There was a moment, now passed, when the capabilities of the internet and the dreams and ambitions of its users perfectly aligned, before the virtual had been unmasked as another instrument of capitalism and control. At this moment – June 23, 2003, to be precise – Second Life began. The sci-fi promise of a virtual world where people could live out some alternate existence had been fulfilled, rising from the aftermath of the dot-com crash.
The appeal of this digital world to artists is obvious: the ability to create objects, environments, avatars and alter-egos to be experienced by a potential audience of thousands of users who were similarly free to engage and respond in ways not possible in the ‘real’ art world. Being wholly digital and virtual, Second Life (as well as MMOs like World of Warcraft that followed it) also provided a testing ground for artistic experiments relating to the politics and aesthetics of a burgeoning internet culture.
The works in this programme, which span from 2001 to 2014, demonstrate this evolving tradition of critical artistic engagement with and within the digital environments of virtual worlds and video games. Certain questions or concerns appear and reappear throughout these videos, such as the role of violence, the question of agency and complicity, the politics of digital identity, and the nature of virtual existence.
Despite these similarities, however, the agendas of the artists represented here are far from uniform. While some works are explicitly critical and self-reflexive, others are more ambivalent or even celebratory in their engagement with these alternate realities. Throughout this programme, we consider the ways in which the artist might be thought of as a parasite within these systems, feeding off them, even to destructive ends. These works embody modes of critical and artistic engagement with digital media that remain revelatory and urgent.
Curated by Julian Ross & Arron Santry.