists do not engage, participate and try to help them to shape good "arts-friendly" policy?

    So Patrick, you have mentioned to me in the past that "Art is a conversation".
    We sure could use your solidarity in this part of the conversation instead of your dismissal.

    DC Spensley
    DanCoyote

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  6. Patrick does make some pertinent points but he has also probably alienated a lot of people with the tone of his comments, maybe that was the goal?

    On the issue of being cliquey, well we all gravitate towards our own groups and scenes in SL, but many artists and organisations don't have a selfish agenda and have no problem getting along with others. Odyssey is a great example of a community that opens its doors to everyone, I don't see any agenda there apart from supporting talent and showcasing work of a consistently high standard. Isn't that what every venue with integrity should be doing?

    The LEA Art Sandbox is a promising initiative, and yes it could/should have been implemented years ago, but better late than never. I personally welcome it as I don't have land, so I do plan to use it to build on and try ideas out.

    And gents, it is "Linden Lab", not "Linden Labs". Even I know that and I'm not not an academic!

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  7. I'm chiming in a month late, here, and i've been pretty much out of the loop but just reading this post and these comments makes me think-- wow, the disconnect that Patrick is talking about distance between the two contexts is exactly what Brooklyn is Watching was about. I am beyond burned out and hopelessly over-committed (again... still....) myself, but last time i checked i do still own the domain www.iswatching.com which would be handy for infinite subdomains london.iswatching ? chicago.iswatching ? california.iswatching? Anybody that wants one let me know....

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  8. ... oh and when i say that's "what it was about" i mean that's what it was about to me at the start-- obviously later it became about the people who made the art and the art they made took on a life of its own, but to start with it was about noticing that gap, trying to bridge it, playing with it, debating it, drinking beer in it...

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