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Something



I have been taking photos of the Annex and posting them on Flickr. Venk's photos have finally shamed me into doing it, which meant spending some time there, of course.

The Annex is about death. It may be dark and gloomy below the water but I am realizing that I am looking at death as a good thing. The way I did things over there seems to point at that, although in most cases I did them more or less unawares: The poor old carousel horses who are then finally released as ghosts and the limbs that are pointing up at Arcadia Asylum's globe of the constellations. And even the mortuary is actually very peaceful.

And then, yesterday I observed an encounter. It was a very minor, polite social exchange and had nothing whatsoever to do with me. I just happened to be there really. What I picked up on was so small, so seemingly insignificant that it would take me a very long time to describe what I mean, so I am not going to even attempt it.
...

A lot of things are going through my head. I keep writing down sentences and deleting them.
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A year after I started the job that I have now, the dean called me into his office and said that unless I began to present academic output I would get fired. Meaning, I either had to exhibit art work (in a very substantial way) or I had to write academically - or else I was out. I had been doing neither. I had spent the 10 years before that making things on my computer, terabytes worth probably, but nothing that would even remotely fall into either category. I didn't write anyway. I made stuff: I drew comics. Other stuff. I would spend months building very elaborate stages in 3D software and then take renders. Not even the slightest likelihood of exhibiting it or something. A tiny bit of it is on my RL website. Most of it isn't. I must have made hundreds of website interfaces for my website. Or I would put in little sub sites that talked about flowers or my facial rejuvenation treatments. Countless little videos. A few I have salvaged and posted at vimeo. Most are lost. I have not even stored the stuff properly. None of it is video art or "art" or anything like that. Like I spent one whole winter making illustrations with cats dressed up as historic Istanbul people. A cat selling doner kebap. 3 cats smoking hookahs. A courting, old fashioned cat couple on a sofa, a lot of female cats in a hamam. I am going to have Alpho make t-shirts for one of her outfits out of them in fact.

I knew that the art exhibition route would be the harder one for me. My stuff was fragmented, I did whatever came into my head. Some of what I did may have looked "artsy" but the mindset behind it most definitely was not.

At around this time I was also reading Roy's book and was completely entranced by it. I ended up becoming his student not really because I wanted to get a PhD but because I wanted to be his student. And there I realized that I could write. So, I chose the second route, writing, to retain my job. And to this day, it is the only reason that I continue. I have lost too many jobs in the past. In fact, I have been very cavalier in that regard and I have learned my lesson. It is called being penniless. I was (and still am) scared of that. I like money. I like to spend it.
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I am Turkish. And we are nomads. We have been settled for a mere thousand years - and even then have we ever been really settled? Not that I am so very Turkish genetically either, I should say. And not that Turkey is not teeming with people who show duration and take root in one place. Me - I have moved so many times that I have lost count. And I probably will again before I die. I have changed my mind so often, lost careers and started new ones. For reasons which most others would probably laugh at. The job I have now I have had for 8 years and I am amazed. I think the nearest one to this was 3 years? 2? Basically I have run out of options and this is a dream job which I would be mad to lose. I have to stick around or else...
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In the Muslim faith the best sort of grave (in the eyes of God) is the one which is unmarked or even completely lost. So, I am quite contented to know that it will not make a blind bit of difference whether I have been around or not. When I die. I make things because I have nothing better to do. And also of course because I have a really good time while I am making them. Including academic papers. And yes, of course I like it when people like what I make. Who wouldn't?
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What does all this have to do with the social exchange that I saw yesterday? I could somehow tell from their demeanor (although I am not exactly sure how I did that) that the two people who met and exchanged polite greetings had not spent 10 years drawing terabytes of cats in hamams and weird comic strips and facial rejuvenation web sites and God knows what else. I did and I still do so. For me, alpha.tribe is precisely that. And Syncretia too. There is no master plan. I do not see an aim in it, an illustrious culmination or whatever. It is all virtual anyway. Could crash and be gone any minute.
And that is precisely what I love about it. That is what I love about life itself. And that is why I think that I will welcome death when it finally comes. And I feel very very very alone as I am stating this feeling that life's beautiful fragility gives me. And it is that loneliness that made me write this now.
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Quite important note: I just re-read this, the day after I wrote it. And there is something here that needs to be clarified. The people I am talking about  - they have absolutely the right idea! They appeared to have a clarity of purpose in their lives which I seem to lack. I felt very alone, very outcast, and yes - ultimately very jealous as I stood there. But it is my problem, not theirs in any way!
:-\
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Ai Weiwei (or the RL day of 2 SL avatars)



I am so glad that I can post this now, right after the last post. After having completely let loose about how I am so fed up with the mediocrity, the banality, the cliche ridden existence of contemporary art in general, it feels so good to be bowled over and wowed by this! Truth be told I am at the point where I no longer even bother, no longer go to art events, avoid biennials and such. I no longer want to be subjected to so much ado about nothing, to endless loops of grainy video with no tangible beginning and no end. I have had it!

And then along comes somebody and grabs you by the scruff of your neck and frog-marches you into the Haus der Kunst in Munich and you stand there gobsmacked, not to mention thoroughly ashamed of your all-encompassing big mouth from just a few days ago!

Well, maybe not straight off the bat, I have to admit. The first piece is gigantic and impressive. As I subsequently find out the massive construct was shown at Documenta where it collapsed during a storm and what I am looking at here is the relic corkscrewing onto itself in gigantic cylindrical segments. A relic assembled out of hundreds of doors and window frames torn out of old Chinese houses. Poignant, shocking. It is really quite stunning and I am duly stunned - and yet, and yet, I cannot help but feel that I am still facing "a problem solved", the spectacular output of a master designer commenting on the "rape" of antique artifacts, in other words. Then come a number of three dimensional Chinese maps, delicately constructed wooden towers that are maps when looked at from above. Truly beautiful, but again, smells very strongly of a designer's mind to me. Not that anything is wrong with that at all - I am one myself after all and have nothing but the deepest respect for my own trade. But art? Hmmm.... I wonder... I mean, I really am trying to co-operate here but at this early stage I am not yet convinced...

And then, we make our way into the central hall of the exhibition where a petrified forest awaits us and there I am totally blown away! This is certainly no master designer but an artist - a genius of an artist, in fact: This is the brink between order and chaos, a visual response to the question with no answer - presenting you with even more questions, even more riddles.

I am difficult by disposition (in the unlikely case that this might have slipped your attention somehow) and so inevitably some few details, such as the photos of the 1000 or so Chinese citizens whom Ai Weiwei brought to Documenta and which provide a background texture to the forest and especially the tent displaying their accommodations next door keep on niggling at me. I really do not want to see them. Why? Because again, they seem to bring in some kind of a "problem solved" thing which is so insignificant next to this sea of gigantic trees. Or to all of those heavy beams driven into those delicate antique tables on display in yet another room. And then there is a single table and a single beam in one other room and suddenly the whole exhibit, tree trunks and all, does a huge perceptual flip for me and I see Eros. Not Eros the cute little cherub equipped with bow and arrow but Eros the primal force. As in Eros the roof beam. But also the table. Many tables. The couplings of roof beams and tables. And then next door, huge chunks of trees, almost fossilized, arranged like the soldiers of the terracotta army. And also neolithic urns, thousands of them, so many in fact, that he has ground them into dust and placed them in glass jars. Some colored with aniline paint. Metaphors I almost understand and yet do not. There is a fight with human culture here - maybe. The insignificance of it - or maybe the significance - or maybe a contradiction grounded in culture. Really, I am not sure. But, am I glad I saw this! And at the height of my hatred of "contemporary art" at that!

So, who was it that dragged me kicking and screaming into the gallery in the first place then? It was none other than the human of Selavy Oh! There are very few people that I really seem to hang out with in SL, and Selavy is one of them. We first became associated while I was writing up the NPIRL blog post last June. Emailed back and forth about the work, met in-world a few times and so forth. After the post went up we made a pact: We would say hi to one another once a week. It seems that we are both very shy (yes, despite my loud mouth I am in fact very very shy and so apparently is Selavy), therefore unless we had had an agreement of this sort we would undoubtedly have gone our separate ways. But we have in fact kept up this pact and have hung out, mostly via email it seems. So, a month or so ago when I knew that I would be going to a conference in Munich, Selavy's home town, we arranged to get together and have a coffee at least. Coffee turned into an almost 5 hour session, during which we first wandered through Ai Weiwei's show and then through various streets and quarters of Munich, in and out of underground trains, punctuated by cups of coffee, a lunch during which I demolished 3 gigantic weisswuerschtl and Selavy's human half a roast duck; more wandering, quite a few cigarettes (turns out we are thoroughly nasty old smoke stacks, both of us). During the entire time, I do not think that we stopped nattering even for one minute - or at least I didn't for sure. And somehow Selavy's human also managed to get a word in edgewise every so often, I guess. Which is highly commendable, of course: Shows persistence!

Not to worry. I am not going to go into any kind of a discourse over RL and SL and their respective merits and shortcomings now, would be very inane to still be doing so after 3 years of full time SL Residency anyway. Only one thing to say really: Human beings can smile. And avatars cannot.

Fact.
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I am not an artist!

Stelarc has come into Second Life. Hugely significant, I think. He is a breaker of taboos, a master of the art of pulling the cute little rug of complacency out from under people's feet. And, from where I am standing, our little world needs some serious breaking of taboos and a thorough dishevelment of complacency.

Not the many people who unassumingly pursue their individual paths of playful creativity by taking SL photographs to post on Flickr or building their own personal toys. Or the many merchants providing an endless procession of ingenious artifacts for them to utilize in their quest. They most certainly do not need any shaking up and bringing to their senses. Those people, at least in my book, are the persona grata, if not indeed the lifeblood of the metaverse. They are what makes Second Life into a builder's world. They sustain it, and in more ways than one at that. Their combined endeavor is well on its way to creating its own distinctive genre, a type of 21st century folk art, and I have a hunch that in decades to come art historians as well as anthropologists will be writing many a ponderous tome on what they are embroiled in today, under our very noses. Their emergence is something that Roy predicted all the way back in the 1960's when he was building the cybernetic art matrix and spoke of an entirely novel user group of art domains:

"The new leisured class can be expected to swell in numbers as automation becomes more totally applied to society's productive activities. The main body of this class will comprise workers, employed in industry, commerce, and other services on a part-time rotational basis, doing about three five-hour days' of work per week in the short term, and probably even less at a later stage, as W. Gordon has suggested. The opportunity for “creative play” will consequently be considerable, although the demand for it may not be very noticeable initially. We can expect a continuance at first of the present trend towards “recreational buying”—the consumption of goods for the activity and pleasure of buying—and the use of established commercial forms of entertainment. But there will be a growing need for amenities that provide for social and intimate participation in creative activities of new and stimulating kinds." (Ascott, 1966)

So I will take this opportunity to bow to their combined creative endeavor, consumer and merchant alike, and proceed to sink my teeth into the crowd that I think does need some very serious whacking on the head.

Of course it isn't SL, it is actually RL. That is where the original malaise comes from. And slowly but surely it is casting its insalubrious odor into the metaverse as well. Has been doing so ever since I signed up, in fact. Has horrified me from the get-go. And, Stelarc or no Stelarc, it will win anyway (just as it has done in RL) through the sheer fact of there being huge strengths in numbers, in other words the existence of an awful lot of self-important people with remarkably over-inflated estimations of their own abilities combined with a very low opinion of what "art" may actually be all about. Were you to ask them, by the way, of course Art is their God, their one and only raison d'etre or some other such unctuous malarkey. Ask me - they actually have the audacity to think that art is a simple enough endeavor to be tackled by all and sundry - including them! hhh - and I really mean hhh this time...

Art is about asking the question that is unutterable in words, that has no answer, for which there is no outcome. It is about laying bare the horrifying uncertainty of the human condition. It is torturous and tortured by nature in that it is an attempt to articulate the in-articulate. That is what it has always been about. No wonder then that for millennia it placed itself in the service of religion; because religion, at its finest moments addresses the same dilemma. Who are we? Why are we? Where are we?

But somewhere along the line we lost religion. The torture however remained, to be briefly picked up by the avantgarde of the early 20th century. People like Duchamp and Ernst. And yes, also Picasso. Please do not tell me that Demoiselles is about something else? And here we are, still grappling with the same unutterable void - these days on psychiatrist's couches and feel-good seminars. It has become trivialized, it has become banal - but it is still there, nonetheless. How many "artists" over the past 30 years have asked it? Have made it the business of their lives and of their work to ask the unutterable question to which there is no answer?



And how many of those that did, have had the stamina to look things straight in the eye and admit despair? How many have pulled it off without falling into endless pits of banality? With no melodrama, no cheap histrionics? My colleague Selim Birsel (above, 1993) is one of them.

And Stelarc is most certainly one such as well. And like the thoroughbred that he is, his work is hard to take. It is a punch in the gut. It tears into your soul, by tearing into his flesh. I am wondering what he will do here, in SL. Whatever it will be, it will not be predictable. Again, thoroughbred that he is, he sits in a twilight zone of his own creation. Hard to classify, hard to categorize, hard to second-guess, hard to write clever little critiques over. No wonder that he is so well hated.

But again, I am wondering what he will do in SL. "The body is obsolete" he screams on his website. Is SL the place that his agony has brought him? To the place of the non-physical, where there is no more physical pain? Where the flesh can no longer be tormented? Stelarc, for me, is all about the flesh. The utter helplessness of our decaying physical being, of our self inflicted torture, of our endurance in the face of the unknowable.
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So, I am not an artist. I do not have the stamina, or the means to ask questions to which there are no answers. I build play islands, like doll's houses they are... And I also make nice little clothes. Weird clothes, but at the end of the day - clothes... I am a designer. I obsess over appearance and function. Or non-function - as the case may be. But my path is defined, it is predictable. I am a very good designer, yes - but this is not to be confused with "art". "Art" is a huge mouthful. My mouth is simply not large enough for the word. Really, it isn't.