I remember that feeling of starting university, the intense mix of abject fear and incredible newfound liberty. Moving to a new place and being surrounded by new people, free to re-invent yourself. Now, with the rise and rise of social media, the opportunities for self re-invention have multiplied. We can highlight our halcyon days via Facebook, edit our tweets in a way you can never practice a conversation and even create a whole new persona on Second Life. We’re free to manipulate the way in which we are seen by the online world, and to engage with the personas others have created - people we will never know in reality.
I wasn’t aware of ‘gaming art’ before this week. It’s not unusual to roll your eyes at Lara Croft and label her the creation of the male-dominated gaming industry. But what happens when a woman gets to pick her own avatar? You can change her hair and eye colour, dress her up and change her body shape. Yet we start with a mould that is familiarly proportioned.
Anne-Marie Schleiner, Operation Urban Terrain (O.U.T.), 2004-6, Video and Electronic Performance; Courtesy ROLLO Contemporary Art
The predominance for large-breasted, tiny-waisted, leggy girls in computer games is highlighted by Anne-Marie Schleiner in her video and electronic piece Operation Urban Terrain (2004-6), in which she and another female gaming artist played out a computer game in real-time on the streets of New York - wearing just leather hot-pants and a black vest. In doing so the artist translated the virtual body back into real terms, reversing the usual process of a real body being sent into cyberspace as lines of code.
Miri Segal, in contrast, executes her entire thirty-minute video work BRB (2007) as a Second Life character, moving between spaces reserved for different activities, from philosophical discussions to art displays and orgies. This raises questions about why we use social media and especially sites like Second Life. Is it just so that we can live out scenarios that we would never encounter in reality, for fun and entertainment, or is there a darker implication, that we are fundamentally dissatisfied with our lives and seek to escape into a fantasy world where our bodies are perfect and boundaries don’t exist? This is the controversy at heart of the online alter-reality debate.
Gazira Babeli, Anna Magnani/take2, 2007, Video 3 minutes 50 seconds; Courtesy ROLLO Contemporary Art
The issue is further explored in Gazira Babeli’s Ana Magnani/take 2 (2007), in which the artist also exists as a Second Life avatar, but rather than living as a ‘character’, she creates performance art enacted online. Here Babeli uses computer coding to manipulate her avatar’s face into each of the facial expressions available on the site in quick succession, using her online existence as a medium for performance.
Gaming art reinforces the extent to which our online interactions are performances, from Facebook status updates to LinkedIn comments, as we strive to make our audience believe that we are worth listening to. Indeed, whilst this show emphasises the online environment is an unrivalled space for experimentation, it also underlines how easy it is to become unstuck from reality.
(Image at top: Miri Segal, from the video BRB, 2007, 30 minutes; Courtesy of the artist and Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv)