Scylla’s study of the Virtual Toxic in Second Life

Kondor Art Square: Scylla Rhiadra – Virtual Toxic
Elven Years ago, I opened a new exhibit that tackled the subject of representations of gender violence in Second Life entitled Is This Turning You On? About a month and a half ago, Hermes Kondor asked me if I’d be willing to return to the subject of toxicity and hypocrisy within Second Life.  This exhibit is the result.

– Scylla Rhiadra, introducing Virtual Toxic

Thus reads the introduction to Virtual Toxic, what will be for some, an uncomfortable exhibition at the Kondor Art Square.

Without a doubt, whilst Second Life offers a lot that is positive in life – physical or virtual; however, it also attracts the more negative aspects of human behaviour. And while other platforms also suffer from their own forms of toxicity, negativity and hypocrisy, the fact that Second Life does offer the means for positive immersion leads Scylla to frame this exhibition around a central question:

Why do we persist in replicating the flaws and toxicity of our sublunary physical existence in the virtual world as well? We can literally fly here. Why then do we fetter ourselves to the dark places on the ground?
Kondor Art Square: Scylla Rhiadra – Virtual Toxic

Thus we are presented with a baker’s dozen of images that deal with what can be seen as the more toxic – or at least darker – attitudes that can be expressed through words and activities in-world.

Virtual Toxic starts in the north-east corner of the square with Imagine Dark, a piece that offers a narrative on the fact that in entering Second Life, we are presented with multiple opportunities for discovery and expression, light and dark – and ask the question as to which we might chose. From here, the remaining images progress clockwise around the edge of the square with the last sitting in the centre. Each has a particular focus on behaviours and activities that all have an uncomfortable edge to them – sugar daddy / baby girl role-play, direct violence, rape “play”, the objectification of the female, and more. Each comes with its own text element offering  either direct or narrative context.

Each image and its associated text is provocative in the statement offered for us to consider; statements that – due to the fact they are based on physical world situations, attitudes, outlooks, activities – obviously extend beyond the virtual and challenge us to think more deeply and broadly about how we interact with one another and why we might chose to engage in actions that are in the physical world abhorrent to us and / or why we opt to display toxic / hurtful attitudes towards others.

Kondor Art Square: Scylla Rhiadra – Virtual Toxic

The former of these aspects is duly noted in one of the three information panels on the exhibit in the centre of the square (Some Important Disclaimers), which should be read when visiting the exhibit. The latter is perhaps most clearly defined in the south-east corner of the square, and the pieces My Name Is… and Gaslit.

Within the former we see reflected the fact that there are some who have an unwillingness to view others as equals / individuals with thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc; the avatar stands with face blotted out by the word Whatever. It’s a term that can have both positive and negative implications – and here is the usage is reflective of the negative / passive-aggressive form (as in, “I don’t care about you or what you have to say or feel”). Gaslit, meanwhile, references our use of words to manipulate others into self-doubt or (possibly) taking an action they’d normally avoid.

Kondor Art Square: Scylla Rhiadra – Virtual Toxic

Offered for public consumption to overlap with the UN Women’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, which draws to a close on December 10th, 2021, a campaign specifically focuses on violence and abusive acts against women (1 in 3 of whom, globally, will be subjected to violent abuse at least once in her life, with that abuse extending well into digital environments, as seen through the likes of Gamergate), Virtual Toxic is an arresting exhibition. However, it is not polemic; in asking its questions – most clearly exemplified by the 13th image, Why? at the centre of the art square – it invites us to view, read and consider what is presented without undue sway on the part of the artist.

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2 thoughts on “Scylla’s study of the Virtual Toxic in Second Life

  1. Thank you so much for this thoughtful and insightful review. Unsurprisingly, it is characterized by your usual blend of lucid prose, critical intelligence, and attention to nuance, and I am genuinely honoured and grateful that you wrote it. It accomplished what a good review should — it made me think critically about my own exhibit!

    Thanks especially for the last sentence, which makes explicit a really important point. I framed the title of my 2010 exhibit as a question for a reason, and the guiding principles of this one are the same: I want to provoke thought and discussion around some really difficult and complex questions. Had I the “answers” to these, I’d have presented them. I don’t. There may in fact be no “answers,” other than in maintaining an ongoing critical self-awareness about our own attitudes and how we choose to employ the creative and imaginative tools that the virtual has provided for us. If the exhibit achieves nothing more than encouraging that, then it has accomplished what I hoped it would. I think your review does the same, for which, again, thank you.

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    1. Thank you, Scylla, both for your comment here and for Virtual Toxic, and the manner in which you engage your audience in a manner that encourages that critical thinking, rather than demanding it (which can oft be a mistake, as it can put some in an audience on the defensive and less open to considering the subject). The fact that you don’t attempt to present answers – whether or not they are at your fingertips – I think also elevates Virtual Toxic both in its engagement, during a visit and in its ability to resonate long after that visit; I still find myself mulling the questions you raise as I continue to bounce around the grid witness avatars, looks, activities – and, most importantly, my own actions and attitudes. So thank you again.

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