Monique Beebe – Moni to her friends – is one of the most expressive digital artists I know in Second Life. I’ve had the good fortune to follow the growth of her photographic and digital art skills since her first exhibition, hosted at Nitroglobus Roof Gallery back in early 2017 (see: Hidden Faces in Second Life), and have always utterly enjoyed exploring her work as it enfolds the sensual, the sublime, the emotive and more – always with a story to tell, a question to ask, or a subtle means of engaging her audience’s minds.
Through the years since that first exhibition, Moni has continued to enthral, engage and challenge through evolving styles and approaches, as is the case with Monsters, Demons and Chess, which opened at the Kondor Art Centre, curated by Hermes Kondor, on November 8th, 2022.
To be honest, this is an exhibition I would have embraced even without having an admiration of Moni’s work which has only grown over the last five years, because it encompasses a form of art that is gaining increasing traction among artists engaged in Second Life: that of hybrid art, and specifically the use of AI processes – in this case the Midjourney AI art generator. I’ve outlined this open-source software previously in these pages, but I’ll let Moni – who has been using it for around six months at the time of writing this article – describe it:
It is software used to generate realistic images, based on Artificial Intelligence. It is used with text we can write down, and it creates some indications; it is not a random image taken on Internet, which corresponds to your text, your words really create something with a deep learning algorithm, giving birth to a new image.
[It presented] A complete new experience for me! In the beginning I was doubtful about it, and I did read a lot of discussions around this subject. It ended becoming a curiosity in my mind, and turned out to be a complete addiction. It [has] allowed me to search more about AI, to discuss it with users and artists, in what way they manipulate it to come to something they wanted at first or appreciate something they did not know about previously.
– Monique Beeb
Offered across the two floors of the striking gallery building are some of the fruits of Moni’s labours with Midjourney: a striking series of 25 images that allow us to see into Moni’s journey with the software tool, a journey involving chess, monsters and demons, as she explains in her liner notes accompanying the exhibition:
My first use of this software was rather random, I was mostly discovering it. I took simple shapes, balls, and it ended in chess pieces. I made many of them, arranging the background, the lights, the perspectives … When I tried to make faces, I often saw irregularities in the way they were created. Distortions on the eyes or lips, strange shapes. Then I worked more, trying to identify why it came that way. I was at some point left with a gallery of “monsters” on my computer. Their unusual odd curves made me like them … I eventually edited them on Photoshop, and make them: beautiful monsters and quiet demons!
I don’t propose to delve into the pieces in depth – each and every one of them speaks clearly and beautifully for itself. The lower floor of the gallery focuses on the works featuring chess, and like that game, there a marvellous strategy at work within them as Moni takes the nuances of MidJourney’s algorithm and combines it with her own innate ability to frame a single-frame story which born of the aforementioned sensuality, subtleness and expressiveness.
The latter is also present in the images around the upper level, where Moni’s “monsters” and “demons” reside. These may not be sensual in the conventional sense like those on the gallery’s lower floor, but there is a richness of expression, beauty and look that makes them as equally attractive and as rich in their own narratives.
As a part of this exhibition, Moni asks a question that is not uncommon with the subject of hybrid art: are images generated through, or collated and manipulated by, AI (and other) means really art? She also enquires whether such images have a place in Second Life. My personal response to both questions is an unequivocal “yes”; traditional artists manipulate brushes, paints and inject their own eye and imagination in their work in order to create a piece of art; similarly, Second Life (and digital) artists also manipulate images with tools like PhotoShop and GIMP and paint with digital tools to produce an end result.
The fact that tools like Midjourney rely on descriptive text elements or the manipulation of algorithms or alterations to their baseline parameters does not lessen the fact it is the artist’s eye and imagination, often assisted by additional tools that allow for editing and / or compositing – just as with other digital art forms, as noted above – guiding the entire creative process.
More than that – I’d defy anyone to visit Monsters, Demons and Chess and not see the images presented as a richly artistic expression.
- Kondor Art Centre (Waka, rated Moderate)