Return to the Virtual World

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Author: Tess Baxter, Visual artist and printmaker, writer and photographer, PhD researcher at the University of Lancaster. | @tizzycanucci

I am currently completing a PhD in Contemporary Art. Where I do my practice, and the place I am researching, is both in and out of the virtual world Second Life, which I find most interesting as a places of ‘found’ or ‘distance’ collaboration. I’ve been there for 11 years now – longer than any other internet space – and while it doesn’t replace the actual world, it is a place where I spend time and have made friendships.

It is a shared space, where using other people’s work to create more work is regarded as something to be encouraged. These spaces will disappear, and other people’s video work and snapshots may form the remaining records. Recently, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of people using it. So, ironically, when you ask ‘What is the main challenge COVID-19 has posed in the community you’re working with or are a part of?’ the answer is that it has been the reverse. However, behind every avatar there is a human being who is having to deal with their personal challenges.

Flames Tear the Person poster

In terms of ‘how are people responding?’ I will start with my personal experience. I had an injury last year that disrupted my life considerably, and my creativity with video art (or ‘machinima’) has returned since lockdown, probably due to a shift in location and commitments. The video art Flames Tear the Person is very much a personal response to experiencing lockdown twice in two years, using material I had collected but not been able to use, and relating it to Beethoven’s personal troubles in the Heiligenstadt Testament, written as he tried to come to terms with increasing deafness and whether life was worth living.

In terms of how other people are responding, there are three more pieces I will mention here – the first two as an art response, the second as space that is being used more actively.

The first is ‘isolation’. This is a space produced by CapCat Ragu, a Portugese artist and academic, who I have worked with before, which resulted in Innominate. I particularly liked her interpretation of the experience of isolation, as it avoided the art cliches of the virus. In turn I tried to produce something as equally sparse: isolation, and blog post, Art, borrowing, and science. However, there was an event here in June, which resulted in the second work, out of isolation came forth light which is still about the art, but also another layer or art, and avataric presence.

The second is ‘Transmission is Ten. It’s a space that was set up by four individuals ten years ago, one of whom I’ve known for four years. This is a significant length of time for anything to continue to be used and developed on the internet. It is a place where people meet to share a common liking for a certain type of music, with a number of people sharing their choice of music as a dj regularly each week. The celebration saw the return of many people, and the space more full than I ever remember it. There is a blog post, Time spent together.

I have answered question 3 of ‘what aspect of your experience is important to document?’ As a practising artist, I have to respond to what I see, and in my view to understand and reinterpret it, something which I regard as an autoethnographic approach. In a way, nothing has changed in terms of how I approach my practice, but the circumstances around what I see and do certainly has. I am currently working on another piece.