Traci’s Formless in Second Life

ArtCare Gallery: Traci Ultsch – Formless

Currently open through to mid-August 2022 at ArtCare Gallery, curated by Carelyna, is Formless, a collection of 24 monochrome collages by Traci Ultsch, built using photographs and paintings, some or all of which might just be unfinished – hence the title: Formless.

Traci is typically self-effacing about the art on show, stating:

This exhibit follows on from the ‘Crash’ and ‘Overdose’ works from 2021 in being concerned with more personal subjects, this one specifically dealing with more recent events … They are not what they are. Or maybe they are, who am I to tell anyone what to think about any of this. Maybe it’s just a self indulgent ego driven attempt at getting attention in some over dramatic way.
ArtCare Gallery: Traci Ultsch – Formless

For those who may not have witnessed either Overdose (reviewed here) or Crash (reviewed here) these were very personal pieces (Overdose dealing with the two faces of addiction, Crash a exploration of the nature of art and its relationship with both the artist and the observer); heady and rich subjects for exploration. Here, the pieces are – on the surface – more esoteric in nature; but they are far from being merely an attempt to gain attention, offering as they do a richness of expression and reflection on the likes of life, love, human nature, age, and relationships.

To start with, let’s take the manner in which they images have been set out; a huge amount of consideration has been given to theme, point and counter-point. Grouped into sets of three, each set with its own collective title. These triplets have then bee set out in pairs, two sets of three per wall, each pairing linked by their respective titles, which offer a mix of counter-point to one another (e.g. Just Like Heaven / Just Like Nothing) or a continuation of a central idea (e.g. Don’t Wake Me Up / I’m Dreaming of You).

ArtCare Gallery: Traci Ultsch – Formless

Within the individual sets of three is a richness of metaphor that helps direct one to thoughts on the ideas of love and life, age, relationships, and so on. Some of these are richly expressive in their simplicity of approach, yet deeply layered in potential meaning.

The left and centre pictures within I Wish You Were Dead, for example, with the twisted shape (shrivelled leaf? slug?) offer both an evocation of the central wish in the most visceral of ways (assuming the object is a slug), and also – with it’s shape mindful of female genitalia – a cruel twist on the wish focused on barrenness / loss of sexuality.

ArtCare Gallery: Traci Ultsch – Formless

However, there is a risk that in saying this much, I an artificially constructing a framework around these pieces outside of the artist’s core intent – which may equally be to offer a series of pieces we can chose to interpret through the lens of our own life experience and the events that have most recently affected us. As such, I’ll close my ramblings here and encourage you to visit formless via the SLurl below.

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Traci and Moni: of self through others in Second Life

Art Korner, April 2022: Traci Ultsch and Monique Beebe

Update, June 27th, 2022: Art Korner has Closed.

Opening on Wednesday, April 13th is a further joint exhibition at the main gallery within Frank Atisso’s Art Korner – one that again features the work of Traci Ultsch, who this time partners with Monique Beebe. Between them they offer two distinct exhibitions that share some common threads.

With Hell is Other People, Traci presents a series of pieces that are in part spiritually connected to her March exhibition at Art Korner – and not just because they share the same space on the upper level (see: Danni and Traci: portraits and colour in Second Life). This is a series of images that share much of a common root with that exhibition, challenging us to consider the individual in each of them, but to do by using them as a lens through which we might consider the question who am I?

Art Korner, April 2022: Traci Ultsch and Monique Beebe

In this respect, Hell Is Other People tackles some heady concepts – Satre, solipsism, phenomenology – who we really are when we see ourselves through the eyes of others. Hence the title of the piece, which is perhaps one of Satre’s most famous lines. It first appeared in his 1943 play, Huis Clos (“No Exit”), in which three men find themselves in hell – and come to realise their everlasting punishment is to see themselves through the eyes of others.

All those eyes intent on me. Devouring me. What? Only two of you? I thought there were more; many more. So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE!

– “Joseph Garcin” in Huis Clos, Jean-Paul Satre 1943

To explore this, Traci introduces the pieces in the exhibition via text from philosophy.com, while the pieces themselves offer unique perspectives of avatars. Portraits, yes (like those of the March exhibition), but from unusual angles and / or cut through with lines of colour or blackness, each one communicating a view, a perspective that might be seen as analogous to the idea of seeing oneself differently – through the eyes of others, one might say.

Art Korner, April 2022: Traci Ultsch and Monique Beebe

For Still Waters run Deep, located on the lower floor of the gallery, Monique Beebe also offers a series of images – self-portraits – that also have an introspective nature – and more. As the introduction to the selection notes:

Art is not created with the viewer in mind. It flies from the soul. The pictures on Moni each has their own story, their emotion. They resemble loneliness, waiting, hope and a little spark of hope.

The first part of this statement is an unattributed quote that has been used in various contexts, but here helps to provide that common thread that links Moni’s work with Traci’s: that her art is a reflection of herself. Each piece, as the introduction notes, is intended to convey an emotion, a story, we are invited to explore and consider. And perhaps, through viewing them and reflecting further of what drew us to the stories we feel they say, come to a better understanding of ourselves.

Art Korner, April 2022: Traci Ultsch and Monique Beebe

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Danni and Traci: portraits and colour in Second Life

Art Korner, March 2022: Dannika Dryke

Update, June 27th, 2022: Art Korner has Closed.

Wednesday, March 9th, 2022 saw the opening of an exhibition at Frank Atisso’s Art Korner Main Gallery that features images by two artists on a shared theme, but which are strikingly different in their style and visual impact.

The artists in question are Dannika Dryke and Traci (Traci Ultsch), who have split the gallery between themselves, with Danni’s images located on the lower floor, and Traci’s on the upper. The central theme is that of portraits, but the two styles offered by the artists are extraordinarily different.

Art Korner, March 2022: Dannika Dryke

On the lower level, Danni presents a series of large format images that might been seen as “traditional” modern portraits: the subject the centre of the image sans and background distractions, (largely) minimal visible posing, the colours clean and natural in tone. These are images that allow us to focus solely on the subject, drawing us into a study of their look and appearance and – oh, so gently – into a wider consideration of their nature as revealed (or imposed, depending on your viewpoint) by the pose they have struck.

These are picture that speak to the art of photography as form of modern portraiture that has largely taken over from the more formalised use of paint and canvas to immortalise an individual. With most images presented as head and shoulders / chest level, they reveal the avatar-as-a-person, someone who exists independently from any human operator behind the screen. Within the eyes, we can perceive life and mood, within the expression there lies emotion and and intelligence, within the choice of clothing a glimpse of character and nature. Such is the depth of life within each image, were the subject to lean out of the monitor and offer an introduction, it wouldn’t be in the least bit surprising!

Art Korner March 2022: Traci Ultsch

Life and vitality are also very much in evidence in the images presented by Traci on the gallery’s upper level – but in a very different way. Where Danni opts to go the more “traditional” route of portraiture, Traci leans into a more expressive presentation, the images swept with brush-like swirls of light or splattered with dark tones a-la Pollock or stamped with blocks of Warhol-esque colour to present bold statement of life in which the entire image speaks – subject, colour, contrast – to present not so much the individual, but the sense of mood / emotion, and presence / vitality of the subject.

These are images in which there is a lot going on, the very depth of elements drawing us into each picture, not so much to decrypt or understand it, but simply to flow with the narrative as it forms ideas and stories that are as unique and individual as the images and their colours.

Art Korner March 2022: Traci Ultsch
Taken individually, each of these displays of art has much to attract the eye; taken together, and they offer a marvellous juxtaposition and conjoining of style and content that is  wholly engaging.

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Plastic People and Dead Cities: reflections on Second Life

Kondor Art Square, Jul 2021: Dead Cities (l) and Plastic People (r)

Monique “Moni” Beebe and Traci Ultsch are among a group of artists whose work I find immediately engaging, and which I always appreciate being able to see and appreciate. So any new exhibition by either of them is going to get me hopping with interest –  and when they are exhibiting together, then I’m not so much hopping as I am leaping – which has very much been the case with Plastic People / Dead Cities, which opened at the Kondor Art Centre’s Art Square, curated by Hermes Kondor, on July 8th.

Now to be clear – this is not a joint exhibition in the sense of being a collaborative project between the two artists. Rather, and like their joint exhibition at Midgard Gallery in February 2021 (see: Moni and Traci at Midgard Gallery in Second Life), Plastic People and Dead Cities stand as two individual exhibition linked by theme and reflection, allowing them to be appreciated both individually and jointly, with certain truths to be found within them that may well be discomfiting to some.

With Dead Cities, Traci explores the impermanence of Second Life through the dual medium of exploring the cityscapes that can be found throughout the grid and the medium of reflections on the ideas of so-called occultist Psychogeography as it relates to the city of London and as espoused through the work of Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd.

Kondor Art Square, July 2021: Traci Ultsch – Dead Cities

In short, the latter might be said to be explorations of the myths and legends that claim much of “modern” London (e.g. from the 1660s onwards) was built on occultist practices, and the idea the “spirit” of all who have dwelt in the city combine to inform its nature down the centuries, and that “spirit” in turn informs the nature of those dwelling in it today.

Thus we are presented with a series of bold monochrome images that, rather than presenting “traditional” views of buildings, streets, and so on, are multi-faceted in the way they have been layered to present us with glimpses of buildings and structure together with the ghostly outlines of something more – that spiritual element to their nature, so to speak. Similarly, the use of scaffolding to mount the images, some of which also has skulls sitting on it, encapsulates the idea of the present being informed by the past.

In taking this route, Traci also underscores her theme of emptiness / impermanence: by presenting facets of structures in this way, with the dark and light obscuring as much as revealing, Traci points to the fact that, like it or not – and contrary to SL myth) – nothing in this virtual realm is in any way permanent; it survives and is constantly rebuilt – like a city as great as London itself – only so long as there are people to populate it. When empty, it might as well not exist – and when the novelty of the platform does finally wane, Second Life and its cities and places will won’t exist.

Kondor Art Square, July 2021: Traci Ultsch – Dead Cities

By comparison, Moni’s Plastic People appears to be an altogether lighter, brighter presentation, both in terms of being a series of images that do utilise colour, and in their general theme.

In short, this is the idea that Second Life is a plastic – perhaps malleable might be a more appropriate term – world which we can all bend and shape into whatever we wish, and in which we can express ourselves howsoever we wish, in keeping with the old SL tenet, Your World, Your Imagination. Thus Moni presents us with a series of avatar studies that when first viewed, appear to reflect this in their presentation of “classically” posed images, touches of sci-fi, fantasy and the platform’s more adult elements.

Kondor Art Square, July 2021: Monique Beebe – Plastic People

However, I say “appears”, because – to me at least – there would seem to be a further layer to Moni’s images, evidenced through her use of a stanza from Frank Zappa’s 1967 song, Plastic People within her liner notes for the exhibition:

A fine little girl / She waits for me / She’s as plastic / As she can be / She paints her face / With plastic goo / And wrecks her hair / With some shampoo.

That song was written as a manifesto against conformity and materialistic culture. So is its inclusion in Moni’s liner notes for the exhibition simply a reflection of the malleably of our avatars, or is it a comment on the fact that whilst founded on the ideal of individual expression, SL is increasingly becoming a place of homogenised, materialistic conformity for many? Just look at the way a certain avatar body dominate the platform, or the manner in which “creativity” now seems to be more about looking good and buying the latest fashion.

If this interpretation might be seen as accurate, then it begs the further question: just who are the “plastic people”, the avatars within Second Life, or those who operate them? I’ll leave that to you to ponder.

Kondor Art Square, July 2021: Monique Beebe – Plastic People

Through these two exhibits, Moni and Traci offer collections of images that are in and of themselves captivating, whether or not one wishes to look deeper into them. At the same time, they each hold up a mirror, one of which encourages us to reflect on Second Life is a whole as it relates to us, and the other asking that will look directly on  ourselves, and how we relate to the platform.

What we might discover in looking into either might not be comfortable to consider – but that does negate either exhibition. Indeed, I’d strongly recommend that anyone who likes to ponder on this virtual world in which we invest so much of ourselves, whatever the reason, pay a visit to Plastic People / Dead Cities, and spend time with the art and the artists’ own words.

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Moni and Traci at Midgard Gallery in Second Life

Midgard Gallery: Monique Beebe, February 2021

Midgard Gallery is – for me at least – a new arts venue I was delighted to be pointed towards by Traci Ultsch by way of a personal invitation to witness the new joint exhibition she has there.

Occupying an underground cavern within the Land of Thor – a place I’ll be discussing in greater detail in an upcoming article -, the Gallery is one of three within the region, and is currently featuring Crash Traci and Portraits and Other Things Monique Beebe. these are two very different in focus, but which share certain aspects and elements in the manner in which they challenge the viewer to look into them and consider what they are seeing, that mark them as complimentary to one another.

Midgard Gallery: Traci Ultsch, February 2021

Crash, located on the mezzanine floor of the gallery, takes as its inspiration English author J.G. Ballard’s 1973 novel Crash, later made into a 1996 film by the same title, written and directed by David Cronenberg. Both novel and film gained notoriety for their depictions of symphorophilia – the experience of intense sexual arousal as a result of stage-managing and watching a disaster – in their case, the focus being that of car crashes.

Given the nature of the subject matter, it might be tempting to dismiss Traci’s Crash as a further excuse for voyeuristic gratification; however, this would be a complete mistake. Whilst sexual undertones are apparent within the images (take, for example the placement of the lock to a car’s glove compartment in Bodies: framed within the outline of a female body, it clearly serve the purpose of a nipple), this is no mere excuse to revel, as it were, in the subject matter of the novel.

Midgard Gallery: Traci Ultsch, February 2021

Rather, these are pieces, each one carefully constructed and presented, that use the theme of the novel to explore the basic concepts of art: how we define it; whether something that is intrinsically repelling as symphorophilia or some other socially unacceptable outlook, contain within it a thread from which some form of more positive expression be drawn. At the same time, there is a personal dimension added to the piece, with Traci noting that in producing these pieces, she sought to address a situation from her own life.

Each image is presented as a layered, almost abstract collage, taking images captured from within Second Life, editing and transforming them in tone and look, then combining them one with another and / or with images of wrecked vehicles from the physical world. The result is a set of tableau pieces that can be looked upon purely as abstracted art and / or through the prism of the exhibitions theme, each one daring us to look again and again; their concept and content shifting, challenging our overall perception of each of them.

Midgard Gallery: Traci Ultsch, February 2021

On the ground floor of the gallery, Monique presents Portraits and Other Things, a baker’s dozen of utterly engaging avatar studies that in places mirror Traci’s work by offering us collage-like pieces to appreciate and perhaps decipher, whilst elsewhere presenting narrative and / or pieces linked by theme, such as the “rabbit” series along the back wall of the gallery.

Moni is an artist I’ve long admired for her ability to capture an entire story within a single frame, whilst often also challenging us to look beyond the surface of her art, be it erotic in nature or a seemingly straightforward facial portrait, or which at first glance appears to tell a simple story, and see what lies within. She has an innate ability to layer emotions and feelings with her work that I find utterly captivating.

Midgard Gallery: Monique Beebe, February 2021

A  good deal of this is to be found in the pieces within Portraits and Other Things. With Chaos for example, we start with a collage featuring a human face that draws us to it simply as a piece to be appreciate for its sue of image, line, and colour. But it also contains hints of commentary on the chaotic nature of thought and mood, both of which can swirl and shift within us, such that the face we show the world around us is ever-changing; also within it stand the ideas of the chaotic bustle and churn of life around us, with all of these elements perhaps calling into question just who we are – as signified by the eyes of the central faces, the sockets becoming emptier as we scan from left-to-right.

Across the hall, Sadness offer a subtle layering of expression and condition to evoke the desired mood: that the subject is unhappy might appear to be evident from the forward tilt of her head and downcast eyes – although equally, this could be the prelude to a flick of the eyelids to provide an altogether different image, such as a coy glance into the camera lens. What actually gives this piece its emotional frame are the water droplets scattered across the subject’s face and their trails along her cheeks; they are as effective – if not more so – at conveying mood than had she been shown to be crying.

Midgard Gallery: Monique Beebe, February 2021

With two evocative displays of art from two of Second life’s most engaging artists, Midgard Gallery is well worth a February visit – and as noted, I’ll have more on the region as whole in an upcoming article.

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