The knitters, crocheters, needlepointers, and stitchers hold their soft hobbies right in their padded fingers, while residents of a virtual world point, click, and simulate. But the stereotypes end there. The handcrafters make art that is confrontational, impolite, and cerebralnot folksy and nostalgic. And the online world that provides a medium for the digital artists is only shocking in that it is so routineit is a fake real world, where residents have real estate (the term finally comes to life!) and create lives mind-numbingly similar to the ones they live offline.
The pair of art exhibitions showing these artists at Bumbershoot are called Softly Threatening: Artwork of the Modern Domestic and Pixel Dolls, MeatSpace, and Everything All at Once. The curators, Yoko Ott and Michael Van Horn, have dubbed the collective theme High Tech vs. Home Ec. This seeming clash between the visceral and the virtual is actually not a duel but a Dumpster dive into two mediums the mainstream art world has been slow to acknowledge despite their broad appeal: DIY craft and online gaming.
Ottwho has been responsible for most of the good ideas in visual art at Bumbershoot for the past several years, but never put her name on a show beforeselected 14 artists for Softly Threatening. The locals are Mandy Greer, Jodi Rockwell, Elizabeth Jameson, Toi Sennhauser, Charles Krafft, Natalie Schmidt Dotzauer, and Donna Stack. Kraffts contribution is a Juvenile Delinquent Bridal Registry flatware set, in which every piece of the silverware is a sharp blade waiting to cut. An actual wedding cake is frosted with Third Reich symbols.
Piles of crocheted, sewn, beaded, pom-pommed, and knitted blood spilling from the wound of a seven-foot-tall white stag and trickling up to become a bloody chandelier are Greers room-sized tribute to the formation of her family: her husband nearly hemorrhaged to death in an accident before they were married, and two years ago she gave birth to their son. Joining the personal and the universal, Anna Von Mertens designs quilts based on the patterns of natural phenomena, then lays them on low plinths to form bed sculptures.
Each artist exploits differently the history of womens work that the materials imply, from Knittas fuzzy graffiti and Orly Cogans raunchy, endearing embroideries on vintage textiles to Craig Fishers silk bombs and Brett Alexanders gray-flannel private-school uniforms embroidered with homophobic slurs in script.
That would be enough show to chew on for a museum visit, and theres still Van Horns Pixel Dolls to contemplate. Computers will feed artworks existing in the online world Second Life, and in the gallery, artworks will respond to the three-year-old online program. Less than a year ago, Second Life had only 60,000 users, now it has half a million. Anyone can log into Second Life and wander around homeless (beginning on Orientation Island), but those who are serious pay real money to buy land in thereVan Horn pays $195 a month for the contemporary-art island for this show.
The real lifers also pay programmers and designers to build them houses, which they then outfit with art and furnishings purchased in-world. (Doing this DIY is possible, but it takes time and learning.) They spend real dough at American Apparels in-world store to dress their avatars, or online twins. Avatars host parties in-world, where they dance, chat in real time, and retreat to virtual waterfront properties for sex. Sound mundane and familiar? In one episode, an avatar named Lazarus Divine began buying up the small slivers of undeveloped land near other avatars properties and putting up scores of giant anti-Bush signs. The signs were so big that even political sympathizers balkedhe was blocking their residential water views. Lazarus Divine raised the prices on his odd-shaped holdings, made a pretty penny, and the signs came down.
Van Horn invited participation from artists already working in Second Life. Those who werent submitted proposals, and Van Horn hired builders to install the projects in-world. The roster spans the globe, locally including Susan Robb, Chad Wentzel, Anne Mathern, and Todd Simeone. Mathern and Wentzel are surviving in a remote refuge, an island within the island. To visit, you have to take the shape of one of the animal avatars already in Second Life, to assume the forms of the virtual wilderness. Whats funny about that, Van Horn says, is that in Second Life, you can hardly tell a blue jay from a deer.
Simeone wanted to build a cave, where representations of whats going on in Second Life today would be stored for future generations. But you cant go sideways into a hillside in Second Life, so it was impossible. Simeone, a playful conceptual artist to begin with, was enchanted to discover that in the middle of all this technology, you cant do what the cavemen did.