If you're one of the 2.3 regular readers of this blog, you'll recall that I went to the College Art Association conference in Dallas in February, where I attended a number of sessions on New Media, as I have it in my head that I am keenly interested in New Media, although no one seems to be terribly sure what "New Media" actually is. (Or are. Whatever.) One of the people I encountered there was a fellow by the name of Pat Lichty. He's a performance artist, new media artist, academic, and nerd--like most of the other people attending those sessions including myself, frankly--and he has a really interesting, rock-star-like energy to him. (This is a description that I imagine would make him laugh in disbelief, but it's the honest truth.)
My interaction with Pat wasn't extensive; I shook his hand after the panel and said something fabulously generic like "intriguing presentation." And it was an intriguing presentation, on the part of all the panelists. But I am thinking more about something he said during his presentation that just popped out of his mouth almost a propo of nothing, which struck me as odd at the time but now makes so much sense it's almost prophetic:
"We don't talk enough about love in New Media."
At the time, I thought Of course we don't, why would we? And I still really have no idea where he was going with that comment, as there was no follow-up and no elucidation at the time; it simply was said and floated in the air like a hopeful fairy, then dissipated with no further discourse. But interestingly enough, my entire artistic practice has morphed and changed over the last few months to focus almost exclusively on love and new media as its thesis.
I am, as you may recall, all about boundary-challenging, and this is the ultimate boundary-challenger.
It began with the evolution of my "Sexy Delusions" collaboration to include people in the virtual world of Second Life: deconstructing marriage and relationships that develop in a place where there are really no legal, social, or cultural expectations around these things, and the questions I have about whether such unions, made purely on some kind of emotional commitment, are somehow different or the same as the unions that come about in so-called Real Life. I was interested, too, in the notion of "emotional commitment" in a virtual world. I had already met some people for whom getting "married" in Second Life was really a precursor to taking the relationship out of Second Life and into Real Life, as I mentioned in an earlier post, The Art of Romance. But equally intriguing were the people who married in SL but had no intention of ever transferring their relationship to RL for whatever reason. Why were these people pairing off, I wondered? What was the real context of this kind of role-playing?
The answer: they aren't role-playing. They're falling in love, getting involved in relationships, suffering the same stupidity and complexities and strangeness of Real Life entanglements. The expressions are digital; the emotions are real.
I had already figured this out intellectually. But then my avatar, Asimia, fell in love, completely out of the blue. And the gentleman in question ... his avatar has fallen in love with her. It's difficult and challenging and scary. There are hurt feelings and panics and more drama than there should be. But in the final analysis, they love each other; completely and utterly, with a blazing intensity and a stark realness of emotion that one would not expect (at least, that I did not expect) from two individuals who have a clearly stated intention of NEVER taking the relationship outside of Second Life's digital container.
And yet, it is not role-playing. It is as real as real gets.
This is probably not what Pat Lichty was thinking about when he said we don't talk about love enough in New Media. He may not even remember that he said it. But I have to thank him for saying it all the same; it's become the underpinning of what I hope will be an extraordinarily rewarding and rich artistic practice that will enable me not only to learn more about my fellow human beings and avatars, but also to better understand myself, both as an artist with an idea and as a woman with a heart and soul.