Stelarc has come into Second Life. Hugely significant, I think. He is a breaker of taboos, a master of the art of pulling the cute little rug of complacency out from under people’s feet. And, from where I am standing, our little world needs some serious breaking of taboos and a thorough dishevelment of complacency. Not the many people who unassumingly pursue their individual paths of playful creativity by taking SL photographs to post on Flickr or building their own personal toys. Or the many merchants providing an endless procession of ingenious artifacts for them to utilize in their quest. They most certainly do not need any shaking up and bringing to their senses. Those people, at least in my book, are the persona grata, if not indeed the lifeblood of the metaverse. They are what makes Second Life into a builder’s world. They sustain it, and in more ways than one at that. Their combined endeavor is well on its way to creating its own distinctive genre, a type of 21st century folk art, and I have a hunch that in decades to come art historians as well as anthropologists will be writing many a ponderous tome on what they are embroiled in today, under our very noses. Their emergence is something that Roy predicted all the way back in the 1960’s when he was building the cybernetic art matrix and spoke of an entirely novel user group of art domains:
“The new leisured class can be expected to swell in numbers as automation becomes more totally applied to society’s productive activities. The main body of this class will comprise workers, employed in industry, commerce, and other services on a part-time rotational basis, doing about three five-hour days’ of work per week in the short term, and probably even less at a later stage, as W. Gordon has suggested. The opportunity for “creative play” will consequently be considerable, although the demand for it may not be very noticeable initially. We can expect a continuance at first of the present trend towards “recreational buying”—the consumption of goods for the activity and pleasure of buying—and the use of established commercial forms of entertainment. But there will be a growing need for amenities that provide for social and intimate participation in creative activities of new and stimulating kinds.” (Ascott, 1966)
So I will take this opportunity to bow to their combined creative endeavor, consumer and merchant alike, and proceed to sink my teeth into the crowd that I think does need some very serious whacking on the head.
Of course it isn’t SL, it is actually RL. That is where the original malaise comes from. And slowly but surely it is casting its insalubrious odor into the metaverse as well. Has been doing so ever since I signed up, in fact. Has horrified me from the get-go. And, Stelarc or no Stelarc, it will win anyway (just as it has done in RL) through the sheer fact of there being huge strengths in numbers, in other words the existence of an awful lot of self-important people with remarkably over-inflated estimations of their own abilities combined with a very low opinion of what “art” may actually be all about. Were you to ask them, by the way, of course Art is their God, their one and only raison d’etre or some other such unctuous malarkey. Ask me – they actually have the audacity to think that art is a simple enough endeavor to be tackled by all and sundry – including them! hhh – and I really mean hhh this time…
Art is about asking the question that is unutterable in words, that has no answer, for which there is no outcome. It is about laying bare the horrifying uncertainty of the human condition. It is torturous and tortured by nature in that it is an attempt to articulate the in-articulate. That is what it has always been about. No wonder then that for millennia it placed itself in the service of religion; because religion, at its finest moments addresses the same dilemma. Who are we? Why are we? Where are we?
But somewhere along the line we lost religion. The torture however remained, to be briefly picked up by the avantgarde of the early 20th century. People like Duchamp and Ernst. And yes, also Picasso. Please do not tell me that Demoiselles is about something else? And here we are, still grappling with the same unutterable void – these days on psychiatrist’s couches and feel-good seminars. It has become trivialized, it has become banal – but it is still there, nonetheless. How many “artists” over the past 30 years have asked it? Have made it the business of their lives and of their work to ask the unutterable question to which there is no answer?
And how many of those that did, have had the stamina to look things straight in the eye and admit despair? How many have pulled it off without falling into endless pits of banality? With no melodrama, no cheap histrionics? My colleague Selim Birsel (above, 1993) is one of them.
And Stelarc is most certainly one such as well. And like the thoroughbred that he is, his work is hard to take. It is a punch in the gut. It tears into your soul, by tearing into his flesh. I am wondering what he will do here, in SL. Whatever it will be, it will not be predictable. Again, thoroughbred that he is, he sits in a twilight zone of his own creation. Hard to classify, hard to categorize, hard to second-guess, hard to write clever little critiques over. No wonder that he is so well hated.
But again, I am wondering what he will do in SL. “The body is obsolete” he screams on his website. Is SL the place that his agony has brought him? To the place of the non-physical, where there is no more physical pain? Where the flesh can no longer be tormented? Stelarc, for me, is all about the flesh. The utter helplessness of our decaying physical being, of our self inflicted torture, of our endurance in the face of the unknowable. …
So, I am not an artist. I do not have the stamina, or the means to ask questions to which there are no answers. I build play islands, like doll’s houses they are… And I also make nice little clothes. Weird clothes, but at the end of the day – clothes… I am a designer. I obsess over appearance and function. Or non-function – as the case may be. But my path is defined, it is predictable. I am a very good designer, yes – but this is not to be confused with “art”. “Art” is a huge mouthful. My mouth is simply not large enough for the word. Really, it isn’t.