045. Jim Woodall
 

Phillip Reeves & Jim Woodall. Installation view of ‘Abandoned Land: Sharp Continent’ at VITRINE Bermondsey Square. Photograph by Naa Teki Lebar.

 

Last month, we published an interview with Phillip Reeves, one-half of the two-man collaboration behind ‘Abandoned Land: Sharp Continent’, curated by Vlada Maria Tcharyeva at VITRINE Bermondsey Square. 

Today, Traction catches up with artist Jim Woodall to get the other side of the story.

 

How did your collaboration with Phillip Reeves come about?

I’ve known Phil for a long time and although our practices are quite different, he mentioned an interest in Constant Nieuwenhuys’s New Babylon and an idea for a collaborative body of work based on his concepts. I had studied his theories a few years ago so it made sense for us to work together.

Tell us about your work in Second Life. You have used this virtual system as a way to interpret Constant Nieuwenhuys’ utopian vision. How would you say technology has altered the possibility of a utopian existence?

The use of Second Life as an interpretive tool is more about the failure of Constant’s vision and the problems that exist within any Utopian model. We wanted to find objects that were half-built, places that were off-limits and try to directly apply Constant’s theories to Second Life. Second Life feels pretty barren now, but its makers imagined that most of our online existence would be mediated through it. Financial transactions, meetings, socialising, dating, sex, politics… a bit like New Babylon. Both models imagined a core, a centralised ‘base’ where modern life would filter… which you could now call the internet.

 
 

Phillip Reeves & Jim Woodall. Installation view of 'Abandoned Land: Sharp Continent’ at VITRINE Bermondsey Square. Photograph by Naa Teki Lebar. 

We wanted to find objects that were half-built, places that were off-limits and try to directly apply Constant’s theories to Second Life.

New Babylon was an imagined physical representation of the internet before it was thought of, Second Life is a clunky hybrid – a virtual representation of a physical space acting like a virtual ‘reality’. Both models failed to anticipate human behavior such as violence, boredom, bullying, abuse and most oddly; destruction. We went for a walk in Second Life with the aim to find evidence of this behavior. We went to a whole continent called Sharp Continent which is prone to cyber squatters. There’s been increased military action, people playing war games, and something called Griefing… a bit like internet trolling. People appear and just destroy everything, crashing peoples homes and killing avatars…

The internet, however, with its relative decentralization (at the moment at least) has created a new virtual space within which many of these utopian visions have become possible. The virtual world plays a greater role in our physical lives, whose forms and methods have started to predict how we imagine and organize our physical urban space. This suggests a radical shift in architectural and urban theory, where utopian visions once thought impossible become a real part of our everyday experience.

 
 

Building the Vitrine in Second Life. 

New Babylon was an imagined physical representation of the internet before it was thought of, Second Life is a clunky hybrid – a virtual representation of a physical space acting like a virtual ‘reality’.

The use of the word Utopia originates in a book written in 1516 by Sir Thomas More, which describes a fictional island possessing a perfect society. The word can be traced back to the Greek ‘ou’ meaning ‘not’ or ‘eu’ meaning good and ‘topos’ meaning ‘place’ and whether intended or not, this disjuncture between the perfection and futility of the ‘non-place’ or the ‘good-place’ permeates all utopian visions undertaken since.

You explored this virtual landscape via the Situationist 'dérive’ - defined as an unplanned tour through an urban landscape dictated by instinctive impressions of the experienced environment. This is a very personal and subjective method of exploring. How were you able to go about this collaboratively?

With difficulty, I’d say… Phil and I have quite different ways of working or being. I was a reluctant, obstructive, contradictive bedfellow to Phil’s free-flowing, can-do optimism. But we have similar aesthetic interests and a shared background so things kind of worked themselves through. For instance, we both instinctively were drawn to particular objects or places, like the half-made coca cola bottle and the land we picked to build the replica Vitrine in Second Life. And in our real-life dérive, we both were drawn to playgrounds we passed and a brass band playing in Stratford square. I guess it became a kind of aggregation of our impressions which fits the proposed methods defined by Debord and Constant on undertaking a dérive.

Phillip Reeves & Jim Woodall. Installation view of 'Abandoned Land: Sharp Continent’ at VITRINE Bermondsey Square. Photograph by Naa Teki Lebar.

Within Second Life, the user can seek to be a new person, constantly reinventing themselves, or, indeed, a nobody, hiding behind a veil of anonymity. In a framework such as this, how separate are the ideas of self-realisation and self-denial?

I thought I’d get a question about bubbles and baths now… but I get a question about awareness and truth. It’s an interesting question though and one that I thought about, but with some cynicism, when we met people/avatars during our journey in Second Life. An old argument about Second Life is the notion that users can be mentally addicted to the game. Second Life is escapism, and that might affect someone with pre-existing addictive tendencies. We met a ‘girl’ in Second Life who said she felt free to be who she wanted to be in Second Life – she felt totally fulfilled. Her avatar was a sexy leopard-like creature and she’d spent a lot of time and money on perfecting her appearance and style. She guided us around second life and showed us her ‘home’ and helped us build the Vitrine but I later discovered she had created a second, secret home, 1500KM above ‘normal’ second life where she had built a replica of her ‘real’ house and put posters on her walls of pornography. She had a sofa she could lay on and watch porn streams on a replica flat screen in her replica living room. It made me think that even in her supposed self-realised self, she (or he?) had perhaps recreated her unrealised self … or that self-denial is on a parallel with self-realisation. It reminded me of a text by Alain De Botton;

“…when we look at pictures of places we want to go to see (and imagine how happy we would be if only we were there), we are prone to forget one crucial thing: that we will have to take ourselves along with us…with all the problems this entails”

Are there new projects are on the horizon for you?

I am currently working on plans for two performance-based works. Both involve duration and journeys…

 

'Abandoned Land: Sharp Continent’ ran at VITRINE Bermondsey Square, London SE1 3UN until 29 June. For details, visit http://www.vitrinegallery.co.uk/exhibitions/abandoned-land-sharp-continent.

Information on Jim Woodall’s practice can be found at http://www.jimwoodall.co.uk. Visit http://www.vladanow.com for past and upcoming projects from Vlada Maria Tcharyeva.