The Drax Files 28: art and SL as cathartic renewal

“You know, when you first asked me to do the Drax Files, I said no,” Whiskey Monday states at the start of segment #28 of The Drax Files World Makers. I doubt anyone watching the show regrets her decision to actually go ahead and appear on the show.

Whiskey is well known throughout Second Life for her incredible artwork, which started with her single frame stories. Her work is thought-provoking, intelligent, evocative, mischievous, fun, pointed, and more – and all of it is certainly some of the finest expressions of art as a medium for social and general commentary I’ve ever seen. It’s also deeply personal, much of it reflecting on Whiskey’s real life; usually in a frank, honest way free from pathos while laying bare her mindset and emotions.

Whiskey Monday at work
Whiskey Monday at work

It is on this latter aspect of her work that the show primarily focuses on, in what is once again one of the most compelling pieces of video journalism I’ve seen in a long while, with Drax almost completely absent from the piece and leaving Whiskey to tell her story in her own words. As such, what is delivered is an incredible journey through Whiskey’s lives (plural intentional) which allows us to witness first-hand how Second Life can be a platform for emotional release, self-expression and cathartic renewal in our lives, as well as a place where creative investment brings additional rewards which help spur us on.

“I have been going through a really difficult personal life the past few years,” Whiskey says just after he opening comment on the video. “And I have used Second Life as a medium to express my frustration with the real world; depression; my issues with my mother; my issues with my sister. It helped me get through those times, Drax. and I couldn’t do that as my physical identity.”

Whiskey's work is intensely personal, but also strikes many assorted chords for those who see it
Whiskey’s work is intensely personal, but also strikes many assorted chords for those who see it

This is an incredibly powerful, open, and honest statement to make; a baring of the soul that requires a huge amount of honesty and trust. That Whiskey is prepared to speak so freely  about matters is itself testament to the degree to which her creativity through Second Life has been cathartic for her.

Through the video, we get to share in Whiskey’s creative process, travelling with her from an initial idea, through to the completed image, with Whiskey describing each step of the journey in creating what are highly personal images. It’s a remarkable and painstaking process, as she honestly admits she’s not that comfortable with Photoshop, and so strives very hard to achieve as much of the finished piece in-world as she possibly can – something which itself speaks to the incredible creative power found within SL, either directly through the tools provided by the viewer, or via scripted tools and systems provided by other users.

Whiskey's most recent exhibition, entitled  Recently, was the debut exhibition for the new– Dathúil gallery run by Max Butoh (see my review here)
Whiskey’s most recent exhibition, entitled Recently, was the debut exhibition for the new Dathúil gallery run by Max Butoh (see my review here)

Framing her images so precisely obviously requires the execution of a high level of control in terms of the subject matter and how the observer sees it. It’s a level of control Whiskey is very aware of; it’s also something that, given the context of her art, might be too easily dismissed as manipulating the audience.

Yet Whiskey makes no apology for this – and nor should she. She certainly isn’t the first artist to manipulate the environment (virtual or real) to focus the audience’s attention and direct their emotional responses; artists do it all the time be it through the initial framing of their shot or via cropping and editing after the fact, or through extensive post-processing. In fact, I’d argue that Whiskey is entirely right in the level of control she exercises – although I’d perhaps refer to it as compositional direction. At the end of the day, these images are her stories, and as the narrator, she has the right to shape the manner in which they are told.

What’s more, it makes her work all the more striking to those who witness it, as it more than likely strikes a far more personal chord within us than might otherwise be the case; hence why Whiskey also tries to leave the images as open-ended in interpretation as possible.

A modest display of Whiskey's work entitled Selected Letters took place at the Pixel Bean Coffee House at the start of 2015
A modest display of Whiskey’s work entitled Selected Letters took place at the Pixel Bean Coffee House at the start of 2015

What may come as a surprise to some is that once Whiskey has invested time and effort in creating a setting for one of her images, and the picture has been captured, the set is destroyed. While individual elements and props used within it may well be saved, the scene itself is deleted; become a part of the process of release as Whiskey notes herself. “I  don’t want to hold on to it; I want to let it go. The very impermanence of that scene is part of the charm for me.” And of course, the image itself still remains; the very essence of the scene, conversely giving that impermanence its own permanence.

As she notes later in the video, mental health isn’t an easy subject for discussion; it involves a level of exposure which can be painful. It is something which can also be difficult simply because we cannot find the necessary freedom of expression within ourselves to admit to or discuss what is going on for us. This is something Whiskey has previously admitted finding out for herself: her blog became a means for her to express herself through writing, but came to find that too confining, because the medium was too close to the subject matter.

Whiskey's art has provided her with the means of coping with and expressing her feelings about life and her relationships with her family; in turn, it has brought her and her family closer
Whiskey’s art has provided her with the means of coping with and expressing her feelings about life and her relationships with her family; in turn, it has brought her and her family closer

Using art and the anonymity of the platform allows her to be “one step removed” so to speak, in how she both expresses and exposes herself. This both gives her greater freedom of expression and greater comfort in how she exposes herself – but it also opens the door to other being able to do the same as well, through the process of seeing her art and responding to it. There is an ability to be real both as artist and as audience, which cannot be so easily matched through other mediums. Hence why her art has been able to take on a life of its own, independent of Second Life, through Fine Art America.

There is an intense beauty in this piece which richly matches Whiskey’s art. for example, how she views her work as collaborative in a why which might not have struck others: through the simple act of buying and using (or even re-interpreting) other people’s creations. It is also apparent in the second part of the video as she reveals the personal journey her art has allowed her to undertake with members of her family, something I’m not going to comment upon here, as doing so would be superfluous; all that needs to be said is said by Whiskey herself.

Kudos again to Drax for leaving this as one of the stories in which the subject is narrator.  Whiskey’s openness and words are from the heart, serving as a direct invitation for us to share in her life, if only for a few minutes. And I, for one, would like to thank her for allowing us to do so.

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