I originally wrote this for the Netfilmmakers blog about the Real-Un-Real exhibit I am a part of this coming weekend.
I should start off by saying that I don't really consider myself a filmmaker or a machinima maker. While I use video extensively in my work to capture a "point of view" on my installations and performance in Second Life (sl), I don't set out to make a film and certainly not to tell a story. I try to use my sl art as a medium with its own language, patterns, immersiveness and state of mind. I do this with as little reference from real life (rl) as possible (of course I break my rules from time to time). By using visuals, space, motion, sound and avatar interaction, I try to create a state of mind or situation that I wouldn't experience anywhere else, let alone a rl gallery or rl art genre. sl provides this unique opportunity that it would be a waste not to experiment with as much as can be done. Now that I have explained the virtual-native quality of my work, I should explain that it has become increasingly visual and experiential, something I would have been ashamed of in the early part of my rl art career as a conceptual artist when I cared more about the idea and the verbal, frowning on more visual artists as formalists (and recently "hyperformalists" in sl.) But the medium of a virtual world can play funny tricks on an artist and I've come to wholly embrace sensory art as a worthy experiment. Now let me try to answer Stine's questions in her previous post.
Why use the filmic language in Second Life?
As I started to say, I don't see my own machinima as machinima at all. But to say my videos are mere documentations of virtual work would be wrong too. In a strange way, they are akin to the original machinima made in early video games like Quake that documented the experiences of a player moving through levels of a game. But in place of a shoot 'em up fantasy, my videos show the avatar (an extension of the person himself) moving through an art piece either as an interaction or as a performance to enhance the environment. Simple photographic images cannot capture such a complete experience. At the same time, I was once accused by a fairly hardcore rl and sl performance artist (of the Burning Man variety) that a video of one of my performances Seeing Dots, Being Dots was overly dramatized and enhanced by the cinematography and interestingly it was created by another video artist Evo Szuyuan who I felt had taken it to another level completely and a very good collaboration. So I believe that filmic language in sl for me can be documentation, it can be an extension of sl and it can be it's very own thing that uses sl as a canvas.
Does Second Life provide less restrictions compared to the making of machinima in other 3D online-enviroments?
Probably the main way that sl reduces restrictions is the fact that the sl artist can create and extend the environment itself to not resemble a 3D rendered reality of real life at all nor the game itself. Possibly even more important is that sl has the critical mass of all the artist community working together, collaborating and even competing with one another. This can be clearly seen at the Brooklyn is Watching sim, a cross reality sl and rl gallery that has attracted some interesting collaborations in the past few years. If anything the openendedness or the lack of restrictions is what sl has going for it the most. Depending on what culture you're from, a lack of structure can actually present a challenge.
Is the making of “Machinima” another way of playing with identities and virtual relations?
Myself being a female Asian avatar named Juria Yoshikawa in sl certainly means to me that I get to play with identity quite a lot. What started out as an experiment of creating a virtual female artist to interact with the virtual art world and its community turned into a subtle lesson in gender issues and how that plays into making the work and communicating about the work. While most people know that there's a guy behind Juria, there's a general tendency to ignore the rl artist identity to focus on what the avatar is trying to do. So my relations with other avatars in sl is influenced by the persona of Juria. As Juria is actually an important part of the artwork itself, either in performance or installation creation as a performative action, how she looks, dresses and acts is very important to me and is reflected throughout my work.
Does the virtual body language give way to new interpretations of physical acting or is this a kind of digital puppetry?
As I started to talk about above, creating art in sl for me goes beyond roleplaying. An alter ego is formed that cannot be described as digital puppetry. The closest thing to describe it is you may have a slightly different identity with your parents than you do with your work mates. You are both of those people and there's nothing artificial about that. But in the virtual world and especially when you are engaged in art making amplifies identity. As those who use social media regular have some idea, your actions and tone of your communications allow you the freedom to explore a certain otherness. The virtual body takes that a step further and makes the virtual identity as real as real can be. In many ways, realer than many of my rl work relationships.
Are soundtracks more important in machinimas compared to the use of these in “real” films?
In my work, music and sound is a key component. This is true both at the installation/sculpture stage and the video stage. In many machinima I've seen that follow a more narrative approach, the soundtrack is used almost the exact same way as it is in "real" films. I'd be lying if I said this was interesting to me. In the alternative narrative possibilities that this exhibit attempts to show, I believe sound should be seen as more a sensory component that adds another layer to the visual and interactive elements. In my video to be shown in this exhibition Broken Rainbow Cloudy Night, the sounds are actually random sound clips placed inside prims throughout the installation that gets triggered through the use of a sensor script when the avatar flies through them. This is obviously not a soundtrack then but an interactive experience that depends on the movement of the viewer. What you can hear in the video is that interaction and the layers of musical soundscape that comes from immersing oneself in the installation.
What kind of new narrative possibilities does this genre open up to?
I believe that rl art is often very institutionalized through function of the gallery and museum. Genres are recognized to try and explain the chaos of expression and artists may find themselves taking on a certain genre to more easily be understood. Of course this is a generalization but I think that virtual art so far is more about experimentation and less about focusing on what genre a piece may fall under. And for this reason the work I like evades words and follows little what is being done in the rl art world. New narrative possibilities? Probably the participatory nature of the narrative is the most important thing. You and your avatar become part of the "scene" in which the "story" is happening. From the perspective of machinima, this can mean seeing the avatar in the film as an extension of a rl person and putting yourself in her place. A fairly complex cross reality experience can occur from the viewer's perspective and the artist effectively using this "you're looking at me looking at me" can lead to interesting new possibilities of self-expression.
To get a sense of my aesthetic, I'd like to share with you this e-book my friends at the Diabolus Art collective put together about my work over the passed few years. Also, if you have a chance to access Second Life, go check out a collection of my work currently up at the Kennesaw University sim at this slurl: slurl.com/secondlife/VWDEV%20ITEC%20ISLE/29/129/35/