Talking with Darlene Charneco about Second Life

Libby and I encountered art by Darlene Charneco when we went to Pentimenti Gallery a few weeks back. See our first Look! video for more. After the video went up, I got contacted by Darlene via my flickr site where she has an active presence, posting lots of pictures. As I explored the links on her flickr and website I noticed she was a Second Lifer and was active in that synthetic world, something I found completely consistent with the art she makes (utopian, pretty, kind of child-like). So I emailed her to ask if she’d answer some questions about why she participates in this online environment. Why would a visual person want to spend time there I wondered. Here’s Part 1 of our email chat.

Questions for Darlene Charneco

Roberta: First a backgrounder …Do you or did you ever play video games or computer games like Sim City or other things? I imagine not World of Warcraft which seems to me very male-dominated and anti-utopian. What I’m trying to get at is your level of comfort with virtual worlds online? I’ve never played these and I find the whole thing intriguing but incomprehensible at the same time. I do not have a level of comfort and I am thinking that’s because I’m not used to playing online.

Darlene Charneco
One of Darlene Charneco’s resin works on view at Pentimenti Gallery.

Darlene: Believe it or not, no, I was never really into playing video games at all. As you noticed, I also found them to be mostly anti-utopian, violent …and something about the knowledge of a closed set of possibilities made them uninteresting to me as a creative. I was a bit of a latecomer to computers as well…reluctant.

My interest was piqued with the beginnings of user-created content…when game realms were opened up to be ‘spaces’ in which the game was not directed…because then I could better imagine the various positive uses of this technology.

My comfort level is definitely not that of someone who grew up playing video games. I learn pretty slowly and usually just what it takes to get what I need done.

Similarly to most tools in my life though, I learned them in order to make something that required them. I learned welding in real life in order to make a sculpture that would not fall apart. It certainly wasn’t intuitive to me…but I reeeeeally wanted that sculpture to manifest. Likewise, I’m learning to move about in Second Life in order to help/participate in the construction of something I feel is very important for future generations. And it’s easier than welding.;)

avadarlene's seminar for ncconnect
Darlene’s SL alter-ego, AvaDarlene (pigtails, foreground), led a seminar inworld as they say. This image is from Darlene’s flickr site.

How old are you? Darlene: 35

Roberta: Do you have myspace, livejournal or other pages? those portals to communities online seem rooted in the real world in that they do not mimic the space of the real world but simply are like interactive bulletin boards…On the other hand, i think they facilitate entry to second life in that a lot of people have those spaces as well as Second Life spaces.

Darlene: Yes, definitely. My true interest is in the evolution of all online tools and the eventual convergence of their best and most useful attributes as the web develops. With this in mind, I have a myspace, a livejournal/blog, and a flickr which I update and interact on regularly. I am experimenting with wikis for collaboratively created content….and as a place to place ideas and project seeds for nurturing by myself and others over time.

I do feel that engaging in these other forums and communities does facilitate entry into Second Life. I often encourage friends to try either myspace or first to get a feel for online communities and to start sharing their content. I also see it in the grander scheme of things as content production and archiving….the content is uploaded in the blogs, the libraries, the websites, then this content may be integrated into a 3d virtual world in SecondLife…I’m very interested in the idea of the web as an evolving accessible collective memory and for that many people must be willing to share their experiences, thoughts and images.

Simondone Bestankas, a Second Life portrait I found on the website.

Roberta: BetterWorldIsland which you are a part of seems utopian.

Darlene: BetterWorldIsland began as an experimental projectspace for a group of us on….trying to envision how SecondLife could be used for social good. It is constantly evolving…and has changed owners and project leaders…right now it is home to several projects: Camp Darfur was created as part of an awareness campaign to present information and engage those in SL to take simple actions to help end the genocide in Darfur… The Peace and Justice Center, Center for Water Studies, Integral Island, Half an Apple Project, and Gardens of Hope. and other nonprofit organizations are setting up information and meetingspace arenas on it. ManorMeta is the virtual mirrorspace for AMO studio and hosts BetterWorld Machinima Workshops and Tutorials.

Roberta: What I’ve seen of the graphics in general are quite lacking in visual beauty so I wonder what you think? Do you think that as Second Life develops better graphics capabilities the possibility for
better visuals will make more people want to go there? (Do you think the art is there just as a kind of marketing tool to bring people together in community–ie is the art in second life really not about art but a social networking tool?)

Darlene: First I’d love to share with you this video, because I think the introduction/presentation is MUCH better than I can say in a few words:

I’d agree definitely that the graphic capabilities are still not up to what they must be to truly convey the details of what we experience of art in person! In the ideal, art is something experienced firsthand for the nuances which elude any static shot. However, I happily visit contemporary art fairs to see art that is only being shown in galleries in other countries…the format and context is a bit overwhelming, jumbled and chaotic, but… I’ll take it.;) I’ll browse art magazines and art books to intake mere images of art that is nowhere near me geographically. The photos are an approximation but I still get a lot out of it…and sometimes it alerts me to art that I CAN see in my area. The web is about the distribution and communication of ideas and images…. Picture an art magazine becoming a 3d space where you can walk around with friends and take in and comment on the same article and pictures at the same time. It may not be something you’ll do every day but it’s another way of sharing experiences and the intake of information together.

second life landscape
Second Life landscape

Roberta: Also, is art in second life interesting to people in the real world because it’s so new and different? the curiosity factor?

Darlene: I think SecondLife is akin to visiting another country…everything is novel and strange and you make plans to explore what interests you. There is a grey line to me about what is Art within SecondLife since the entire realm is a fabricated construct, i.e. the creative expression of various users. My favorite visits are all about flying around and looking at everything and anything. Visitors do many of the same things they would do in real life….or when exploring the web. If you’re an art lover you’ll most likely be curious about what is in the galleries and museums and you’ll make a point to check them out.

[Read Part 2 of this interview.]