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March 23, 2007

Interview with Gazira Babeli by Tilman Baumgärtel


My body can walk barefoot, but my avatar needs Prada shoes

Tilman Baumgärtel: Is Gazira Babeli your real name? If not, tell us a bit about your existence outside of SL.

Gazira Babeli: Yes, it's my real name in Second Life but most of people call me Gaz'. Outside SL, my existence is not so different from yours... drinking, eating, sleeping, meeting people, looking at a computer monitor and working the least possible.

Tilman Baumgärtel: You mess around with the code in Second Life. Can you give me a non-technical description how you insert your code into the system?

Gazira Babeli: Codes are just instructions, imperative verbs. An example: PUSH-IT-FAR... a box, a Museum, a Church, an avatar-person... or an entire avatar audience. The result could be spectacular and/or create social troubles. I found it easier to call these instructions "performances" or "actions". It makes sense in SL frame-space 'cause the results look more like a sensible real space than a computer output.

Tilman Baumgärtel: Why do it at all? Isn't Second Life fun enough as an imitation of the real?

Gazira Babeli: Yes, imitation is fun, but it's only the "background color" of every possible behavior. I'm exploring that.

Tilman Baumgärtel: Why intervene into Second Life, if there is a whole world out there. What is difference between a performance in SL and in the real world?

Gazira Babeli: I would say that the term "whole world" itself is more or less virtual. There's a whole world of people working in call-centers and one hand-making shoes. There's a whole world considering itself privileged because it can have access to information and spends a great deal of its life idling on Office or on a Web Browser. We keep forgetting that what we call Real Life has been a virtual frame for a long time. Second Life offers the chance to build and deconstruct this space in the form of a theatre performance. What's the difference? I'm trying to find out. For the moment I like to say: my body can walk barefoot, but my avatar needs Prada shoes.

Tilman Baumgärtel: Are you familar of the net.art of the 1990s, and is your work influenced by the likes of Jodi et al?

Gazira Babeli: COME.TO.HEAVEN actions are inspired by Ives Klein and JODI. Weird mix, don't ask me why. I also loved Alexei Shulgin 386DX shows and some extremely conceptual stuff by Florian Cramer. RTMark net.prankster projects was really weird. It has been a very meaningful scene. For me net.art is like a wild middle-age of Internet.. Second Life seems to offer a Renaissance Perspective.

Tilman Baumgärtel: Do you create any work outside of SL? Have you shown your work in the real world and if yes how?

Gazira Babeli: This is an interesting problem. First: I cant get out of Second Life because I exist only thanks to Second Life. Two: I saved thousands of high-resolution images and videos that some people, in the physical world that u call RL, are willing to publish. An interesting solution would be the one I experienced with the PEAM festival. I simply offered the curator the digital images and a very detailed license with all the print specifications. At present Im finalizing the shooting of a movie which draws inspiration from "Simon of the Desert" by Bunuel and from the early Buster Keaton. The set is a portable desert, as big as 16 regions, and very likely the title is going to be "Gaz' of the Desert". I hope it will reach somehow physical world, because the only thing I really cant stand in SL is going to the movies. I find it very disturbing for an avatar who is already living in a film-like environment.

Tilman Baumgärtel: Did Linden labs approach you or even try to kick you out due to you actions, especially the "Grey Goo" performance? Or did the builders of the Virtua Art Center come down on you?

Gazira Babeli: During "Second Jesus", one of my first performances, I have been contacted by a Linden. I believe it only wanted to understand if my aim was to offend Christian beliefs; I did not want to offend anyone, of course. "Grey Goo" was a trivial trick, quite amazing but totally harmless. Media probably misunderstood some information, spreading the "grey goo bandits" panic. I do not believe Lindens want to interfere as "virtual cops", they have more substantial problems and aims. I think Lindens would prefer residents to solve their internal troubles instead of filing a "Report Abuse". The Artwork "DONT say" is the result of this consideration: it allows to register those words we consider abusive and when someone pronounces them is seized by a tornado and shaken up until he apologizes. The effect is very cartoon-like.. Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. After "Singing Pizza" (the symbolically abusive installation in Ars Virtua), the director Rubaiyat Shatner wanted to talk to me, he was worried and amused. We became friends though maintaining different views on SL-Art. Most SL residents believe they can build only visible "objects", but the range of behaviours and the margins of freedom are wider than most people think.

Tilman Baumgärtel: Most of your works seem to focus on manipulation of the technology of SL rather than e.g. intervening into the social conventions. Why?

Gazira Babeli: It's strange.. some people asked me the same question reversed. From my point of view, we are talking of two elements which are complementary, not divisible. SL is a complex society and without a univocal final aim. It includes heterogeneous social forms and conventions. The social-symbolic exchange is generally based on a sort of parody of the consumer-oriented western world... in brief, gadgets on which to build up one's identity. This happens in a fairly anarchic and pacific way, thanks to a "dictatorship" of the technologic protocol, strictly defining properties and utilization concessions. Now we consider Google as a friend but even Google is a strange phantom-dictatorship on information. It this good or bad? Try to imagine internet without Google. Now, SL is a smaller environment compared to the Web, but I think it is a step ahead. My art consists in experimenting in an ironic and "pop" way the complementary and often contradictory aspects of a "whole world" which, despite being inhabited by "puppets", it hosts at least a million people. Real people.

Tilman Baumgärtel: A lot of people are put off exactly by the consumerist or capitalist leanings of SL, and - unlike you - not every body sees them as a satire, but rather as a confirmation of the status quo. Can you imagine a more utopian system (without money, without exchange value, without work...), and would you prefer it?

Gazira Babeli: We are mixing up two different issues: anthropological observation and ethical judgement. Of course Id love to login in a space called "First Utopia"! I can even imagine it but only from a technical point of view peer-to-peer protocols taught me a lot. Would I prefer it? I honestly cant answer to this question, first I should live in it a few months. Second Life, on the contrary, is an accomplished fact. If I like SL? I never said that and I dont want to say it. You talk about satire, I repeat parody. The distorted and conscious imitation of a model is something concerning theatre or literature.

If you have grandeur manias you can buy a castle and crown yourself King even if you are connected from a small flat in the suburbs; if you feel antisocial you can become a black box there are the headquarters of the French National Front and of the Anti National Front. The majority of the people I met are aware of this imitation-distortion the parody of what we call real life. ["My body can walk barefoot, but my avatar needs Prada shoes" Interview with Gazira Babeli by Tilman Baumgärtel via nettime] Related 1, 2.

Posted by jo at March 23, 2007 01:18 PM