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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Pixels in the City Part 1: Skinsmith

Serene was a word...
Betty Smith,  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 
Ah, serenity. Remember that? Back in Manhattan, me, and spring busting out all over the Park, but the traffic was terrible, so thank goodness Oberon Onmura sent me a TP to meet him in Brooklyn the other day - no, not Brooklyn is Watching, RL Brooklyn, where there's a(nother) world-class museum of art. Oberon wanted me to see the Kiki Smith installation, 'Sojourn' - it's a collection of sculptures and drawings that are inspired by Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own and an embroidered picture from the 1800's by Prudence Punderson showing the stages in a woman's life. 
Oberon Onmura: Kiki Smith was focusing on the body before it got fashionable. I also like how she uses materials - a lot. I'm not a theorist so I can't really go there, but for me there is a sense of woman (as opposed to girl) in everything she does that is very strong. So much work out there feels like MFA studio projects. Kiki has always been, to me, an "adult." This is hard to quantify - it's just my impression of her work over the past 20 years or so.
The paper and silk used here are very feminine: Smith has often applied the word 'skin' to describe her work, and it's apt: porous, resilient, thin, containing, a bridge and a barrier to the world around us. The pieces in the show, with their themes of feminine ties, mortality, and creativity, are delicate in every sense of the word, and something about the overall look made me think of our own Feathers Boa. I asked how the transient nature of art - pixellated or not - affects her work.
Feathers Boa:   The reality is everything is temporal and can be destroyed. The nature of my work in SL is odd, it comes from someplace inside my head and most of what it becomes happens somewhere outside of SL. I make my SL art up from things in RL. Photos, scraps of paper, scans of material, pieces of metal, and digital programs like Cinema 4D. My art is all wisps of smoke blowing in a virtual wind. Once I make it, I try and forget it exists at all. And in some ways, it doesn't exist.
The Kiki/Feathers connection came to mind thanks to 'Butterflies',  Feather's current install over at Aho. It depicts 7 stages of a woman's life: like a butterfly, beautiful, delicate and oh so brief. (admire all seven paintings, note the writing that is revealed only when you approach the canvases, and ooo, try the light switch behind the door!). Aho rocks.
Feather Boa: Every woman is beautiful and unique, I try to show that in each canvas. The words that appear as you approach each canvas are things I've thought or words spoken to me. I made the canvases and painted them as if I was the woman on each one. I wanted to see myself age and remember my girlhood. Imagine myself in my 30's, middle age and as an aged grandmother.
Yet, the apparent transience of memory and experience has another side.
Feathers Boa: I'll tell you a story from RL. Some years ago. I painted something I felt at the time, pain, hurt, shame, fear, a wash of young girl emotions welling up inside of me from a painful childhood. It was a self-portrait. I poured out all my self-loathing on the picture. My girlfriend at the time found it. She recognized my eyes in the twisted hateful face and asked me why I hated myself so much and if I hated her as well. She cried and left me alone with my creation. I burned it in the fireplace the next day, but it is still here inside my head as vivid as the day I painted it, and I'm sure it still is burnt into the memory of Claire, wherever she is. I guess knowing that at anytime all of SL could vanish along with everything in it, does play into how I relate to the art I create in-world. I treat it all like the vapor it is, and hope that somehow it lives on in the memories of the people who see it and experience it.
Woolf's essay is, of course, about how hard it is for a woman to find the space and time for independent creativity. I'm not sure I buy into it, at least not for a Woolf-like woman living today, but it raises an interesting point about time and the metaverse... what is the true shape of our Second Hours?
Feathers Boa:  It is sometimes impossible to find time to be creative. My Real Life is frantic and busy. I used to escape into Second Life. As time has passed SL has become just as demanding and crazy as RL, so much so that lately I have avoided SL altogether in the hopes that people will forget me and I can sneak back into create something while no one is watching. Inspiration hits me sometimes and I just work through the night. I've been known to call in sick if my muse strikes. Creativity is like birth, it is sometimes painful and hard. Sometimes it births something beautiful, sometimes it is ugly at birth, wrinkled, fat and crying. But once I make something, it is out there and I pour my heart and love into it. Finding time for this is like saying "how do you find the time to breathe?"
On the 4th floor of the Brooklyn Museum, 'Soujourn' spills out of the bright, modern space of the Sackler Center, and into the surrounding rooms, which are reconstructed rooms from historical houses. This is the staircase from Tripp house, for example, and in the adjoining space, here we are taking a load off inside the bedroom (I think that tail weighs a lot).
The oversized statues, lights, photographs, projections and pictures blended with the antique interiors which RL people can only enjoy from outside. In SL, we have an added layer of experience (and fun!) that comes of being able to enter art without damage. Spirituality is, for Smith, a synthesis of direct human emotion, aspects of which she draws attentions to in by transmitting her vision through multiple media; we all know everything, there is nothing new under the sun except for the novelty of the moment of transmission from one experience to another. Sitting there, listening to the whirring projector as it looped slides of faint photographs onto a cheesecloth screen, I couldn't help but think - if only you could temporarily script this four poster bed, these walls, how much more elegant ands immediate the art would seem... 
Feathers Boa: Being able to make things change and move and morph as the viewer interacts is what my work in SL is all about. I want the viewer not just to see but feel and become a participant in my work. At first, I just scanned in my RL art and plopped in on a prim. Then I saw this possibility of making things big and changeable, to do so much more. I never looked back.
A lot of examples of that can be found at Feathers' Reactive Art Gallery over on sim Esterhal. Her piece Witch Hunt, a self portrait inspired by the Salem Witch Trials, is particularly striking. Approach or retreat from the artwork, and the fate of the woman in the picture changes seamlessly, shockingly. Not to be missed.
Regrouping in the atrium of the Brooklyn Museum, right by the light-bulb caravan - doesn't that make you think of the one Harriet Gausman has in the writer's camp at Milk Wood? - I think we were all pretty grateful that Oberon suggested a visit to Brooklyn. If only he'd given us a ride home...

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