The question of identity / pseudonymity has been linked to Second Life pretty much since the platform from the start; we have complete agency of how we represent ourselves and how much of ourselves we chose to reveal to the world. It is often said that this pseudonymity allows us to more fully express who we’d like to be.
But who are we, really? The person we are at home and among family is not the same as the person we are at work;, and that person is not the same as the person we are when with friends, and so on. Even within our family group, who we are with loved ones – husband / wife, children, parents – can change from moment to moment.
And all of these personas are very different to who we are when alone; those intimate moments of oneness in which we perhaps most truly reveal who we are without fear of observation / ridicule / rejection. And so, too, are multiple areas of overlap – each and every one of us is an individual; but the question still remains, given all these multiple facets to our make-up, some self-imposed, others placed upon us by society / those around us, who are we – really? And can we use avatars to express not who we’d like to be, but who we are?
It is this exploration of self through our avatar that is the focus of Intimacy, an exhibition / installation by Scylla Rhiadra which opened at the end of February 2022 at the Onceagain Art Gallery curated by Onceagain (Manoji Yachvili).
Set within an environment that is as much a part of the exhibition, are twelve images designed to better inform us as to who the person who inhabits “Scylla Rhiadra” actually is. To quote Scylla’s introductory notes from the exhibit:
The pictures in this exhibit represent my attempt to communicate that extra “something” about myself. They do so, not by removing the barriers that separate who I most truly am from how I represent in a virtual environment, but by leveraging virtual images and appearances to convey it … Here you will see “Scylla” (who has never washed a dish in her entire virtual existence) dancing as she washes dishes, getting dressed in the morning, and eating ice cream at outrageous hours of the night. These are intended not merely to provide some insight into “what I do” in real life, but more vitally “who I am” there – which is, pretty closely, also “who I am” in Second Life.
– Scylla Rhiadra
Of course, one might say there is a certain hubris in trying to use an avatar in this way; at the end of the day, whatever is done, the avatar is not the person operating it, neither in look nor in perception by others. Plus, said avatar is a puppet; any image of it must posed, the setting staged; thus any attempt to use it to bring forth a broader expression of “self” must itself be something of a manipulation of perception as much as any other use of our avatar to impart a persona.However, this is far from true. While the images may well be constructed to bring forth a specific aspect of our personality, the fact remains that the aforementioned pseudonymity baked-in to Second Life also frees us from the usual impediments (fear, embarrassment, etc), that might otherwise stand in the way of our revealing more of ourselves to strangers never seen or known. Thus, they are the perfect vehicle, staged settings notwithstanding, by which we can “be who we really are” and express what might otherwise remain hidden, as Scylla notes in her introduction to Intimacy:
One of the most important opportunities afforded by Second Life, and virtual embodiment generally is the chance to represent facets of ourselves that we cannot, or do not, express in our material lives. That I am doing something that is really quite the opposite of this – representing my more mundane self virtually – doesn’t change the reality that a virtual self can be not merely liberating but also revelatory. Just as the fictions of a good novel can reveal Truths with greater clarity than more factual forms of discourse, so too, I hope, does my artifice here strip away some of the barriers that separate me from . . . you.
– Scylla Rhiadra
Thus, these 12 images are deeply engaging and fascinating in their depictions; so much so, that any thoughts of the “falseness” of their staging / posing is quickly lost. Instead, we are invited to share on the most intimate expressions of how Scylla views herself, and the moments from the physical world that make up many of the facets of who she is in the world of pixels and zeros and ones.
As noted, this is an exhibition in which the setting plays as much as role as the images themselves. From the night sky (make sure you have Use Shared Environment checked via menu → World → Environment), through to the maze, the lamps that illuminate each image as we approach it, to the props to be found throughout the space, everything has a role to play. The maze, for example, might be seen as a metaphor for our exploration of who we are, either as others try to understand us, or as we look upon ourselves. Such explorations can involve wrong turn (misapprehensions) and back-tracking (re-evaluation). Similarly, the lamps alongside each image represent those moments of realisation / revelation that spur our understanding onwards, and so on.
Provocative, revelatory, rich in content and presentation, the images offered in Intimacy, are highly personal both in their exploration of Scylla’s sense of self, and in the way they can chime with each of us and our own considerations of who we are in life – digitally and physically. They are also marvellously composed and framed as individual artistic pieces that can be appreciated in their own right. All of which makes this a thoroughly engaging visit.
- Intimacy, Onceagain Art Gallery (Peaceful mountains, rated Adult)