Exploring the self
Luciana Pinazzo: Senban, when were you born in Second Life and why?
Senban Babii: I first rezzed in Second Life in July 2007: one of my colleagues came into my office to steal my coffee and to tell me about a new project we would all be getting involved with, using virtual worlds as an experimental way of delivering content. I work for a university so the content being delivered would be partly educational content but also possibly creating social spaces for students. To be honest, none of us had any idea of what we could actually use it for. I created an account, logged in and just started exploring. In time, we decided that Second Life wouldn't be suitable for us, although we did briefly revisit the idea a little later, but when everyone else left, I stayed. I just found the whole idea so enthralling and engaging that I knew I needed to see more of it. I felt that it held potential as a tool for understanding the self but didn’t really understand how or why at that point.
In time I got more involved in using the platform creatively. My first exposure to being creative with SL was when I joined La Performance (http://www.la-performance.org), a virtual dance company. I learned a lot from my time with them; Jie Loon taught me a lot about creativity and about myself. In time I got involved with Vaneeesa Blaylock (http://vaneeesa.com) and her performance art company, first as a performer and eventually as a stage manager. VeeBee was an incredible teacher, constantly pushing me into breaking my own limitations, getting me to look at identity in new and interesting ways I’d never considered.
L.P.: And why did you go away, choosing Eve Online for your works?
S.B.: Why did I leave SL? The truth is I love SL! It’s a hugely powerful tool that contains the potential for so much self-exploration and self-expression if we’re open to the possibility. The simple truth is that I stay away from SL now purely because of the policies of Linden Lab and the way they allow various individuals and groups to datamine and control the experiences of other residents. So in a sense I’ve not left SL, just stepped away during this difficult period. The problem is that I don’t see an end to that difficult period. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to go home, I don't know. Why did I join Eve? Well, actually one of my friends was heavily involved in Eve and one day we met for lunch and got round to comparing Eve and SL. He persuaded me to try Eve and after a few false starts I ended up staying. I don’t get involved in the combat side of things at all, I just enjoy the idea of a business simulation I guess and in that sense it’s just a hobby, but gradually as the new avatars were incorporated, I began to see it in different ways. But this brings me round to addressing the last part of your question, why I now use Eve for my works. The simple truth to this is that I don’t see myself as creating “works”. I’m not an artist by any sense of the word, I have no background in Art and apart from being involved with La Performance and later Vaneeesa Blaylock, I have had almost no exposure to artists.
L.P.: What does "virtual diversity" mean for you? A way to express yourself, just a funny settings option, or... what?
S.B.: This I feel is really the important point and perhaps the one thing that drives everything I do in virtual space: the question of what is “self”? Senban Babii is in effect an object to think with, through which I explore what it means to be me, to explore self-expression and self-exploration. Consider how Senban appears in Second Life. There, Senban is a perfect reflection of myself as I was during that period of my life, around 2007 to 2010. Rebellious, headstrong, mischievous and frankly, a bit of a troublemaker, a bit angry at life at times too. A while ago, I began to realize that this expression no longer fit somehow, something was missing, something had changed. It took me a while to realize what it was. When the new Eve avatars were revealed, I knew it was time to create a new expression of self, one that better reflected my current stage in life. I tried to maintain as much of the old as I could in the new and the avatars are basically the same person, just at different stages in life. So to sum up, Senban Babii is the way I express and reflect my internal self, a way of taking the me that lives behind my eyes and bringing her into the daylight so I can see just who I am. In a sense I am actually quite shy about the image I used for this competition because it’s not just an image, it’s me in every sense. I see the scars of recent years, a sense of sadness at things lost and yet a sense too of someone who is finally maturing into a more complete person. So while I mostly hide behind a certain amount of anonymity, in truth I’m perhaps more exposed through these images than people realize.
L.P.: Do you create images using Eve Online only?
S.B.: I enjoy creating images using anything, but in very amateur ways: I don’t have the skills to use Photoshop or anything similar. I usually just take an image and sometimes crop it to emphasize a particular aspect. I’m no artist, I have no training. I did start a photo essay back in 2010 called Dystopia Project which is still on my blog (whenitchanged.blogspot.com). It was starting to edge into poetry too but it was getting too close to home for my liking so I stopped work on it and most of it remained unpublished. The only other platform I’ve really tried to create images with was the game Fallout 3. I’m still keen to do more with this as it’s a very rich environment but it’s not simply about creating a bunch of images; anyone can do that. The question for me is how does this relate to my self-exploration and self-expression? If it’s just pictures for the sake of it, then it’s mere content and doesn’t fit with my personal goals. So I’d still like to do something with Fallout 3, but only if I can find the right angle to approach it.
Both my parents were professional photographers and my mother especially liked to take a single image that somehow told a whole story. This idea always stuck, the idea of a documentary or timeline being reduced to a single image or word. I always carry a camera around with me, looking for moments like that to capture but I’m sure I miss more than I see. This is one of the benefits of virtual worlds of course, you always have a camera to hand. But the camera is really nothing but a physical reminder to go through life looking for those amazing moments. The photos themselves are almost unimportant.
L.P.: Is electronic Art just a graphic game or could it be the art of XXI century?
S.B.: What is a game? Did you ever play with Legos? Are Legos a game? Or are Legos simply a polymorphic tool that allows you to build a multitude of things to play with depending upon what game you want to play today? Someone could certainly spend time building and creating content in Second Life but if all they are doing is putting pieces together then it’s not art, it’s mere function, mere content, playing with that polymorphic tool. That’s great of course! I don’t believe that Second Life itself is Art but I believe it can be a technology that can enable Art. I think it’s important to distinguish between creativity and Art though because I don’t feel they’re the same thing at all. Second Life enables creativity, just like those Legos. For me, Art is about forcing the artist to confront themselves and putting that confrontation on display. You can find Art in paint, in pixels, in marble, in plastic, in avatars, in mashed potato, in anything. There are other definitions of Art of course and everyone will have their own unique thoughts on that.
L.P.: Give your advice to a young artist who want to create images using online platforms.
S.B.: Just be yourself, let yourself out through the tools at your disposal. Be aware of the limitations of those tools and then find interesting ways to go past those limitations anyway.