Ekphrasis: AM Radio (Part II)

I try to tackle a problem of representing something, and solve it. And I end up going too far. – AM Radio
'Inner Structure' by AM Radio, 2010.
In the first part of this interview, AM and I talked about his artistic training, and his creative philosophy.  But we had such a long and fascinating conversation, I decided to split this Ekphrasis into two parts, lest my readers give me a virtual smack.  Some of what we talked about was in repsonse to a 2008 interview with Amy Freelunch of  Arthole Radio, and I highly recommend it particularly for his discussion of the more technical aspects of building in SL. But there were several interesting points from that interview that I was curious to ask AM about, namely his views on SL as a creative medium, and how he now sees his work as a collaborative effort with his patrons:
Rowan Derryth: In your interview with Amy, you were lauding SL for being a place that anyone could use, in terms of creativity, that there was a level playing field… you didn’t have to work for pixar to make content and that other virtual worlds were making a mistake in being more specialized, technically. Do you still think that?
AM Radio: I do.
'Bookstacks in the Attic', an incredible composition shot by PJ Trenton at 'The Refuge and the Expansion' in 2009.
Rowan Derryth: I was intrigued in your discussion with Amy when you mentioned how your audience has shaped what you have been doing here. That now you think about what they will be looking for, especially in terms of photography.  Is that still true?
AM Radio: I would expand it and say users are looking for ways to be creative, together. SL imagery allows that. I have attempted to take it further by providing more literal cooperative experience of creativity. That was the driver behind the graffiti project on the box cars, and the idea of my Burning Life build.
Rowan Derryth: I was thinking about that, the box cars [at Surface]. I am very interested in collaborative work, and find it intriguing that you think in those terms. Except you are collaborating largely with people you’ve never met; never will meet. Even here in SL.
AM Radio: As well I am also attempting to undersand griefing, which is itself much like a sort of performance graffiti. I think, as with collaboration, graffiti is an attempt to understand where the boundaries are of what one can and cannot do, both physically, and psychologically.
Rowan Derryth: Ah, interesting! Do you not think, with griefing though, there is a negative spirit to it?
AM Radio: Some would say that about graffiti as well.
Rowan Derryth: I mean, I suppose from a certain perspective one could say that about graffitti – yes – although it, I think is more a critique. I can think of some ‘artists’ who really function as griefers here. I think they try to capture the spirit of Dada. But fail. Do you get griefed here?
AM Radio: Rarely.
Rowan Derryth: I imagine you to be like Switzerland. (both laugh) So do you think griefing is a form of artistic expression then?
AM Radio: Not unless intentionally so… I don’t advocate griefing, and never would, what I am saying is there is parallels between finding the boundaries of creativity and the boundaries of expected behavior. They are both an exploration of what one can and cannot do.
AM Radio's Burlington Northern. Photo by PJ Trenton.
There is no doubt, however, that there is an extremely performative aspect to a lot of SL art, and AM has really taken an innovative approach to thinking about his visitors as collaborate users.  In fact I’ve noticed, looking at his flickrstream, AM seems to use his builds as a photo studio, a staging ground for his sublimely surreal landscape photomontages.  For example, the last time I went to Superdyne, I noticed there was a ladder with a pot of paint at the top, and a photo of the sky floating above it. I couldn’t seem to climb it really (probably just my noob-like dexterity), and there weren’t any poses.  However, shortly thereafter, ‘The Ladder and a Floating Sky’ appeared on his flickr stream.

'The Ladder and a Floating Sky' by AM Radio, composed at Superdyne.

But he lets us play too,  for example, via the incredible poses on the rusty train at The Far Away.  And while these sites are designed so that anyone can take an awesome photo, I grabbed my favourite partner-in-crime PJ Trenton to work his photographic magic with me.  As we wandered and posed and basically basked in the golden glory of the light, I asked PJ what brings him back to AM’s installations over and over.
Collaborating with AM at The Far Away, photo by PJ Trenton.
“They are the most realistic things I’ve seen in SL.  I can photograph them for hours.  For me… they were truly the first realistic landscapes I had come across in SL, and they were grounded in a reality that is pretty much at the opposite spectrum from modern technology, and by extension…SL. Rusted locomotives… windmills… violins… radio waves.  And, they are landscapes that are close to my experience…wheatfields…snow covered landscapes.  But thinking more about it… there is something about the other elements he incorporates that transcends the reality of a wheatfield, or the ginormous tree he had suspended over the highway.  I  think one of the things that appeals to me most is that he has recreated an era long gone with the textures he uses the items he builds: old microscopes, the gas station with the old pumps, the simple farmhouse with the pump,  those fabulous cars, the romance of the rails, those boxcars… Nostalgia.”
Being Super-Human at the Far Away, photo by PJ Trenton.
I agree, but also marvel in that for the hyper-reality of these builds, they are also decidedly surreal – these are ‘normal’ spaces, but filled with strangely beautiful and mysterious elements: violins, for example, scattered on a frozen pond.  And the poses make us superhuman: PJ tows the rusty steam engine while I float above, a heroic, spiritual light bursting forth from my chest.  The interaction with his work makes one feel something other, a calm yet somehow transcendent divine. Sublime.
Feeling Sublime at The Far Away, photo by PJ Trenton.
When I first visited these spaces, I did in fact think of other artists who were interested in the sublime, namely the Romantics: Turner, Constable, Friedrich.  Many others have seen the American artist Andrew Wyeth in the golden tones of AM’s work.  In the comments to part I of this Ekphrasis, Elegia Underwood astutely observed: “For myself, the works evoke the surreal realities of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings. Held by the light over the old locomotive (or radiating the light in a moment of ecstasy, depending how one sees it) reminds me of ‘Christina’ alone in a vast field, the farmhouse far away… that moment of /intimate/ solitude that draws the viewer in & haunts her, even after she has gone away & left the vision behind.”
Andrew Wyeth, "Christina's World', 1948. Tempera on gessoed panel. Collection: Museum of Modern Art, New York.
The viewer can be critically important in informing artists on what they might be showing us.  In fact there is a whole school of art history that says the artist is actually irrelevant to the meaning of the work, for meaning is manifested between the interaction of subject and audience. After all, the artist is likely no longer there to inform us.  However many of us want to understand the human context and vision behind a work (clearly I do).  AM talked to Amy Freelunch about the Wyeth reference, saying that Wyeth was actually not an influence, and I was curious to know who was, and if my own observations hit the mark at all:
Rowan Derryth: You mentioned in your interview with Amy that people talk about Wyeth in relation to your work.  And that you didn’t see it. Shall I tell you what I saw?
AM Radio: Sure
Rowan Derryth: The sublime.  I kept thinking of my Edmund Burke – vastness.  Obviously it isn’t the terror-inducing variety of sublime… but the kind that induces awe, and wonder.
AM Radio: Interesting
Rowan Derryth: Fuses it with beauty. These were very much Romantic landscapes to me. A little bit of Turner, a little bit of Constable…
AM Radio: But no longer?
Rowan Derryth: Oh no, they still are (smiles). I say were just because I’m remembering my reaction when I first saw them.
AM Radio: Ah
Rowan Derryth: So when I looked at your profile and saw that your picture is actually Freidrich’s “Wanderer Above the Mists”, I was very pleased.

Caspar David Friedrich, 'Wanderer above the Sea of Fog' (1818). 94.8 × 74.8 cm, Kunsthalle Hamburg. Also AM's profile picture.

AM Radio: I suppose that may have been a goal, to attempt the sublime in what is usually a confining and noisy experience of SL.  But my sims are much like my paintings, so its difficult to know for certain.
Rowan Derryth: This work is the polar opposite of noisy and confining. Success. In fact, I was wandering The Faraway earlier, and some guy had his mic open. Static, a television hum, and occasional yelling at a kid (I think) in Italian…
AM Radio: Is the Far Away still there?  I kid, I kid.
Rowan Derryth: (laughs) …I IM’ed him… “Hi, you know your mic is open?” It was so incongruent. (He apologised and turned it off.) Anyway, I have to ask the most generic of questions now, but it is interesting to me, and I think my readers. What artists do YOU enjoy, and who do you consider to be influences?
AM Radio: I always hate this question, it’s such a moving target.
Rowan Derryth: (grins) Well, I’ve already mentioned who I see… and your infectious sense of light… you can nix those if you like,  for starters.
AM Radio: Currrently I can’t say any particular painter is influencing me. Right now I’d say American transcendentalist literature is a larger influence. But painters, I think Rothko, Jasper Johns, even Kline, Motherwell, Pollock, and of course American realism of that era.
Rowan Derryth: Wow. I would NOT have picked some of those.  I love that.
AM Radio: I see from color, the connection to Wyeth, but for a visitor to say, clearly you’re into Wyeth is a tragic pop definition of his work.
Rowan Derryth: Agreed. And actually, I’d pick Van Gogh. Not that you were into him, but for tonality. He is SO generic, but I was recently at the D’Orsay Museum in Paris, and I was again struck by the intensity of his blues and golds.

Whistler, 'Arrangement in Black and Grey: The Artist's Mother', 1871. Oil on canvas. Collection, Museé D'Orsay, Paris.

AM Radio: Oh yes. At MassArt, I was at the MFA daily. I probably could not remove the influence of Sargent, Whistler, Monet, Van Gogh, not to mention Caravaggio. And oh anything in the [Isabella Stewart] Gardner Museum.  You see?  It’s impossible to pin it down.

Rowan Derryth: I was going to ask about Whistler – I’m surrounded by him almost daily in my work. His Nocturnes, his sense of light and colour, I can see it in your work.
AM Radio: I dont think I could deny Whistler’s influence on these very chairs, specially the one center, which may recall the composition of Whistler’s mother when cammed just right towards the wall. And many visitors have captured that angle.
Self-Portrait in the Whistleresque Chair.
Rowan Derryth: I have. It’s my favourite place to sit, and yes it does… and his portrait of Thoma Carlylse.  Also… the light from that window! I’m trying to think how to frame this question… But… THE LIGHT!  Tell me about it, this golden glow.
AM Radio: well it as much an addition to defining a sense of place as it is  an interst in creating the effect of light and shadow by hand. More like painting I suppose.
Rowan Derryth: (nodding) It is a very painterly atmosphere, so richly textured.  But…. and this might sound silly, since the majority of us here are crafted to be attractive. Standing in that light, makes our skins glow… it is ethereal.  And also very spiritual.. I always find myself looking for the golden places in your builds. Something of the sun… I grabbed this from Burke earlier… long quote coming:
With regard to light, to make it a cause capable of producing the sublime, it must be attended with some circumstances, besides its bare faculty of showing other objects. Mere light is too common a thing to make a strong impression on the mind, and without a strong impression nothing can be sublime. But such a light as that of the sun, immediately exerted on the eye, as it overpowers the sense, is a very great idea. Light of an inferior strength to this, if it moves with great celerity, has the same power; for lightning is certainly productive of grandeur, which it owes chiefly to the extreme velocity of its motion. A quick transition from light to darkness, or from darkness to light, has yet a greater effect. – Edmund Burke
Thoughts on that?
AM Radio: I am riffing on Keats here, but I would add that the sublime in light may be the moment water becomes swimming. we can forget the water and it becomes a part of but is also a requirement of a larger experience.
Rowan Derryth: I got to thinking about interiors with that quote, the way designers play with light an dark for effect – thinking of Charles Rennie Mackintosh for example, his spatial slippage. And also, thinking of your comments on visitors photographing your work, and not thinking to give you artistic credit.  The way in which they take ownership of the space – do they realize this is an art work?  A virtual art object? In the same way many don’t think of interiors as art objects. YOU have been crafting gesamtkunstwerk – in fact I evidenced that by having to put on a sweater while sitting here, the environment dictating my dress.
AM Radio: I suppose though the job that particular designer is to specifically incorporate the user as part of that design. And  I have attmepted to craft an experience of immersion in much the same way. I prefer credit, but maybe its a success if the line is more blurred. I honestly don’t know, although I think about it. I just haven’t concluded anything.
Rowan Derryth: I suppose for what you are trying to craft, it IS… I think people often don’t think of crediting work. Especially these days when you can just nab whatever off google image search.
Rowan Derryth: Which artists HERE do you enjoy? Well, I’m sure there are many, so who is the first person who jumps out at you?
AM Radio: Bryn[Oh]. She has a visual language which is unique in SL, where randomness and dicontinuity is so common.
Rowan Derryth: When I started writing this column, one of the things that was that I wanted to look at art that USED SL as a medium.  So many people rez things that are their personal paintings and drawings, then sometimes go from there… Did you start that way?
AM Radio: No, all of my work starts with some fundamental challenge. That GE lineage…perhaps. It might be cloth, or the grass, which seems so obvious now, was not in 2006. I try to tackle a problem of representing something, and solve it. And I end up going too far.
Rowan Derryth: (laughs) We are grateful that you do.

'Overcoming Imagined Gravitational Forces' by AM Radio, 2010.

Right, shameless – but relevant! – self-promotion time.  Last night I was delighted to open the RoHaus Collection in Avalon, which I intend to be a kind of small museum of my growing private collection.  At first my plan was for it to be totally non-commercial, but after hanging the gorgeous works, I realised that perhaps that was unfair to the artists, as well as visitors who might wish to own these virtual masterpieces for themselves (ah, the copiable beauty of Virtual Art), so I offered everyone the chance to come and set their work for sale if they wished.  What is particularly exciting about this is that AM has brought into world several new pieces for sale, including the above work, and the stunning Iphigenia at Aulis watches the sail to Troy seen in the first part of this article (IM me for details!).  All of the ‘Ekphrased’ artists are represented here, and I hope you’ll visit to see their genius first-hand, and to continue supporting their amazing work.

The New Justice League? DJ Skott Westland, Rowan Derryth, Miso Susanowa, Ragamuffin Kips, Scottius Polke, Glyph Graves, PJ Trenton, and AM Radio at the opening of RoHaus. Photo by PJ Trenton.


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