The March UWA-Burniversity artist talk was given by Miso Susanowa at the UWA Artist talks Platform. What follows is an edited transcript of the talk and discussion. Thank you to Miso for the text and Iono for some lovely images. Unattributed images were taken by quadrapop Lane.
Collaborating - Process
First, I'd like to thank Jayjay and quadrapop again for all the exciting and important work they are doing here for the Arts in Second Life. I think LL SHOULD be doing it, and it's good and rewarding to see that some people have stepped in to take up the slack :)
I wanted to use this opportunity today to talk about process; specifically, the collaborative process. Some of you may know that I was involved for many years in performance art, music and rave production. So I'd like to give you a little bit of that background, then discuss some aspects of group collaboration and then a bit about each piece I did with Len Zuks, a RL Australian sculptor. On my blog you will find links to Len's home page as well as photographs of the two works we did together (Megabyte & Lil Eisenstein).
The collaborations I have been involved with in SL seem to be more like collisions: some patchwork around a "unifying theme" but each person kind of going on their own interpretation of that theme, which is ok... but it seems like comparatively, little brainstorming was done on the actual thematic structure; what people felt about the theme, how it impacted them, what others' ideas about the theme affected their own process...
I was involved in large group collaborations in Los Angeles from 1990 to 1999 as well as touring with bands in from 1979 to 1986, involving anywhere from 15 people to over 200. There were subgroups within these collaborations- lighting, sound, blocking, staging... the usual subcategories. Those subgroups would meet often, talk, hang out, listen to each other, get a feel for each other. The subgroups would also be in touch with one another through individual contact and also through the subgroup's lead or point people at regular intervals.
This process of communication gave us a unifying approach, a common vocabulary and a sense of group mind which contributed immensely to the organic growth and realization of our concept; this synergy helped each individual part mesh and support all the other parts, because we were all on the same page. That is... we formed a group mind rather than a collection of individual artists or performers. That was our aim.
When I first agreed to work with Len, he talked about giving his work an "interior life." But he kept saying, "no, no; I want Miso to do whatever it is she's going to do to the works without my input."
So I needed to find out where Len was when he was making Megabyte and Lil Eizenstein; I didn't want them to be merely a "slapped on coat of paint" or my own ideas of what they were to be; I wanted to COLLABORATE with Len.
After a bit of my own pushing/nagging/persuading, Len and I started to talk; about our ideas and approaches to art, about materials, about the meaning of work... many topics and offshoots that helped me FEEL Len, feel where he was when he was making Megabyte and Lil Eizenstein. This helped me FEEL his work and really started the process of working WITH his pieces rather than against them or on the side of them. So it began to be a real collaborative effort between us.
I began with Megabyte, Len's wonderful hippopotamus. Len had told me he'd been thinking about Jayjay and what he was involved in, ie computers and SL, when Len was making this work. Len's conversation started me on the following thought process:
A megabyte is a large amount of information... a hippo is a large animal... an animal contains a huge amount of information in its' DNA structures... an animal is the product of his environment and that environment is coded into those genes... the hippo's environment is the savannah...
So I started to think of how I could put Megabyte's environment, his world, inside him, incorporated into his genetic structure... all off of Len's comments regarding "the interior life." Then I remembered that when I was a child, from about age 7 to well into my mid-20s, I used to hollow out eggshells to make fake Faberge eggs for friends and family at Easter and Christmas. I would carefully cut out pictures of animals and scenes, glue them to cardboard for stands and carefully fold them and insert them into the hollowed eggshells with a tweezers, glueing them into place to make tiny dioramas inside the eggs (I also tried my hand at that time on 'ship-in-a-bottle' pieces).
Since this was a childhood memory... I decided to use cartoon animals inside Megabyte; the typical animals of his home environment. I added the djembe drum so I could incorporate a rythmn track to support all the animal noises attached to the figurines inside and to Megabyte's own vocalizations (which, although they sound strange, are actual hippo vocalizations, unaltered or processed).
All the textures used in the sculpture are made from Jayjay's photos of the actual sculpture and Len's metalwork. I added a bit of fun to him with the following eyes, the moving tail and ears.
So... it's easiest to get inside Megabyte to see all that hidden interior life by click-focusing your cam on his mouth, then swinging the camera around that point to his back and then pushing the cam inside him. Then you should see the savannah and the animals. When you do, click on the drum to start a percussion loop, which you can then use as a backround to "play" the animals by touching each one :) The hippo vocalizations will play irregardless. If you leave the drum going, you can scratch/dub a jungle boogie lol. Oh, btw... it seems giraffe's make a "crunch crunch" leaf-eating sound -_- So i cheated and used the "sound of a dying giraffe" from South Park :)
Since I came through the gaming worlds after my stint in the early 3d and VRML worlds scene, I click and explore everything :)
Len loved this piece so I was encouraged to start on the second.
This was the second piece I attempted. I had done a quick rough for Len and Jayjay as a kind of "audition" for the assignment. I revisited that rough and corrected some of the structure, as I had worked originally from a straight-on photo of the work and now had more photos from various angles to help me see what certain structures were. Since I had the metal textures made already from Megabyte, I applied them. I added some "SL effects" like the E=MC2 particles, reflections in his glasses of the handwritten first page of Einstein's Theory of Relativity on the lecturn and etc.
When I began to look for sound to incorporate into the sculpture (because much of my work in SL incorporates sound; it's sort of a signature part of my work) I came across Einstein's 1945 Voice of America broadcast.
This really affected me; most of the "Einstein" we see today consists of pictures of "The Whacky Professor" type images; hair all askew, the one with the tongue poking out, E=MC2... all quick signifiers, condensations, reductions of the entirety of the person and the scientist. The speech is deeply moving, plaintive and sincere; very very human. It is also quite uncomfortable for some types, as it doesn't allow easy dismissal of the issues it raises. That speech is incorporated into this work.
This speech triggered the whole approach to the sculpture and was quite strong and, I felt, an honest reaction to the subject matter. The atomic branches and the mushroom grew almost instantly from Len's original base.
Since the original sculpture had the figure sitting on top of the dome, it suggested to me the approach of the spinning universe; Einstein's whole approach to the wonder of his mathematics and thinking processes, above the kind of thinking that would apply such a wondrous perception of the structure of nature to the terrible destruction wrought with the applications of his discoveries. I added the lectern and the Theory to support this view; of a scholarly man, immersed in the sheer wonder and excitement of the universe, sadly oblivious to the darker side of such knowledge.
This was a deep alteration in the approach to the piece and I was quite worried that Len or Jayjay would find it political, offensive or just too dark. But it was an honest reaction to the research I was immersed in on Einstein, his work and his life. Thankfully, both Len and Jayjay really liked it!
The collaboration with Len has been truly fun and rewarding, and I'd like to thank Jayjay Zifanwe for facilitating this collaboration with one of Australia's finest sculptors. it's been wonderful getting to know Len and we hope to do more work in the future. Thank you all for listening.
Miso Susanowa: ah also i must mention, if you touch Lil Eizenstein you will receive information about Len and also a copy of that 1945 speech of Einstein's that moved me very much.
Jayjay Zifanwe: Len is actually grateful to Miso for allowing his works to grace this realm
Miso Susanowa: questions or comments or anything?
quadrapop Lane: Miso - there is a third piece in the works is that correct?
Miso Susanowa: yes... although i am discussing this with Len, but he has also mentioned a real collaboration, starting from scratch, now that he has been touched by the wonder of SL as we all have :)
quadrapop Lane: oh that is great to hear - next step is to get him inworld :)
Miso Susanowa: yes... Jayjay is happy as am I... because Len is very afraid/unknowing/scared of computers, which is sad because he'd really make an excellent builder here
i will nag him :) you all know how good i am at that :)
quadrapop Lane: hehe
quadrapop Lane: the RL sculptures will be displayed at the University of WA as part of a show in April - so if you are in Perth, Western Australia in April pop on over to UWA and see the real thing
Miso Susanowa: yes... i'd love to go to Australia and meet Len, I have wanted to see the country for many years
quadrapop Lane: we would be more than happy to host any SLers who wanted to visit :)
Jayjay Zifanwe: well there is a very very special RL event happening soon at UWA
Jayjay Zifanwe: that will feature the RL works Megabyte & Lil Eizenstein
Jayjay Zifanwe: and at that time we will play the winning machinima for the RL people, and also show these SL works on the big screen
Miso Susanowa: thanks everyone for coming!
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