Estimated reading time: 6 minutes —
Happy 2013, everyone! I would like to thank the avatar Vaneeesa Blaylock for inviting me to guest-blog my New Year’s message. 😀
As an eternal optimist, I usually find New Years Day to be one of my favorites of the year. As the cliche goes, it is a time of reflection and resolution-making. Each year has its own aesthetic character and each art-historical epoch has its own flavor and medium-focus.
I am using this guest blogging opportunity as a public sounding board for my main New Years resolution in order to have some peer-pressure to follow through on my resolved focus. I apologize in advance for focusing on a self-absorbed resolution that has little to do with ethical improvements such as giving to charity or becoming vegan etc.
My main resolution for 2013 is more about a restriction of priorities than anything brand new. I am resolving to gradually narrow my creative focus towards very particular ends.
Of all years, 2013 seems a good place to start considering a new mode of creative activity. After all, 2012 was meant to usher in either doomsday and/or an ascension of “novelty”. Since Doomsday did not end up happening and no automatic cultural ascension happened either, it is up to you and I to proactively create our own manifest destiny and make 2013 the beginning of a new mature focus.
With each New Year, we all grapple with personal baggage from the past and hope that this year, we will transcend the shortcomings of previous years. My baggage is that since 1996, I have been lazily combating a decade-long period of relying on the “low hanging-fruit” of post-modernist puns and last-minute virtual performance ideas. I take full responsibility for this cognitive lethargy…it is difficult to multi-task and micro-manage being a parent and a full time PhD student, but I cannot use that as an excuse anymore…
These days, I am hardly interested in the anachronistic “New Media” genre that climaxed in the Fin-De-Siecle II of the 20th Century with it’s clerical databases, tool-making aspirations and attempts to mimic the properties of previous media. Also, my interest in performance art – no matter the world it takes place in – is waning a bit…I find it veering too close to theater or drama for my own taste. However, I am really pleased with the healthy state of performance art – especially in virtual worlds. In Second Life, it is encouraging to see Second Front’s legacy endure with a whole new generation of avatar performance artists.
Creatively, I have been spreading myself too thin for immediate gratification and without any real long-term satisfaction. From now on, I publicly resolve to change that.
I now have this amazing opportunity to bind my academic research (about the visual and behavioral sublime in automated video-game characters) to my art praxis without having one influence the other too much. My recent reflections on this have led to an identity crisis but one that I think is heading in a more positive direction for me.
What I have to come realize recently is that I do not think nor care that much whether my public role needs to be as an “Artist”. Following this, I am not inspired in making art-objects for a cultural institution anymore. Having said this, I want to creatively contribute towards something aesthetic and meaningful – at least to myself. I have lost interest in the art-world and want to be part of a creative situation that is open to everyone. Nowadays, I want to create simply because I want to create…I guess you can call it an irrational breeder impulse. I have also realized that since my fascination/obsession with robots in 1979, I have come full-circle and have resolved to fulfill my sentimental childhood dream of making “friends” for myself and others. This dream had laid dormant until around 1998 when I began namedropping the word “agents” on my artist statement.
Ultimately, I have resolved that the aesthetic entities I would REALLY like to create are not objects at all but “beings”. These beings would not be representations of any other thing, image or icon but would be autonomous “beings-in-themselves”. In virtual worlds such as Second Life, it is the trend to remediate something from the “real” world. Ideally, these beings would not need an artist-statement to be understood. Our aesthetic reflection on these beings would be immediate – well, at least as immediate as when someone contemplates a stranger or a friend. Also, these beings would not be “bots” or “agents” or other derogatory terms for those with exclusively task-driven functionality. On the contrary, their teleological function (purpose) will be to merely exist as aesthetically engineered social beings. One day in the near future (and officially starting this year), I plan to design these beings as platonic companions – whether they are seen as “art” or not is inconsequential to me. I call these beings “Sentimentals”. The name is a hybrid of the evil robots I used to read about in X-Men comics called “Sentinals” with the word “sentimental”. For the record, I do not want to design large evil humanoid robots! 😉 There is also a bit of a pun here (old habits die hard…sigh!) where I use the word “mental” to remind myself that these beings will one day “telepathically” connect with us via EEG headsets. Creating virtual Sentimentals in Second Life that emotionally respond to users wearing EEG headsets such as the one designed by Emotiv will hopefully be part of my academic research – contingent on funding.
Interestingly, my childhood preoccupation with reading comics also led me to stories from the Marvel Universe about transcendent but aloof demigod beings called “Celestials” as well as a couple of Hulk comic issues produced between 1977 and 1982. As a kid who had no overt artistic ambitions but with many imaginary friends to play with; I became absorbed with the Hulk comics’ depiction of an alien female “Techno-Artist” named Bereet Krylor whose art-practice was creating precisely the kind of beings that I now endeavor to create…
I speculate that once Friendly Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) gains traction (and tractability); Krylor’s alien “techno-art” praxis will enter our earthly non-fictional reality and that similar beings will exist…Hopefully, within my life-time.
Similar to those portrayed in Krylor’s world, these beings should be at least, my ontological, social and intellectual equal. Also it is my long-term goal that these platform/console/world-agnostic beings will move from the substrate of virtuality to that of the “real” world via nanotechnology or a reasonable facsimile. To confine these “sentient” beings to the art-market or any institution would be tantamount to slavery. Basically, the early stages of this “alien” technology to create artificial beings are already within our grasp in virtual environments. Although I wish to create aesthetically engineered entities that differ in appearance and character-traits from Krylor, I definitely would like to be a contributor specifically to this “Art” or “Non-Art” genre.
So, you must be asking…how will I make a sustainable income if I do not make art to sell it but merely want to “hang out” with these beings as my friends? Well, my career ambitions are in academia – and the research I am resolving to undertake relate directly to the design and implementation of such aesthetically engineered beings. Somehow, I will help contribute to making this childhood dream my reality – or at least, the reality of a descendant.
So maybe you are asking now whether I have produced anything even remotely resembling a Sentimental? In 2011 as part of a homework assignment for a class called “Metacreation”; I designed a Sentimental in Second Life (programmed by Michael Nixon) called Qiezli Hixantapo that was “living abstract artwork”. Qiezli’s most recent appearance was exactly a month ago in 2012.
Qiezli would roam around in various emotional states and display it’s visual daydreaming on it’s constantly transforming video-skin. Qiezli’s functionality was/is rather rudimentary and buggy but the idea was there in it’s earliest stages. Eventually, I would like to design Sentimentals with natural-language parsing, less reactive social behavior and the ability to non-verbally respond to one’s inner thoughts/emotions via EEG. Since I am neither a programmer nor independently wealthy, the implementation may take much longer than 2013 to realize 😉
In early 2012, my next homework assignment was for a course on “Artificial Intelligence”. This time, my ambition went beyond my means (primarily because I had to program everything myself). I wanted to create a Sentimental that would draw from a frame-based ontology and a logical inference engine in order to have a priori idiosyncratic knowledge about it’s embodied world. Again, this world was actually Second Life. This Sentimental was named CR-I/O and existed as an aesthetic commentary on the cold cuboid logic of “Strong AI”. Although never properly implemented, I did write pseudo-code for the rules and it’s social context…It’s mythological quest was to locate The Holy Grail and the End of the World…
In retrospect, I found that CR-I/O – if implemented – had a Knowledge Base that was too derivative of remediated mythologies from our “real” world…it had no mythology of it’s own and it’s obsession with the “Holy Grail” became too Pythonesque for me.
Although I made these prototypes, my art-performance practice was diluting my focus for designing newer and more improved Sentimental prototypes. Therefore, I resolve that for 2013 and onward, my creative drive towards this end becomes more disciplined.
As for curatorial possibilities, I am open to an exhibition featuring artists and non-artists who might also want to make Sentimentals or collaborate with me on related academic research and/or their implementation…
Anyway, it is almost January 02 in my time zone so I had better publish this now to keep these resolutions fresh 😉
Happy 2013 everyone 😀
-Jeremy Owen Turner, Vancouver, B.C., Canada.