The book had arrived in the mail and I eagerly slid the sharp edge of a knife into one corner of the large brown envelope. It opened easily and I retrieved the paper bound book from inside and opened it immediately to flip through the pages. As I did, I realized that it had been a while since I'd spoken with Gracie Kendal (aka Kristine Shomaker) and I made a mental note to look for her the next chance I was in world. I then continued my exploration of "1000 Avatars". I was pleased with what I saw of the book and doubly so that I had been able to participate. I scanned the list of names and saw many friends and numerous acquaintances. I found the virtual me in the last third of the book and recalled the good natured banter the day she’d snapped the picture.
The next time I logged in, I did reach out to her and we set a date and time to meet. On that day after I'd just logged in Second Life, a message appeared from her and a teleport request soon followed. We exchanged pleasantries when I arrived at her Second Life home. She offered to give me a tour which I accepted and when complete, we found a spot outside to sit and chat.
"When I got the book and after I read what you'd written as you'd autographed it, I had a big smile on my face ... thank you for the kind words." I said.
"Awwww cool, I'm so glad." She said and then smiled.
"Then I searched for Nazz's backside." I commented.
She laughed and said, "I hope you found it."
"I opened the book again the other day and paged through it ... the diversity of avatars astounded me. One thousand av's and not two looked alike." I commented.
"Yeah ... which is interesting considering so many people shop at the same stores ... like Truth etc." She said in reply.
"It did seem that most of the male avi's wore jeans."
"True ... well what else would they wear? I guess just like real life." She said with a grin.
"Yup." I said and then added, “Then the women ... from the girl next door to ... the purely sultry and exotic looks."
"Yeah and everything in between." She said with a laugh.
"Have you gotten much feedback from the first 1000?" I asked her.
"Hmmm ... well I hear from people all the time how much they like the project. I have actually done about 1580 so far ... or do you mean the book?" She asked.
"On the book, yes." I replied.
"Yeah, everyone who has received it has really loved it, which is a huge relief. There was literally a lot of blood sweat and tears put into it." She said.
"I bet ... so you've started back up with taking pictures?" I asked.
"Not yet ... I just moved in real life a week ago, so settling in, but planning to start shooting again in a couple weeks."
"I saw in Facebook that you'd moved recently." I commented.
"Yeah ... to a place called "The Brewery" it’s an old beer brewery built into artists’ lofts."
"Speaking of Facebook, do you have a page there for the book or any of your projects?" I asked.
"Hmm, no not really. I have Wordpress blogs for the 1000 Avatars project and the My Life as an Avatar project but that is it. I didn't really want to make separate pages for those." She replied.
"When we last spoke, which was shortly before the book release, you'd mentioned two projects that were near to starting. The ‘Body Project’ was the first mentioned. Has that begun?" I asked.
"No, that one has kind of been put on the back burner for now." She replied.
"The other was called 'Open House'. Did you start that one up?” I asked.
"Now that one has actually changed and that is one of my next big projects actually. I was accepted for a solo show in a gallery here in LA. The title of the show I proposed is, 'And one man in his time plays many parts'. It is going to be a mixed reality installation with an opening night performance and using portraits from the 1000 avatars project. It is going to be a simultaneous opening in real life and second life ... the video feed will go both ways." She said.
"When is it scheduled?" I asked.
"The opening is May 5th." She replied and then added, "So luckily I have plenty of time to get it together."
"Open house was also going to be a mixed reality event ... where you were going to spend 2 days in a gallery ...sort of an open house in both virtual and non-virtual. Has the concept changed?" I asked.
"Well, for this show yes ... and maybe open house will come back eventually... but for now it is also on the back burner. I don't really want to give too much away for the new show ... I always do that ... I'm trying to keep it more hush hush until it gets closer." She replied.
“How have the book sales gone?” I asked
“They have been great. I have sold about 72 so far … in fact I have 7 left in my own inventory to sell.” She said and then added with a laugh, “I mean my real life inventory. “
“It's available on demand though, so if someone wishes to buy it they can right?”
“Oh yeah, it is published through Blurb so anyone can go and buy it anytime. Once I finish the next 1000 avi portraits I’ll be publishing volume 2 … and who knows how I’m feeling, maybe I’ll go for volume 3.” She replied.
“What has been the one thing about the project and book that has made the biggest impression in your mind?” I asked her.
“Oh gosh ... hmmmmmm … Although there are several things ... I'd have to say how genuine everyone seems. For a medium where anyone can be anything they want, roleplaying various roles whether female or male ... with everyone I have met, I still get the sense of each person. If that makes sense or maybe it’s just me being naive.” She said in reply.
“A sense of who he or she is in real life?”
“Well ... not 'who' they are necessarily ... but.” She said and paused.
“Their personality perhaps?” I asked.
“No, I guess just that each person has been themselves to me. Even though the project is about anonymity ... In a way I have seen each and every person for who they really are. You can hide all you want here, but your true spirit and yes personality are still there.” She replied.
“I've always had the idea that one's personality is harder to hide in second life then in real life. We all wear masks in real life ... be it at our jobs, or school or at home with spouses and or significant others … in here the anonymity seems to draw out the core of us sooner.” I commented.
“Oh yeah, absolutely … in a way it removes the mask. That is how we learn who we really are.” She said and then after a slight pause added, “I know I have. Or I'm still learning.”
“One of the other thing we'd talked about last time was you were going to do a talk on ‘My Lifeas an Avatar: The Gracie Kendal Project’ in real life, as you’ve done several times in Second Life. Have you and how has that been received?”
“In real life it hasn’t been received as well as in second life of course. The identity politics of the project are easily understood, but at first viewing, avatars are part of games, and gaming still carries negative stereotypes that people still carry or people still consider. I have had some of the portraits in a couple of shows and I do get asked about them occasionally ... but they are harder to understand. That is something I am working on, trying to make the portraits and my projects more accessible to a wider real life audience.”
“That’s a good idea, I've spoken to few artists and photographers around here about second life and I get the blankest of looks.” I said.
“Yeah exactly, I do think though, that it is getting there, just slowly.”
“Going back to the idea of a mixed reality event, what characteristics of a mixed reality will you strive for?” I asked.
“Well, duplicating the real and virtual space is one idea and just bringing people together from all over the world. I love that … to be able to have a room full of people communicate with people online from different parts of the world is so fulfilling … and makes the world seem less small. I believe in the Universal. That is what I love about second life.”
“It is one thing that is difficult to replicate outside a virtual world. Have you attended a mixed reality event on both sides?”
“Actually no, I haven't had the opportunity to yet, so will be interesting to do it for this project.” She replied.
“I know you'd used the micro finance site, Kickstarter recently in an attempt to fund your project ideas, how was that experience?” I asked.
“Well, it didn't go through. I didn’t devote enough time to it and should have planned it different. Plus, I realized I am just not a saleswoman ... I am not the type to go asking people for money. I hate that. So decided I just couldn’t do it. I had a really hard time with that.” She replied.
“Besides Facebook, what other social media do you use?”
“Well I started Google+ but not really on it much, and twitter, but also not on it much. I mostly use Facebook and Plurk, which is mostly second life people.”
“Do you have any second life exhibits planned?” I asked.
“Not at the moment. Not for myself anyway. I am working with California State University Long Beach... one of their classes, Art 110 is doing a project using second life. They are creating galleries in second life and curating the galleries with different real life and second life artists. Some of my friends and fellow artists are involved, Trill, Miso, Douglas, Desdemona and Alizarin. It is going to be a lot of fun working with fresh young minds and molding them.” She replied.
With that last question asked and answered we chatted briefly and she then took her leave to have dinner. I ported back to my booth on Book Island and flew up to park the virtual me on the roof. After I’d moved my notes onto a notecard and saved it, I reached for my copy of the book. While thumbing through it this time I came across a quote from Sabrinaa Nightfire. She had her picture taken for the book, but unfortunately had passed away before the book published. Her quote read;
Life is short.
Break the rules.
And never regret anything that made you smile.
Thank you Sabrinaa for the sound advice … and thank you Gracie for showing us who we are.