[-empyre-] Displaced Familiarity. Interview with Scott Kildall

Displaced Familiarity. Interview with Scott Kildall
Domenico Quaranta

Scott Kildall (http://www.kildall.com/) is a visual artist currently
living in San Francisco, where he is working as a fellowship artist with
the Kala Art Institute. In 2006 he received an M.F.A. from the School of
the Art Institute of Chicago. Starting in 2001, he put together a huge
body of work in a variety of media including video installation, sound
architecture, electromechanical sculpture and single-channel video
Being interested in issues such as âdislocation, transition and
emotional upheavalâ and in the âexploration of anticipatory momentsâ,
it's no surprise that he was attracted by Second Life, where he become
Great Escape, the purple-faced member of the Second Front performance
group, that he co-founded in 2006. There he anticipated the re-enactment
trend with his print series Paradise Ahead, and there he is developing
(together with artist Victoria Scott) his last project, No Matter, one
of the winners of the Mixed Realities Commissions organized by
Turbulence.org and Ars Virtua (see the end of this interview for more
details on the project). By the way, No Matter is not the first fruit of
this collaboration: in 2006 they made, for a residency at the Banff
Centre for the Arts, 2x2, an interactive (that doesn't mean digital)
installation about the psychology of online social networks: basically,
a message board with a grid of holes where people can put their messages
(written on rolled-up post-its), read and take away messages left by
other people in an evolving, âanonymous and public information systemâ.
I interviewed Scott for my blog Spawn of the Surreal
(http://www.domenicoquaranta.net/blog/) about Paradise Ahead, a series
of 12 large scale digital prints which documents re-enactments of
historical performances â but also sculptures, videos and photographs â
he made in Second Life, often with the kind help and participation of
another Second Life star, Second Fronter Wirxli Flimflam.

DQ. When and why did you start your Paradise Ahead series?

SK. I began working on the series in September 2006; I produced the
first performance-print Void in November 2006. I followed this with
Shoot in December. I finished the last one in the series of twelve in
May 2007.
When I began exploring in Second Life, the unlimited real estate
captivated me. I saw an extension of the California dream. Empty
structures populated the landscape. Various architectures and landscapes
fused in dreamlike configurations. The geography indexed a cultural
desire for a world that both conforms to and escapes the ailments of
modern life.
My research led to making artworks of remediation of iconic
performances, sculptures and video. These produce a feeling of displaced
familiarity. At the same time they link Second Life back to what has
been done in the physical world while asserting the primacy of the
document in the artwork itself. Here, I place the geography in the
background of the prints while still examining questions of the body in
a simulated world.

DQ. What's the meaning of the title?

SK. The title refers to Milton's Paradise Lost, which details Satan's
fall from the heavens and subsequent interference with humankind. In the
last 400 years due to advancements in science and philosophy, spiritual
space has slowly collapsed, favoring a singular physical reality.
Milton's poem was the last of an era - when the concept of a soul space
equaled that of reality.
Second Life opens an alternate space - one that resembles our physical
reality but doesn't exist in any sort of tangible spatial-time grid. The
potential is huge. I see many in Second Life looking for transcendental
experience. What interests me with this series is capturing those common
feelings of hope and fear associated with this re-spatialized world.

DQ. Why did you choose to translate this series of performances into a
series of prints, rather than videos?

SK. The original artworks exist in our cultural memory as single frames.
Yves Klein's Leap Into the Void is a photograph; Maurizio Cattelan's The
Ninth Hour is a sculpture. While the video documentation of Chris
Burden's Shoot is available in galleries and even on YouTube, it is this
one image before he is shot that propagates throughout art history books.
These documents serve an archival purpose and feel frozen in time. They
embody a pastness to them related to the role of the photograph. I
wanted to mirror the role of the archived document and capture the feel
of this simulated world in 2006-2007. In 20 years, I'll look back at
these and think that was what Second Life looked like as a snapshot.
I considered using video, but I felt that this would dilute the tension
inherent in the content of each of these performances. An avatar viewed
in mid-air after leaping from a building captures the state of being
in-between; in a video the avatar would land unharmed in an act of
slapstick comedy. By using a single image, I let the viewer resolve the
consequences of the action.

DQ. Among the works you recreated in Second Life (not only performances,
but also sculptures and photographs), there are not only historic
pieces, but also some very recent works. Why? How did you choose them?

SK. My starting point was with conceptual art performances of the 60s
and 70s that were captured on video. This is a turning point in
performance art where the mediated environment began superceding live
performance. A small number of people have seen one of the Yoko Ono's
Cut Piece performance; many times more have watched the video in
galleries and museums. The video has both eclipsed and substituted for
the performance.
Many recent works have progressed this experience of the mediated
environment. Doug Aitken's Electric Earth is an eight-channel
installation dependent on the viewer walking through the space. But, the
lone image of the shopping cart in the parking lot is what lingers. Even
in a recent artist talk I saw by him, he showed a few minutes of
single-channel video of the shopping cart scene played from his
computer. He didn't even mention that it was a multi-channel installation!
The Ninth Hour by Maurizio Cattelan depicts a sculpture of the pope
after being struck by a meteorite. But the photographs make the figure
look so real that it seems like a person doing a live performance. From
viewer's vantage point, the media gets obscured. Although we read that
this is a sculpture, it feels just like a still from a performance piece.

DQ. I read Paradise Ahead as an effort to question Second Life as a
medium of representation of reality. It's like if you are saying: if
other media (such as video, photo, installation etc.) are able to
reproduce reality, Second Life totally betrays it. You can't preserve
it's own emotional atmosphere: tragedy becomes parody, the drama is
completely lost... Am I right?

SK. The experience in Second Life can't be captured through media. Any
sort of representation appears as an unreality but when operating your
avatar, it feels real in many ways. I see a chasm in between viewer and
producer that is greater than in video or photography. Because the
prints directly refer to other works, we can look at comparisons to
other media.
Most people I talk to about Second Life have never ventured into the
environment. Many think the prints are from a video game, but then
something doesn't make sense. The scenes are obviously staged and feel
familiar. The 3D graphics are unsophisticated compared to current game
Because the prints are indirect in representation but figurative in
content, audiences have vastly different reactions. Some see them as
emotionally bereft, others as satire and some as hyper-dramatic. I am
compelled by the various reads on the works as they point to our
collective notions of emotional content in surreal space.

DQ. If simulated worlds can't be used to reproduce reality, what you -
as an artist - can do with them?

SK. Simulated worlds compel me precisely because they fail to reproduce
reality. Besides the disembodied actions and 3D graphics, there are many
other layers of socialization and economies that diverge from real life.
I'm most interested in the gaps between the desired representation and
the actual result. From here, I examine at how others relate to the
dissonances in the simulated  - whether it is as a viewer, performer or
active participant.
I am currently working on a Turbulence commission called No Matter in
collaboration with Victoria Scott. We are commissioning builders to make
"imaginary objects" - material things that have never existed in pure
physical form such as the Holy Grail, Excalibur, SchrÃdinger's cat and
The Book of Love. Also studying the virtual economy, we will pay them
Second Life wages, which are below minimum wage. We will extract these
models and print them as foldable paper models. At the exhibition,
viewers will assemble these on factory-style tables into 3D paper forms
using scissors and glue. The get paid the same Second Life wages.
Afterwards we will sell the models of eBay as finished artworks.
With projects like this as well as my continued work in the performance
art group, Second Front, I've seen an incredible amount of artistic
space in simulated worlds. I think artists are just starting to uncover
other areas for exploration. The combination of simulated space and
massive social interactions is unique. Between a whole other concept of
space and a semi-anonymous relational environment, there are many facets
beyond the reproduction of reality to artistically explore.

+ http://www.kildall.com/ + http://www.kildall.com/artwork/paradiseahead.html

+ http://slfront.blogspot.com/
+ http://transition.turbulence.org/comp_07/awards.html
+ http://www.turbulence.org/
+ http://arsvirtua.com/
+ http://www.redhotcoil.com/
+ http://www.wirxliflimflam.blogspot.com/


Domenico Quaranta

mob. +39 340 2392478
email. qrndnc@yahoo.it
home. vicolo San Giorgio 18 - 25122 brescia (BS)
web. http://www.domenicoquaranta.net/

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