Estimated reading time: 4 minutes —
In a number of conversations and events recently, the idea of what it means to wear some avatar has come up. In a comment posted under Previz #10, Danika spoke about skin and identity. For a week before VB03, Giovanna walked around SL in a bikini, so she could summon up the courage to be naked on our SL stage for two hours. The other night Forceme and I had a conversation about her anxiety about being in our “clone” performance (VB04) tomorrow, having to wear different skin, and having to take off her collar to do so.
I said to Forceme that if her collar really had meaning, then the physical act of wearing it wasn’t really the heart of where that meaning lay, was it? She agreed, of course not, but I suspect was still feeling awkward.
What’s the big deal? Isn’t Forceme having a collar or not, Giovanna being clothed or not, Danika having a leg or not, all just an SL wardrobe button? A button no harder to click than the button in Photoshop that colors some selection rectangle blue instead of green?
Well… yes. And… no.
One interesting about the work we’ve been doing is how many people immediately “get it,” and conversely, how many people just “don’t get it.” It occurs to me that this is in fact, quite similar to SL itself: which many people “get” and many people “don’t get.”
SL is role play. SL is projection. Sometimes that RP is formalized: we’re going to do Star Wars; we’re going to do some BDSM fetish; you’re going to be a Neko and I’m going to be a dragon… other times there is no formal or stylized RP like that… we’re just going to hang out and be people… it’s still role play.
The people who look at SL, but don’t “project” conceptually or emotionally into it, say, “what’s the fuss,” leave and don’t come back. Go to any club in all of SL and dance. If you don’t project a bit, it’s remarkably retarded… if you do… it’s surprising what a sweaty good time you can have.
The art that this company has been making is a lot like SL itself. If you don’t invest in it – it isn’t anything. If you do – it can be overwhelmingly powerful.
The day my RL father died, the hospital gave my mother his wedding ring and she put it on her finger. She hasn’t taken it off since. Physically, it is as trivial for her to remove that ring as it is for Forceme to remove her collar. Emotionally it is as complex.
It takes courage for Giovanna to be naked on our stage because for her being naked doesn’t mean pushing a button, to her it means being naked. She’s never been naked in public before. She hadn’t planned to be naked in public. And now she has to reach into the core of her being and find the strength to do something that feels important.
Taking off her collar may have been Forceme’s greatest worry. But wearing a foreign skin, even one that she described as close to her own, was also an undertaking. Some of us have closets full of skin that we change five times a day – some of us have one.
It made me realize what an experience being handed a skin to wear can be. And so, we have Two Wear My Skin, a performance of couplets. Perhaps sixteen avatars in eight couples. They each wear the skin of one, and the shape of the other. So around our landscape of 8 couples you might find Senban and I, both wearing my skin, both wearing her shape. You might find Forceme and Danika, both wearing Danika’s shape, both wearing Forceme’s skin.
For Forceme to wear Danika’s shape, she might have to be taller or shorter, thinner or wider, perhaps different in myriad ways. Not to mention that Danika lost a leg in a skiing accident. But in addition to the experience of that… Forceme also has to be willing to let Danika wear her skin. Which, for each of us, is the greater challenge: to wear the identity of another? Or to allow another to take some part of our identity and wear it as their own?
Lauren Jones said…
Powerful stuff! Reminds me of just why I find being around both you and the VB group as a whole so refreshing and vital 🙂
I can understand some of these issues that the others face. Just the other night I was trying on my outfit and shape etc for VB04. In effect I had to drop almost my entire identity (not counting my profile and my network of groups and friends) but I never realised this until I came to take my snapshot. I suddenly realised I looked like you from the night before! It was quite a shock to suddenly find that I was no longer myself O.O
But then that’s part of the challenge and I realised then that, as bound up in my pixel avatar as my memories are, my personality and memory and consciousness is not limited to my avatar, whether it is the one made of code or the one made of meat. It was uncomfortable to remove things at first which have great sentimental value to me such as my green eyes or my lip ring (both survivors of past relationships). But the real killer to remove was my shape. See I first saw that shape for sale two years ago on my first day, buying it on my third day (even have the photo of me as a n00b looking at it in the shop on my FB page!) I didn’t see it and think “Oh that’s nice”. As soon as I saw it, I felt I’d actually found a piece of myself. I’ve never worn a different shape because it is inextricably bound up in who I am in every way.
As much as that shape is me, as much as my red hair and green eyes are me, as much as the ever-present details like my lip ring are me, I think it will be interesting to spend a little time exploring what it is like to give those things to someone else, to allow them to be me in some way for a brief period. In a sense that requires an immense trust on my part and trust is something I often have difficulty with giving to people, not allowing them in. So maybe this will be a very interesting experience all round 🙂
SATURDAY, 27 JUNE, 2009
Lauren Jones said…
Actually, re-reading your words made me ponder something about the inherent meaning and value of this exercise and how choosing the cast might be particularly important in this case.
Let’s examine SL User “Bob”. Bob views his avatar as an expendable asset and probably has at least three or four accounts. Bob has invested nothing emotionally into his avatar, perhaps seeing it as nothing more than a playing piece. He changes his avatar dramatically every single day, perhaps a dozen times. SL is full of Bobs of course.
Would an exercise such as this have any value for a Bob? Making Bob wear someone else’s skin would be a matter of acute indifference for him. To quote your own words…
“The art that this company has been making is a lot like SL itself. If you don’t invest in it – it isn’t anything. If you do – it can be overwhelmingly powerful.”
I think for something like this performance to have validity, we could not include a Bob. Only those who have invested themselves emotionally could ever “get” this. A Bob would only sit and scratch his head at the ridiculous waste of time we were involved in from his personal perspective.
SATURDAY, 27 JUNE, 2009