Estimated reading time: 18 minutes —
this work initiates from a continuing investigation on the nature of identity and the myth of individuality in the contemporary world, and the paradoxical question: if we 7.02 billion physical humans (aka 7.02 gigabods) are less unique than we like to believe, could it be the case that of the 32.3% of us who are jacked-in to the matrix (2.27 gigabots) those that have complexly realized virtual identities, are more unique?
For five-hundred years the visionary eye of the sculptor and his talented hands have interposed themselves between the human body and her viewing public. In this body of work we remove the mediating “sculptor” and present the body directly, as a work of art.
click images for hi-rez versions for reproduction & remix. Creative Commons Attribution
VB01 • VB02 • VB03 • VB04 • VB05 • VB06 • VB07 • VB08 • VB09 • VB10 • VB11 • VB12 • VB13 • VB14 • VB15 • VB16 • VB17 • VB18 • VB19 • VB20 • VB21 • VB22 • VB23 • VB24 • VB25 • VB26 • VB27 • VB28 • VB29 • VB30 • VB31 • VB32 • VB33 • VB34 • VB35 • VB36 • VB37 • VB38 • VB39 • VB40 • VB41 •
Sunburn Beach, LEA11
6 July 2013
VB48 – Glitch Avatar Pride Parade
23 February 2013
VB47 – Child Avatar Pride Parade
Virtual New York City
16 February 2013
VB46 – Demo Avatar Pride Parade
9 February 2013
VB45 – Noob Avatar Pride Parade
2 February 2013
VB44 – Tiny Avatar Pride Parade
26 January 2013
VB43 – Animal Avatar Pride Parade
VB42 – Avatar Pride Parade
Long Island University, Long Beach State, Stanford, San Jose State, Bradley University
VB41 – Rock the Casbah
Gallery Xue / Port of Long Beach
4 August 2012
♦ CONCEPT: Joe Strummer wept when he heard that the title of his anti-war song, “Rock The Casbah” had been painted on the side of a bomb the United States dropped on Iraq. One generation’s (United States / Vietnam War) horror of war film, Apocalypse Now, becomes another generation’s (United States / Iraq War) war indoctrination film. If you find yourself asking if there’s anything that isn’t upside down; if you can’t exactly explain why fake heroes are raking in millions at the summer boxoffice even as a real hero like Bradley Manning is still captive in a prisoner-of-war camp; perhaps it’s time to steady yourself with the one, true, immutable fact: paramilitary uniforms and matching berets make one H-O-T outfit! It’s not so likely that our VB41 performance work really changed anything in the larger culture, but there’s no denying that we probably looked at hot as anyone ever has creating mayhem and waging armed insurrection.
VB40 – Charlotte, Forever!
Gallery Xue / NYC
28 July 2012
♦ CONCEPT: With the lightness of Andy Warhol, the capacious vision of John Cage, the resilience of Bill Clinton, and the virtuoso talent of Joshua Bell, Charlotte Moorman was a singular presence in avant garde music and performance of the latter 20th century. It is a bitter irony that the woman the New York City police arrested for her performance of TV Bra for Living Sculpture ultimately died of breast cancer in 1991 at 58. In VB40 – Charlotte, Forever! 21 years after her death, 43 years after her arrest, VB/CO writes a virtual love poem to this woman of talent and vision.
VB39 – Pink & Blue
Pico Pico Life / LEA19 / Mikati Slade
21 July 2012
♦ CONCEPT: Even in our 21st century moment much of Western Culture still clings to baby boys in blue and never pink as Avital Norman Nathman considered in her recent Bitch Media article Pink Scare. Today our intrepid avatars, boys in pink, girls in blue, came to one of the virtual world’s greatest celebrations of pink & blue: Mikati Slade’s Pico Pico Life at LEA19 in Second Life.
VB38 – Isomorphic
Mixed Reality Cabaret
8 May 2012
♦ PERFORMANCE DOCUMENT
VB37 – Sitting is the New Smoking
♦ PERFORMANCE DOCUMENT
VB36 – Dance Anywhere
What if, in one moment, the whole world started dancing?
In 2005 choreographer Beth Fein asked that question. For 8 years now her answer has been Dance Anywhere, one hour out of the year when people across the globe, from 6 continents, drop everything and dance. Professional dancers, carpenters, athletes, stock brokers, everyone willing to move. On 30 March, at exactly Noon PDT / 20:00 BST, Vaneeesa Blaylock / Company made our 1st appearance in Dance Anywhere by dancing in the great fountain at Trafalgar Square in London.
We thought about how, on average, it seems like people dance more in virtual space than in the “real” world. In thinking about the spirit of Dance Anywhere, is it literally to move your body? Yes! But perhaps also to be in your body. To pay attention to yourself as a physical presence, as an embodied, corporeal being. The word “dance” might at times conjure visions of heroic movement or incredible rhythm, but stillness, calm, presence, can also be powerful experiences.
In VB36 – Dance Anywhere, we chose to have it both ways. To be still for “Part A” and to cut loose for “Part B.” In “Part A” we created an ambitious, gynmastic, tableaux vivant in the fountain at Trafalgar Square: 30 avatars joined their bodies to create a living, human dodecahedron. In “Part B” we did indeed cut loose and danced in the Trafalgar Square fountain.
VB35 – Like a Prayer
♦ CONCEPT: Sometimes I feel like I have a little Yves Klein standing on my left shoulder, and a little Allan Kaprow standing on my right. Last week for VB34 – Net/Work, the little Klein convinced my to dress up as a conductor and have an orchestra play as avatars applied paint to themselves and pressed up against a canvas of virtuality. Today the little Kaprow reminded me of the power of the smallest possible moment, experienced as fully and deeply and carefully as possible.
Last week was Public Art, not Object Art, still, it was so heroic. So bombastic. Today I tried to slow that all down, to spend time in meditation, and to try to make amends with those my ego has trodden over in the last few years. It was a completely silent work. A few friends came and went. And I wound up reconnecting with Skygirl Klein who I haven’t spoken to since 25 September 2010. It turned out that for the 538 days we didn’t speak we each felt somehow guilty about it all. It’s true that public atonement is in itself performative, still, I felt new, and fresh, and a little bit more whole at the end of this day.
VB34 – Net / Work
Gallery Xue / Kandahar
10 March 2012
what if we were entering into a new time?
a time when the very systems of control and commerce
that we had believed to be the status quo
were somehow no longer relevant?
what we were faced with
a new medium,
a new network,
a new system that connected the people and places of the world in a new way?
what if that system is here,
what if that time is now?
– Colin Mulcher, 1999
KANDAHAR, 10 March — Light and space artist Betty Tureaud and performance artist Vaneeesa Blaylock collaborated for the first time today on Net / Work a massive installation of Wagnerian ambition. In dramatic contrast to Gallery Xue / London’s closet-sized 165 square-meter facility, the Gallery Xue / Kandahar mountain site occupies over 6 hectares of rocky terrain. Utilizing a seemingly limitless budget, Tureaud created visual splendor with myriad optical contrivances that somehow managed to feel organically one with the arid landscape. To this spectacle Blaylock added avatars clad in reflective unitards: some as statues in a mountainside tableaux vivant, some like opal miners popping out of flaming wells, and as a centerpiece, a human tetrahedron where avatars exhibited remarkable, gymnast-like strength in holding the entire configuration together, at some points by the grip of a single hand on the next person’s ankle.
VB33 – Sugar Mountain
♦ CONCEPT: An extremely simple, yet deeply resonant way of marking Xue’s 20th birthday. In the last hour of the day, the last hour of Xue’s teenage life, we stand on a ledge and try to do what so many before us, from the artist Allan Kaprow, to the Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, have encouraged us to do: we try to pay attention. As the initial stress of the cool of the night air and the height of the ledge subside, as our minds calm and our breathing slows, we become increasingly aware of the many ways we are alive. We note our breath; we celebrate a life.
VB32 – Shit Happens
♦ CONCEPT: George Carlin famously observed,
Have you noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?
I’d been thinking about how, in physical life, one’s possessions are often such a significant part of their identity, and that it would be interesting to create portraits of avatars and their “stuff.” In remarkable serendipity, Misprint Thursday had not only also been thinking about stuff / shit, but she’d been awarded a half hectare of land and resources by the Linden Endowment for the Arts to think about it. She generously offered the use of her LEA14 “Mausoleum” space for VB32 and we invited avatars to come down, claim a 15x15m square of space, make a pile of their worldly possessions, and stand on top of it.
VB31 – Demo Days
♦ CONCEPT: Are avatars “real?” What about the text-only MUDs of yesterday? What about the Star Trek “Holodeck?” For some, climbing a mountain in a “holodeck” is “fake” and therefore meaningless. For others the text-only world of a MUD was as fully immersive as, well, the “text only” world of the novel. For 400 years the novel has given us access to other lives, and works like Samuel Richardson’s 1748 novel Clarissa have accompanied The Enlightenment, The Rise of the Middle Class, and Western Liberal Democracies. The Novel has always had a unique consciousness of its own artificiality, and in Demo Days we avatars playfully consider our own artificiality.
In a recent blog post, I Wore a Mesh Dress & I Liked It, I asked whether a more realistic world is more real, or whether the immersion of a more participatory world is more “real.” In VB31 participants dove in and literally pulled at the seams of their own bodies. Even though you can make your own clothes in the virtual world, most of us don’t, we let “professionals” create them for us. In Demo Days Agnes Sharple leads us on a DIY dumpster dive of virtual fashion as we celebrate the reality of fake and consider the fakeness of “real.”
VB30 – Born Again
♦ CONCEPT: To celebrate the dawn of a new year, and Vaneeesa Blaylock / Company’s 4th year of performance work in virtual space, we baptize new avatars. Colloquially, and often pejoratively, referred to as “noobs,” the new avatar holds all the promise and peril that newborns have always held in physical space: Will he die of childhood illness? Will she change the world? The pejorative use of “noob” is perplexing since it has always been the young that introduce innovation and progress. We may cue up for hours to witness the accomplishments of the talented young, even as we’re willing to commit or permit infanticide on so many others. Historically, overpopulated countries have been especially harsh on girls, perpetuating yet again the cycle of objectification and discard. Today however, our performance simply seeks to “baptize” 0-day old noobs in the waters of their new life, and to help them acclimate to this world in whatever ways we are able.
VB29 – Natatorium
♦ CONCEPT: In VB29 – Natatorium we consider the phenomenology of corporeality. We consider the avatar as a haptically instantiated being. Taking as our inspiration this summer’s coming London 2012 Games of the XXX Olympiad, and Zaha Hadid’s remarkable London Aquatics Centre for those games, our avatars experience the immersion and weightlessness of liquid space.
VB28 – The Seniors Project
♦ CONCEPT: Franco Mattes has stated “you wear a mask because you want to show who you are.” Of all the “masks,” of all the souls, that I have encountered in virtual space, the mask that I have encountered the least is the mask of age. Very few people desire, or are willing to assume that identity. Once a signifier of wisdom, of grace, and of a well honed survival instinct, in contemporary Western culture the mask of age seems only to signify a wilted rose that no one can love. In VB28 – The Seniors Project we imagine our avatars in these future identities of wilted wisdom.
VB27 – Un/Wedding2.0
♦ CONCEPT: In this virtual ritual we reconsider the nature of marriage in both the physical and virtual worlds. Why does the putatively deepest, most personal, most spiritual bonding between people require or even tolerate sanction by church or state♦ Who cares whether church or state approves of marriage between your ethnicities, genders, orientations, or substrates? Today we perform the simplest ritual possible. No priest. No legal documents. Nothing more than a global group of human beings (4 continents) assembled in one virtual room. We stand together for an hour. And then it is done. Or begins…
VB26 – Average
♦ CONCEPT: Inspired by research from Vaki and Strawberry Singh, the VB/CO cast created “average avatars,” that is, hybrids combining the many unique aspects of each individual cast member with the average female height, the average male weight, and so on. We became the same, yet remained different. We discovered our individuality through an exploration of our commonality. I created a Bouguereau Birth of Venus pose for the women, and a Michaelangelo David pose for the men.
VB25 – Resurrection
♦ CONCEPT: Six months and four days ago, after a fallout with The Burning Man Organization, my virtual life came to an end with an ascension to another virtual dimension. Like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, I have roamed the virtual night in an effort to make sense of these planes of existence. As Easter drew near it seemed time to experience virtual corporeality again for the first time. Not a “resurrection,” but simply a “return” to old and new places with old and new friends. For 7 hours and 8 minutes I visited one-to-one with any residents that chose to come and talk. I still have a predilection for the heroic performance, but also now an insight and desire to find the power and truth in the smallest possible actions.
VB24 – Multiverse
♦ CONCEPT: In VB23 we first performed on a new world, and here in VB24 we simultaneously performed on 3 worlds, inhabiting multiple “House with the Ocean View” structures. It was a re-imagining of our banned Burn2 performance spread not like atoms, but like bits, across a virtual cosmic cradle.
VB23 – New Clothes
♦ CONCEPT: Allan Kaprow’s Match was performed on 29, 30, and 31 August 1975 in Wuppertal, Germany, and today we use a portion of that score as the inspiration for New Clothes. Arriving in underwear, we each put on, take off, and pass to the next person, a cotton blouse and pair of denim shorts. As each person puts the new clothes on, they speak some thought about the new year, the new world, or continuing life.
VB22-1/2 – Ascension
VB22 – The House with the Ocean View
♦ CONCEPT: Initially planned as an around-the-clock 9-day virtual world realization of Marina Abramovic’s The House with the Ocean View, when this VB/CO performance was banned by an authoritarian Burning Man Organization, VB/CO Artistic Director Vaneeesa Blaylock contemplated avatar suicide, eventually choosing a somewhat more elegant Ascension as a pile of autumn leaves.
In the following months, various sightings of Ms. Blaylock were reported from a diverse range of virtual worlds such as Blue Mars, World of Warcraft, and a variety of “clone grids,” most notably OS Grid and InWorldz, where she apparently found a part-time job teaching yoga and cultural values to young avatars.
VB21 – Gogbotahedron
♦ CONCEPT: The Gogbot Festival is an Art & Culture / Art & Performance festival celebrating the Technological Singularity. VB/CO was invited to participate and we created “fractal avatars” assembling 30 of them in a dodecahedron that rotated in the lagoon in front of the main Gogbot/Neocortexx festival stage.
VB20 – Taaratantaarinen
♦ CONCEPT: Invited to create the inaugural work at the Blucat Art & Performance space, VB/CO took inspiration from a unique amalgam of the work of sculptor Anish Kapoor and architect Eero Saarinen. This work sought to find a place, sited within the human body, where Kapoor’s color masses intersected Saarinen’s lyrical rhythms.
VB19 – I Avatar
♦ CONCEPT: The VB/CO pavilion at SL7B offered an avatar questionnaire that visitors were invited to fill out and submit. As the week progressed, their answers became the walls of our pavilion.
VB18 – Avatar Chess
♦ CONCEPT: Baroque, Victorian, and Wedding Designer in both the physical and virtual worlds, Alisha Ultsch, worked with us to create a human sized “Avatar Chess” match. VB/CO “Script Girl” Lyssa Varun prepared a board in collaboration with Rosalie Oldrich of the Frank Lloyd Wright Virtual Museum.
VB17 – Dark Side of the Moon
♦ CONCEPT: Our most formal work since VB04, a cast of 30 ascends 3.5 km over the Booville skydiving sim and creates a human lattice. Unlike many skydiving configurations, this one exists fully in 3-dimensional space as our bodies merge to create the most sensorily luscious of the five Platonic solids, the dodecahedron. After an hour of crystalline perfection we drop the entire 30-person configuration. We experience 3+ km of freefall, and then (most of) our parachutes open and we land on the Booville runway.
VB16 – Au Pair Next Door
♦ CONCEPT: 363 days after VB01 we revisit the “Girl Next Door” to check on her progress. Well, she’s working as an au pair now, and before she can dance at her anniversary party, like Cinderella, she must first run a 24-hour laundromat cleaning and returning the transferrable clothes of virtual world residents. Both the laundromat and the dance club were built as a clear-spanning dome textured with hundreds of images chronicling our first year of performance works.
VB15 – Gracie / Kris
♦ CONCEPT: Through her virtual life and her blog My Life as an Avatar Gracie Kendal has attempted to integrate the power she feels in her Second Life with the lack thereof she feel in her First Life. In VB15 – Gracie / Kris we explore the matrix of life possibilities. VB/CO Avatar Designer NightOwl Meridoc worked with Gracie to create a series of avatar shapes that morphed from her slender virtual shape to her heavier physical shape, and a range of outfits from “painter” to “club goer.”
The sway from realism to romanticism has been a powerful pendulum axis in both art and life with voices like Charles Baudelaire challenging artists to depict “real” life as real people actually live it, even as voices like Dale Wasserman chant “maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be.”
VB14 – Gingham
♦ CONCEPT: With weapons of mass destruction, our new century offers us Genetic, Nano, and Robotic threats, even as the old Nuclear, Biological and Chemical threats remain as virulent as ever. So too with chauvinism, this new century brings new forms of marginalization even as the old forms still oppress people. Those who choose to be “furry” in the virtual world are sometimes discriminated against because of their “species” just as avatars in general are discriminated against by the likes of Facebook because their substrate happens to be bits instead of atoms. All this as we continue to make slow progress redressing the racism, misogyny, and homophobia that tarnish our culture. In this simple performance we celebrate a bit more diversity than one sometimes sees in the virtual world.
VB13 – Peace
♦ CONCEPT: As the VB/CO inaugural year comes to a close we rediscover the innocence and joy of childhood. Yet it is a childhood that is a thousand times more sublime because of all we have discovered in this journey. Our cast reborn as children face the dawn of a new day on the eastern shores of UTSA’s Roadrunner III virtual region.
VB12 – Landscapes with a Corpse
♦ CONCEPT: Do avatars die? Spared the “bad design” of mortality, avatars voluntarily give up their existences all the time. Avatars I know (or their typists) have died, suffered heart attacks, been diagnosed with breast cancer, and more in the past year. As with first life we are paradoxically both constantly reminded of and yet somehow in denial of death all at the same time. In Landscapes with a Corpse we think of “to die” with some of Hamlet’s “to sleep” perspective as our fallen avatars populate the landscapes of Petruchio. As our friends visit us perhaps they wonder if we might be only sleeping… sure to awaken at any moment…
VB11 – Fire Walk With Me
♦ CONCEPT: VB/CO participated thrice in Burning Life ’09, the official Virtual Regional of Burning Man. We organized our 4th Flashmob, the Burning Life Zombie Crawl, I worked with artist Laurel Leavitt in Silene Christen’s “Artist’s Duel Camp,” and we performed Fire Walk With Me on the Burning Life Burn Stage. In Silene’s Camp I created transparent “bottles” incorporating our Martha Graham Celebration poses from VB10, and these bottles became the structure for our Fire Walk With Me performance. In this performance we invited Burning Life visitors to join the VB/CO cast in wearing “grid skins” and “dancing” in the fire.
VB10 – Dressed / Naked
♦ CONCEPT: Borrowing phrases from both Martha Graham’s 1934 masterpiece Celebration and Helmut Newton’s oeuvre, we consider the “same” body (our VB08 clone twins) both “Dressed” and “Naked.” Thinkers as diverse as Marina Abramovic and Heathcote Williams have both suggested that human language is at the heart of deceit and therefore considered other ways of being. Meanwhile, ever since Victorine Meurent’s 1863 performance in which she rejected the tradition of the “nude” and invented “naked,” artists have sought to explore the honesty and power of this reductive and simple way of presenting the body.
VB09 – Event
♦ CONCEPT: Monash University PhD candidate in Communications & Performance Studies Maeva Veerapen invited us to submit a performance proposal for their upcoming conference time.transcendence.performance. Having been interested in our culture of spectacle vis-a-vis the reality of the banal, I created Event, a performance composed primarily of waiting, punctuated by brief intervals of intense activity. Invited to choose a venue for the performance anywhere on the campus of Virtual Monash, I selected the traditional architecture of the Chinese College courtyard. We performed live at Virtual Monash, and streamed live at the physical conference venue in Melbourne.
VB08 – Two Wear My Skin
♦ CONCEPT: Gallerist, designer, photographer, and amazing person who I miss a lot, Kali Meads, invited us to do something interesting at her Neat TriCks Gallery. We responded with a performance that both takes inspiration from so many touchstones from the performance art canon, and explores instantiation and corporeality in ways only the virtual world can explore. Pairs of cast members created a sort of hybridic clone both wearing the skin of one and the anatomy (“shape”) of the other.
VB07 – I Advance Masked
♦ CONCEPT: From the Broken Man 16,000 years ago in the Lascaux cave to Neo in The Matrix and with stops along the way including The Oracle at Delphi, Stephen Hawking, and many others, humankind has always felt the special presence of those with one foot in this reality and one in another. In VB07 – I Advance Masked, we explore the theme of perceiving more thru seeing less. Ever since the 60’s people have entertained the myth that we only use 10% of our brain… but are we really more than 10% present in anything we do? In an age of continuous partial attention our fetishized Oracle may be more present and perceptive than any “normal” person dares to experience.
VB06 – Golden / Red
♦ CONCEPT: Florida’s St. Leo University invited us to create a performance for the main art exhibition space on their virtual campus. I used the recently released Looklet wardrobe design tool to create a look for Golden / Red which included a Missoni scarf worn as a top. With St. Leo we organized a fashion design competition to create a virtual scarf for the performance. Designers took the Missoni knit as inspiration, and Boofy Halfpint was eventually awarded the design prize & commission.
Realizing that in our first 5 performances our cast had stood mostly motionless for almost 30 hours, I created rest animations and allowed individual cast members to stand, squat, or lie on the floor at their own discretion.
VB05 – Brooklyn is Watching
♦ CONCEPT: While working on our upcoming VB06 performance I discovered Brooklyn is Watching, a mixed-reality installation space wherein a virtual world region is video-linked to a Brooklyn art gallery. Siezing some of the region’s spare prims we rezzed a series of bell jars and donned our matching VB06 wardrobe to create a virtual Sylvia Plath multiverse. Without anticipating it, we also created the first in a series of virtual flashmobs.
VB04 – Prism
♦ CONCEPT: Following three increasingly conceptual works we alternated in this performance to a more formal consideration. Here a 12-member “clone cast” presented the heat of wetware vis-a-vis the coolness of mid-century geometric abstraction. Almost as if Ellsworth Kelly tripped and fell on Yves Klein who then puked on Donald Judd.
VB03 – Veinticinco Mujeres
♦ CONCEPT: Originally conceived as “Nine Women,” interest in joining the cast for this performance continued to grow and it eventually became Veniticinco Mujeres. Working with gallerist Patty Poppy from the Caledon Arts District this performance sought to rethink 500 years of life sculpture by removing the talented hands of the sculptor and replacing them with direct experience for the viewing audience. A provocation in the physical world, by taking this action in the virtual world we hoped to forefront a consideration of conscious instantiation in corporeal form in a virtual world.
VB02 – Peggy Sue
♦ CONCEPT: Inspired by the success of VB01 and by the sound sculpture of another artist in the exhibition, Daruma Picnic, we returned to VHAC three weeks later for a performance that began as a static presentation of the body as sculpture and transitioned to an interactive work in which the movement of our bodies triggered sound samples from the spectral discs in Picnic’s sculpture.
VB01 – Girl Next Door
♦ CONCEPT: Our inaugural performance was occasioned by an invitation from Esparanza Freese of Kansas State University and Soundsmith Kamachi of the Vista Hermosa Art Center to create a work for their Collecting Artists exhibition. I chose to “collect” 9 copies of of the “noob avatar” I perceived to be the most ubiquitous, Second Life’s Girl Next Door, and present them as a sculptural multiple. The performance was 2 hours, which would become our nominal performance length.
• VB41 – Rock the Casbah