Given Time simultaneously activates and performs two permanently logged-in Second Life avatars, each forever and only seen by and through the other. They hover in mid-air, almost completely still, gazing into one another’s interface. Viewers encounter this networked partnership as a diptych of large-scale and facing video projections in a real world gallery, both exhibiting a live view of one avatar, as perceived by the other. To create a visceral aesthetic, these custom-designed and life-sized “bodies” are hand-drawn in subtly animated charcoal, graphite and pastel. The audience is invited to physically walk between them; they’re able to hear and see them breathing, witness their hair blowing in the wind, pick up faint sounds such as rushing water or birds crying out from the surrounding simulated environment. Here, an intimate exchange between dual, virtual bodies is transformed into a public meditation on human relationships, bodily mortality, and time’s inevitable flow.
Second Life (SL) is a 3D social network accessed exclusively by logging in as a representational character. Real life “residents” experience SL through a computer game-like first-person interface, and are seen by others as human-like forms. Every avatar in SL’s virtual buildings and streets has a corresponding person somewhere in the physical world. There is no entry to SL without a user, computer, and avatar; we perceive, act, activate and are activated through our virtual interactions with its residents. In Given Time, however, there are no users, and the SL “in-world” location is not made available. These avatars are realized only through each other and their publicly shared installation and engagement, incarnated through a feedback loop across virtual and actual space.
Although Given Time invests in and points to relationships, embodiment and time, it renders them all, literally, im-material. While SL suggests people behind every avatar, these performers are precisely no one and no-body; the time and space in which they unfold do not actually exist, except as part of a networked computer software held loosely together by intangible encounters. While the computers and projections sit side by side in the real world, and the avatars face one another in SL’s imagined world, they are only “there” as electrical pulses sent through, potentially, thousands of miles of telecommunications wires that circle the globe. It is a meeting between ever-present entities that are also not-there until we give them our eyes and our flesh. We, the viewers, act as their real-world and material avatars, giving life to the space between them.
Given Time’s minimal aesthetic and avatar-driven partnership is not dissimilar to Felix Gonzales-Torres’ slowly dying battery operated clocks in Untitled (Perfect Lovers). But this piece does not ask us to reflect on private grief or public yearning, on loss, death or desire. Instead, it asks, “When we have already given everything – our desires, bodies, and time – what, then, is left to give?” It is a tension, hovering in the air, tracing the invisible and untouchable connection that is no-thing and every-thing. All it can give is the reciprocity between its actors.
Given Time premiered as part of Arrested Time, a solo exhibition at Greylock Arts in Adams, Massachusetts, curated by Jo-Anne Green, from February 27th – April 3rd, 2010. Green’s curatorial statement, which follows, was distributed as a printed booklet at the opening (PDF version).