Here is an interview with Italian artists Gazira Babeli, who does
interesting virtual performance pieces in Second Life. For more
material, check her website at: http://gazirababeli.com (Gee,
posting this interview to nettime, feels almost like way back in the
glory days of net.art... ;)
"My body can walk barefoot, but my avatar needs Prada shoes" Interview
with Gazira Babeli
By Tilman Baumgärtel
?: Is Gazira Babeli your real name? If not, tell us a bit about your
existence outside of SL.
Gazira Babeli: Yes, it's my real name in
Second Life but most of people call me Gaz'. Outside SL, my existence
is not so different from yours... drinking, eating, sleeping, meeting
people, looking at a computer monitor and working the least possible.
?: You mess around with the code in Second Life. Can you give me a
non-technical description how you insert your code into the system?
Gazira Babeli: Codes are just instructions, imperative verbs. An
example: PUSH-IT-FAR... a box, a Museum, a Church, an avatar-person...
or an entire avatar audience. The result could be spectacular and/or
create social troubles. I found it easier to call these instructions
"performances" or "actions". It makes sense in SL frame-space 'cause
the results look more like a sensible real space than a computer
?: Why do it at all? Isn't Second Life fun enough as an imitation of
Gazira Babeli: Yes, imitation is fun, but it's only the "background color"
of every possible behavior. I'm exploring that.
?: Why intervene into Second Life, if there is a whole world out
there. What is difference between a performance in SL and in the
Gazira Babeli: I would say that the term "whole world"
itself is more or less virtual. There's a whole world of people
working in call-centers and one hand-making shoes. There's a whole
world considering itself privileged because it can have access to
information and spends a great deal of its life idling on Office or
on a Web Browser. We keep forgetting that what we call Real Life has
been a virtual frame for a long time. Second Life offers the chance to
build and deconstruct this space in the form of a theatre performance.
What's the difference? I'm trying to find out. For the moment I like
to say: my body can walk barefoot, but my avatar needs Prada shoes.
?: Are you familar of the net.art of the 1990s, and is your work
influenced by the likes of Jodi et al?
Gazira Babeli: COME.TO.HEAVEN
actions are inspired by Ives Klein and JODI. Weird mix, don't ask
me why. I also loved Alexei Shulgin 386DX shows and some extremely
conceptual stuff by Florian Cramer. RTMark net.prankster projects was
really weird. It has been a very meaningful scene. For me net.art is
like a wild middle-age of Internet.. Second Life seems to offer a
?: Do you create any work outside of SL? Have you shown your work in
the real world and if yes how?
Gazira Babeli: This is an interesting
problem. First: I cant get out of Second Life because I exist only
thanks to Second Life. Two: I saved thousands of high-resolution
images and videos that some people, in the physical world that u
call RL, are willing to publish. An interesting solution would be
the one I experienced with the PEAM festival. I simply offered the
curator the digital images and a very detailed license with all the
print specifications. At present Im finalizing the shooting of a
movie which draws inspiration from "Simon of the Desert" by Buñuel
and from the early Buster Keaton. The set is a portable desert, as
big as 16 regions, and very likely the title is going to be "Gaz' of
the Desert". I hope it will reach somehow physical world, because the
only thing I really cant stand in SL is going to the movies. I find
it very disturbing for an avatar who is already living in a film-like
?: Did Linden labs approach you or even try to kick you out due to you
actions, especially the "Grey Goo" performance? Or did the builders of
the Virtua Art Center come down on you?
Gazira Babeli: During "Second Jesus", one of my first performances,
I have been contacted by a Linden. I believe it only wanted to
understand if my aim was to offend Christian beliefs; I did not
want to offend anyone, of course. "Grey Goo" was a trivial trick,
quite amazing but totally harmless. Media probably misunderstood
some information, spreading the "grey goo bandits" panic. I do not
believe Lindens want to interfere as "virtual cops", they have
more substantial problems and aims. I think Lindens would prefer
residents to solve their internal troubles instead of filing a "Report
Abuse". The Artwork "DONT say" is the result of this consideration:
it allows to register those words we consider abusive and when
someone pronounces them is seized by a tornado and shaken up until he
apologizes. The effect is very cartoon-like.. Wile E. Coyote and Road
Runner. After "Singing Pizza" (the symbolically abusive installation
in Ars Virtua), the director Rubaiyat Shatner wanted to talk to me,
he was worried and amused.. We became friends though maintaining
different views on SL-Art. Most SL residents believe they can build
only visible "objects", but the range of behaviours and the margins of
freedom are wider than most people think.
?: Most of your works seem to focus on manipulation of the technology
of SL rather than e.g. intervening into the social conventions. Why?
Gazira Babeli: It's strange.. some people asked me the same question
reversed. From my point of view, we are talking of two elements
which are complementary, not divisible. SL is a complex society and
without a univocal final aim. It includes heterogeneous social forms
and conventions. The social-symbolic exchange is generally based
on a sort of parody of the consumer-oriented western world... in
brief, gadgets on which to build up one's identity. This happens in
a fairly anarchic and pacific way, thanks to a "dictatorship" of the
technologic protocol, strictly defining properties and utilization
concessions. Now we consider Google as a friend but even Google is a
strange phantom-dictatorship on information. It this good or bad? Try
to imagine internet without Google. Now, SL is a smaller environment
compared to the Web, but I think it is a step ahead. My art consists
in experimenting in an ironic and "pop" way the complementary and
often contradictory aspects of a "whole world" which, despite being
inhabited by "puppets", it hosts at least a million people. Real
?: A lot of people are put off exactly by the consumerist or
capitalist leanings of SL, and - unlike you - not every body sees them
as a satire, but rather as a confirmation of the status quo. Can you
imagine a more utopian system (without money, without exchange value,
without work...), and would you prefer it?
Gazira Babeli: We are mixing up two different issues: anthropological observation and
ethical judgement. Of course Id love to login in a space called "First
Utopia"! I can even imagine it but only from a technical point of view
peer-to-peer protocols taught me a lot. Would I prefer it? I honestly
cant answer to this question, first I should live in it a few months.
Second Life, on the contrary, is an accomplished fact. If I like SL?
I never said that and I dont want to say it. You talk about satire,
I repeat parody. The distorted and conscious imitation of a model is
something concerning theatre or literature.
If you have grandeur manias you can buy a castle and crown yourself
King even if you are connected from a small flat in the suburbs;
if you feel antisocial you can become a black box there are
the headquarters of the French National Front and of the Anti
National Front. The majority of the people I met are aware of this
imitation-distortion the parody of what we call real life.