Art and Exploration, Deep Thoughts

The Virtues of Unrequited Love

AM Radio has always astonished me, ranking as one of the foremost artists working in virtual worlds today, creating a sense of immersion, of being ‘within’ the art, through color, sound, and an incredible eye for detail.

Usually, when I visit an AM Radio installation, I have the feeling of being in a story in which the characters have just recently departed. There’s an aching feeling….that sense of a shadow in the corner of your eye, a passing whisper, the thread of the tale just barely visible, a murmur from another room.

AM Radio’s latest installation, Beneath the Tree That Died, about which Bettina writes far more eloquently than I, extends this art of immersion. As Bettina says (and the photos that follow of AM’s work are hers):

“He succeeds where most others fail when it comes to enabling us to suspend belief, for while we never quite forget that we are logged into a virtual environment, the sensation is as close as I’ve experienced to “inhabiting” a work of art, largely because everything is executed with technical skill, taking the medium as far as it can apparently go; not quite a copy world and yet…”

But this time, what struck me about the piece wasn’t the sense of a story just completed, or at least held in stasis while the central characters wandered off briefly, but rather of a story not yet told, and a story in which we are no longer just observers: we’re the participants, the chief actors, and yet our roles aren’t quite known, our purpose not yet clear.

It’s the surreality perhaps – the tree floating, hovering, dried branches, but its shadow reminding us of its solidity and weight. And the umbrellas “like tumbleweed”, protection from a rain that won’t come, or reminding us of what we’d intend but whose response is not what we’d anticipate.

We Are Not Actually Here

Tom Boellstorff, in Coming of Age in Second Life, differentiates not between the virtual and the real, but rather between the virtual and the actual. He makes this distinction first because if we call it “real life” then it implies that the virtual is not real, it is its opposite. His book reminds us that how we feel, socialize, interact, create, and form culture in a virtual world is real.

And he makes this distinction as well because in spite the ‘reality’ of virtuality, it is still not entirely actual. Virtuality is always one step removed from a complete intention.

At first glance, this would imply that virtuality is somehow less than the fulfillment of life’s possibilities, and maybe, in some ways, that’s true, but I’d argue that the remove from actuality is at the heart of what makes virtuality both profound and, sometimes, unnerving. Because in allowing us to arrive closer to dreaming, closer to being able to picture the possibilities of self, of art, of sociality, of our worse and better natures – we’re reminded that our greatest loves are often unrequited.

The path to happiness, they tell us, is not in the arrival, it is in the journey.

We Create Because We Do Not Arrive

My touchstone quote, perhaps, on creativity is by the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard who wrote that imagination transports us “…outside the immediate world to a world that bears the mark of infinity. Isn’t imagination alone able to enlarge indefinitely the images of immensity? It takes us to the space of elsewhere.”

It reminds us that creation is the act of enlarging our vision of what is, in the end, impossibly immense, beyond our capacity to hold, or understand. Our creations are steps on the path to that immensity, and are attempts to craft new symbols and forms on the road to understanding what is, ultimately, beyond understanding: what will never be actualized.

Rollo May says that artists, in their creation, have a courage that is beyond even moral courage:

““Whereas moral courage is the righting of wrongs, creative courage, in contrast, is the discovering of new forms, new symbols, new patterns on which a new society can be built. Every profession can and does require some creative courage. In our day, technology and engineering, diplomacy, business and certainly teaching, all of these professions and scores of others are in the midst of radical change and require courageous persons to appreciate and direct this change. The need for creative courage is in direct proportion to the degree of change the profession is undergoing.

But those who present directly and immediately the new forms and symbols are the artists – the dramatists, the musicians, the painters, the dancers, the poets, and those poets of the religious sphere we call saints. They portray the new symbols in the form of images – poetic, aural, plastic, or dramatic as the case may be. They live out their imaginations.”

But I disagree with the sentiment that in creating these new forms that we’re bound to achieve a utopia. Utopia will never be actualized, instead we can only ever arrive at hints at what it might look like, we can only take steps in its direction.

Our creative visions are shadows of what’s unknown but hinted at, murmurs from another room, the rain that never came, and even in actuality we never arrive, while in virtuality we come to understand that the journey can never be finished, and yet we walk the road anyways, and hope that weariness doesn’t overtake us on the way.


speak up

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site.

Subscribe to these comments.

*Required Fields

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.