Rowan Derryth's Virtual Adventures
I am here to be saved or to save you. -SaveMe Oh
When we think of an ‘intervention’ these days, it is usually in the substance abuse manner of speaking. For example, Amy Winehouse clearly needed an intervention earlier on. It is one of these terms that in common parlance has come to signify a specific aspect of its meaning, versus its original definition.
In contemporary art, an intervention can mean one of two things. The first is technical and relates to conservation: if an art work is determined to be in a vulnerable or volatile situation, intervention may be made to stop the physical and/or chemical destruction of a work of art, stabilising it against further decay.
The second is creative and relates to performance: an intervention is ‘an interaction with a previously existing artwork, audience or venue/space.’ (Ugh, I took that from Wikipedia, I’ll admit it, but only because it is so perfectly concise.) In fact, Wiki does a pretty good job discussing Art Interventions, so I’ll leave the reader to follow-up more there if you like. You’ll note that amongst the examples are interventions which were sanctioned (Cornelia Parker wrapping Rodin’s The Kiss in a mile of string at Tate Britain in 2003), and those unsanctioned, which for most are naught more than vandalism (Pierre Pinoncelli taking a hammer to Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ at the Pompidou in 2006 – an act he said Duchamp would approve of, and I’m inclined to agree.)
Last night, I used this term in regards to SaveMe Oh‘s activities in a comment on Miso Susanowa’s blogpost about the most recent SLart drama – the SaveMe Oh/Igor Ballyhoo smackdown. Not familiar? You can pop over to read Miso’s blog and follow links there, but the nutshell is this: SaveMe targeted Igor repeatedly with her own brand of ‘love’ and documented it in her blog; Igor felt harassed and decided to quit SL – and asked a friend to send a note around saying he quit because of SaveMe. Consequently, some artists and gallery owners have launched a campaign to have SaveMe removed from SL in defence of Igor and, apparently, the whole of virtual art. I think that about covers it.
Let’s rewind a bit now, because although this drama is admittedly fascinating and entertaining, I want to talk a minute about the work. I did wonder whether I should make this an official Ekphrasis, but to tell the truth, I’ve not done my research on SaveMe, and I don’t really have the time to give it a fair treatment. Plus, I strive to keep my writing for Prim Perfect as objective as possible, and I think at this point I am too entertained (or possibly bemused) to do that; and as well, saying what I want to about the art in question will be impossible without delving into the gossip surrounding it.
I’ve not actually seen very many of SaveMe’s ‘performances’ as she calls them. I’d heard of her before I ever saw her, and my first encounter of her was at the opening for M Linden’s Doodle Art show at the UWA early last year. She was being antagonistic, and was banned. I believe this is the first time I learned that being banned was often her goal in these performances, and my first impression was: ‘meh.’ Not because I was outraged at her rudeness, or on a moral high ground about it, but because I didn’t think it was very original. I was also baffled that so many people took the bait. But I taught kids for a long time, so it was pretty easy for me not to give the attention she sought.
Since then, a few other occurrences made me rethink her a bit. The main thing that made me reconsider her was her arrival at Sabrinaa Nightfire’s impromptu memorial. I felt tense, hoping that she wasn’t there to cause trouble at such a heartbreaking event. But she was there to pay her respects, if I recall making a light joke about her not being banned there for a change… and shared a machinima she had made using Sabrinaa’s work as set. It is simple, but lovely, and made even more poignant at that time – I asked her permission to post it on the posthumous Ekphrasis I wrote as it was so moving to me. I was impressed, and watched other of her machinima then too, and I find them to be the best of her work.
But prior to this, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the things she was commenting on when she would show up and verbally grief art events actually were in line with some of my own views on SL Art (and really, the art world in general). She is very critical of work that is simply rezzed repros – and my readers KNOW how I feel about that, and if not, go to the first Ekphrasis I ever wrote for my manifesto (ha, ha).
But also, some of her comments about the… how shall I put it… populist art… the kind of insular, touchy-feely ‘OMG your work is so wonderful’ atmosphere around some artists in particular whose work, in reality, isn’t quite ‘working’ to me… these comments struck a chord. Largely because, like so many I suspect, I’m not brave enough to be as harshly critical as I would like (that may shock some people), because I don’t want to hurt the feelings of people who are trying so very hard. Chantal Harvey and I have talked the fact that everyone in SL is afraid to be critical, everyone has to be friends and encourage each other, when actually some people are in desperate need of some feedback. And no, I’m not talking about the work shown in the crappy galleries that pop up left right and centre. I’m talking about some very well-known (and loved) artists who, at times, are spot on, and at others, really need a boot up the ass.
SaveMe offers that boot with no-holds-barred. And yeah, I know the argument is that one can be critical in a constructive manner, and I personally favour that approach. But I also think that people like her are needed in the world to upset the balance sometimes. She’s the intervention.
Igor Ballyhoo was, for me, one of those artists who needed an intervention. I saw him admired for his work by countless people I respected, and even involved more personally with some people I adore. But outside of a few of his sculptural works (I do love Axis Mundi) – I didn’t get the fuss. I figured he must have done something amazing before I came along, that I missed. After I met him, I did have some very interesting conversations with him, but one stands out for me… regarding the view of his work (edited this a bit for easier reading, ellipses reflect line breaks):
[2010/11/28 09:09] Igor Ballyhoo: thing with my builds is that they exist as my greatest passion only while I make them… as soon as it is finished… it is like after fuck… when I cum, I dont think about that fuck any more
[2010/11/28 09:10] Rowan Derryth: What about the pleasure of your lover?… Who in this case might be thought of as the viewer of the work?
[2010/11/28 09:10] Igor Ballyhoo: my builds mean more to any ppl who seen it then to me… lover in this case is ME… I build things for my joy of seeing it… so when I made it, I feel like I took a dump… work is a turd… I feel easy and light… and work… who care… we all apsorb so much information… we have to use it to live… when we apsorb food… and then dispose rest of it… same is with my builds… I have to apsorb big amount of information… some even I produce in my dreams and thinkings… so I have to dispose rests… and it go through my builds… this all building… is enema… discharging my brain so I can think more
[2010/11/28 09:13] Rowan Derryth: I am smiling, shaking my head, nodding thoughtfully, etc.
[2010/11/28 09:14] Igor Ballyhoo: do u think any reall artist really care for work he already did more then for one that he will just make in future?
[2010/11/28 09:14] Rowan Derryth: I guess the thing is… I don’t care that YOU don’t care…. Doesn’t matter… I am the viewer… and the critic… I look at… well, your ‘DUMP’, and think about what you’ve left us. The excrement of your creative surge has been left for us… and it doesn’t matter that you don’t care. You put it into the world, on display. You DO that. You bring me to see it, show me things. You ASK me what I think. So… that is interesting to.
[2010/11/28 09:15] Igor Ballyhoo: problem of most ppl who want to be artist is that they build for you… viewer and critic… they care what YOU will say about it… and I care also but for other reason then they… your coment will tell me more about you… not about my work
The language, the motivations, the attitude, spoke volumes to me about the man. And it was indeed a fascinating conversation (which I told him at the time I would save for future use, and you can guess that his response was that he didn’t care). But also, I didn’t buy it. I understand what he was saying in terms of his creative process – you make something and move on (although his mode of expressing this made me feel incredibly sorry for his lovers). He is in it for his own pleasure. But I am not at all convinced that he doesn’t really think about his work afterwards, or what others think of it, because why else would he show it?
SaveMe has picked up on Igor’s not-so-hidden insecurities and turned it into an intervention – or performance as she might say – on her blog. In a series of posts, she manages to expose his own desire to be accepted not just by the virtual art world, but by his greatest nemesis – SaveMe herself. And she does this using her two favourite weapons in her artistic arsenal – her words, and her wiles. She flirts, she plays with him. She makes posts about her love and obsession with him – which I think is not entirely untrue. She admits it herself, he provides the perfect foil for her.
SaveMe presents herself as an oversexed coquette. There is a sticky sweetness about her, and like Igor, she has no reservations about being downright pornographic in her language or her actions (nudity and dildos appear often in her work). And she clearly affects him – he throws strops when she is around, he cannot resist her baiting, and he goes so far as to demand her being banned the moment she walks into his gallery opening and says ‘Hey.’ The curators obliged, which is what kicked off the events that led to Igor’s SLuicide, leaving a note with friends that SaveMe killed him. Talk about a cliffhanger! When does series two start?!
For someone who is so stoic – and seemingly macho – I’m surprised he gave her so much power. But then again, I guess I’m not… Igor’s sexual conquests are reportedly legend at least in terms of numbers (I’m going on heresay now), and while normally I wouldn’t delve into personal gossip in an art article, I think this fact is relevant here and underlies SaveMe’s ‘Igor Intervention Series’ (yes, let’s call it that!). While his mystique baffles me personally, it seems to be there, some unidentifiable charm that seduces the bad-boy lovers across the grid. SaveMe expresses her attraction, indeed obsession, which piques with her machinima ‘Igor yes’:
Is this art? On one hand, it is a bit adolescent, but I think it is self-consciously so. Miso is spot-on when she calls it ‘a parody of teen romance angst’ in her comment response to me at her blog. This ‘Igor Intervention’ interestingly touches upon something which Igor himself said to me in the above quote – that he cares not what people say about his work, but rather what the work tells him about the audience. SaveMe’s intervention tells us about her favoured audience here – Igor. In the pinacle of this tale, the raison d’etre of her work reveals his own insecurities through his words which foreshadow his actions:
Igor Ballyhoo: I was on edge of leaving sl for pretty long time, even now I am not sure I will not leave it for good
SaveMe Oh: That you have to decide for yourself
Igor Ballyhoo: do you think sl would be better without me here
SaveMe Oh: no, I don’t think so
SaveMe Oh: SL is a great platform to create
SaveMe Oh: and when you like that you stay but accept the fact that there are more people on the platform who all have different intentions
Igor Ballyhoo: every move you made pushed me step further from all this
SaveMe Oh: when you want to work in peace, go to an open sim
SaveMe Oh: when you like interaction, stay here
SaveMe Oh: or hide well
Igor Ballyhoo: if I build on open sim, I can do it also locally on my comp
SaveMe Oh: when you want to share accept the consequences
SaveMe Oh: and learn to smile
Igor Ballyhoo: do you think people should not see things I build?
SaveMe Oh: I think they should see it
Igor Ballyhoo: on open sim no one will
SaveMe Oh: that’s why you should stay
SaveMe Oh: you won’t leave me alone without good opponents, that would be unfair
The post is aptly titled Psychotherapy for an Insecure Lover, and I highly recommend it in its entirely. When I was first pointed to it last week, I read it and, amused, thought ‘these are the two most self-involved people in SL – they are perfect for each other!’ I still think that. But in thinking about the concept of interventions, it fits in every sense of the word. She is providing an ‘intervention’ for both of them in terms of their mutual use and addiction, her ‘psychotherapy’ is to expose their exchange. She is intervening in the conservation sense in trying to prevent Igor from leaving SL as a creative platform – she is attempting to stop the decay. And she is intervening in the creative sense by inserting herself into Igor’s creative oeuvre, invading his space and appropriating his virtual identity as a mode of expression. Fascinating.
When I first started thinking about SaveMe’s ‘art’, I decided that she was the Tracy Emin of SL. And regular readers know that coming from me, that is no compliment. I immediately dismissed it as self-indulgent wank, and couldn’t be bothered. But I’ve changed my mind. SaveMe’s interventions are more along the lines of Jake & Dinos Chapman, which coming from me is definitely a compliment (and in hindsight I find this comparison obvious, particularly in light of the fact that I found similarities between their work and that of Rose Borchovski, SaveMe’s close friend and sometimes creative partner).
Against all my better art historical judgement, I love the work of the Chapman Brothers. When they decided to ‘improve’ a set of Goya’s Disasters of War etchings (which they purchased for the purpose) by defacing them with clown heads and other illustrations, the art world went mental. But the rare set they purchased was printed posthumously in 1937 by the Goya Foundation, as propaganda against the Spanish Civil War, raising all sorts of interesting questions about authenticity and intent in these prints. The Chapman Brothers, calling the ‘new’ series Insult to Injury, seemed to me to be carrying on the work of Goya (perhaps like Pinoncelli’s Duchamp intervention – the original ‘Fountain’ urinal is after all long gone and it now exists as a repro series), who sought to expose the terror and sublime dark folly of war. Insult to Injury was crafted in the years just after the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorist attacks, and though the Chapman’s have commented that it wasn’t intended to be a political statement, it was crafted in that tumultuous climate.
So why do I compare SaveMe to the Chapmans? It isn’t just the clown faces – it is that because like them, she is brave enough to deface what many think is great (virtual) art to make something new; to expose its flaws; and, perhaps, to move towards her lofty but futile goal to save us – or help us save her. Are her interventions always warranted? Of course not. Does she always get it right? Fuck no – I think calling the UWA ‘Ikea’ is pretty short-sighted. But she is deeply flawed, a point she emphasises through celebrating her ‘perfection’. Wilde would have said she is Caliban seeing his face in the glass.
Someone in the plurkosphere last night commented ‘SaveMe saves contemp art for SL’, which I thought was incredibly stupid. There is some amazing contemporary art in SL, and different things appeal to different people, duh. But she does certainly make some interesting work. Will she save us? Who knows… but she certainly failed in saving poor Igor, alas.
Or did she?
I intervened in SaveMe’s blog and posted the images here without her permission. I’m sure she won’t mind as it is just more attention, but please do give her a first-hand visit and read anyway. I also highly recommend her flickr stream, and particularly like her recent clever digital manipulations of CNN ‘breaking news’ screenshots.