02 June 2013

Split Screen Closes (definitely for now, possibly forever)

The last installation at Split Screen, Scottius Polke's The Scribbled Cliffs

After hosting 30 installations across almost two and a half years, I am closing the Split Screen Installation Space. I don't know if this is a permanent closure; I'm keeping half of the land, and after maybe six months I'll decide whether to re-open, close permanently, or continue in a holding pattern. I've installed a number of small works by a few of the artists who have built at Split Screen, creating a sort of sculpture garden or installation park, which everyone is welcome to visit.

The decision was very difficult, but it was neither sudden nor recent: I came to it several months ago. Close friends heard me mulling it over for much longer. Once I made the decision, I kept my promises to the artists who I had already invited to Split Screen, but I scheduled no new ones.

There are three main reasons why I'm closing Split Screen. None of them are financial.

The #1 reason is that I'm exhausted. Curating even a place as small as Split Screen takes a lot more work than I ever imagined, and my one or two efforts to delegate work to someone else didn't bear fruit because I couldn't see any way to delegate the hard parts.

Second, my feelings about the curatorial work changed, which was partly the result of the amount of time involved, and partly the result a few unfortunate incidents (which I may discuss in a later post). I started Split Screen because I wanted there to be more opportunities for artists to create the kind of works that interest me most. And it was a great pleasure to do so -- in fact I was prouder of Split Screen than almost anything I've done in RL. But as time went on, it became less of a joy, and more of a job. I don't want my contributions to the SL art scene to feel like a chore.

Finally, I'd like to blog more. It's been hard for me to blog about SL art partly because with Split Screen going, I have little time for it, and partly because sometimes it feels like a conflict of interest. (If I criticize the work of someone I might want to bring to Split Screen, will they agree to come? If I criticize their work afterwards, will that spoil a good relationship? What would happen if I think an artist's work at Split Screen isn't as good as I hoped -- can I criticize Split Screen shows?) Blogging more will depend on my available time, of course. But with any luck I'll be able to, hopefully with the analytical and critical eye (not just cheerleading) that I tried to bring to it originally.

As I said, none of my reasons are financial. The main thing is that I'm burned out.

In many ways, Split Screen was a "proof of concept" experiment: I wanted to find out if it's possible to have a high-quality installation space within the limits of what I could afford, merely half of a homestead sim. That's a relatively small financial commitment. The prim resources are also small, but I bet on the idea that artists can create major installations with only 900 prims. And indeed, despite the limitations, the quality of the installations artists created for Split Screen was high. OK, a couple of works disappointed me, but that's always a risk when commissioning new art. Of course, the limits of available money and land resources weren't the only potential barriers: so was being a completely unknown person.  Would people trust me to let them work as they pleased?  It turned out that even two years later, some of the artists I invited to Split Screen had never heard of it before, yet gladly agreed to build there anyway, and only one artist ever said that it (or at least I) wasn't good enough for her.

On the whole I think Split Screen succeeded artistically. From that perspective, I accomplished my main goal. I wasn't able to achieve two other goals. One was fairly minor: not many of the builds had the level of interactivity that I hoped for. The other was more frustrating: I wanted to give "emerging artists" opportunities to create large-scale works, but the only time that happened was when the artist got in touch with me, rather than vice versa. (Hint: the easiest way to get to build at Split Screen was to tell me you want to!) My lack of success in this area looks stranger and stranger these days, because LEA has often given full sims to people I'd never heard of. One reason might be that I simply haven't had time to see enough art. Another reason might be that people apply to LEA because it has high visibility, and never think of Split Screen or perhaps don't know about it. Compared to LEA, everything looks little-league (maybe this explains the artist I mentioned who sneered at me). There was also a lesser goal -- I wanted to schedule artists that would make an interesting pair, whose work would rub against each other in intriguing ways. Unfortunately, cancellations and scheduling problems skewered almost all of my attempts in this regard.

Interestingly, one incidental aspect of Split Screen -- the fact that it was located on a residential sim -- became increasingly important to me. Nearly all art in Second Life is safely enclosed, either within a gallery or museum, or on a sim to itself. A few places show art outdoors for essentially decorative purposes. Not many areas mix art and residence, and in Split Screen's case, because the installations were large, the mixing was "in your face" -- certainly for the residents, and for the artists too if they paid attention. For that reason I started describing Split Screen as "art unboxed."

I have a long list of people to thank, if this really is the end of Split Screen. First, the artists (in alphabetical order, except when working as a team): Alizarin Goldflake, Artistide Despres, Betty Tureaud, Blue Tsuki, Bryn Oh, Cherry Manga, Douglas Story & Desdemona Enfield, Eliza Weirwight, Eupalinos Ugajin, Giovanna Cerise, Jo Ellsmere & Pyewacket Kazyanenko, Kolor Fall (Patrick Faith), Maya Paris, Miso Susanowa, Misprint Thursday, Oberon Onmura, oona Eiren, Pinkpink Sorbet, Pixels Sideways, Rose Borchovski, Selavy Oh, Scottius Polke, shellina Winkler, Simotron Aquila, soror Nishi, Trill Zapatero, and Yooma Mayo. Three dear friends helped keep my insanity going: Emma Portilo had the dubious honor of hearing most of my muttering, Kara Trapdoor helped fund Split Screen as it got off the ground and always promoted it in her blog, and Isabelle Mavendorf was the DJ for nearly all of the parties (and an exceptional one too: hire her!). Various other bloggers and magazine writers helped get the word out about installations, and a few people made machinimas there. And I thank all the people who enjoyed coming to Split Screen. I heard many kind words from them.

But my deepest thanks go to someone probably none of you have heard of: Syzygy Merlin. She owns Beleza, the homestead sim where Split Screen is located. Without her support and the support of her partner DFox Spitteler, the Split Screen Installation Space literally would not exist. Not every sim owner would be willing to let half of a residential sim become an art space where a bunch of crazy people created large works (sometimes visible from over a sim away), which sometimes blocked other residents' views and occasionally led to complaints and I suspect a couple of departures. Syzygy has been in many ways Split Screen's greatest supporter. If you ever want a little space to work or a cottage to live in, please rent from her. Nobody in Second Life deserves it more.


Have you really thought this through? Don't make hasty decisions!
I have. I didn't.
Are you leaving SL?
No. In fact if I blog about SL art, you might wish I did! :-P
Is this permanent? Will Split Screen ever come back?
I have no idea. Maybe yes, maybe no. I'm taking a break, but I'm keeping half of the land so I can delay that decision. If I do re-open Split Screen, I may do it under a different model (perhaps only one artist at a time, or less frequent changes, or more repeats of previous artists, or who knows). Or I may continue the same approach. In the meantime, don't hold your breath.
What are you doing with the land you're keeping?
I've turned it into an installation park or sculpture garden for my personal enjoyment. I won't be advertising it, but it will be open to the public. The SLURL is http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Beleza/3/243/23
Aren't you worried that artists are going to be upset with you?
Not really. Some will be. Some won't be. Probably SaveMe Oh will be delighted: one less curator in the world to interfere with Art! <grins>
You're really doing this because artists are assholes, right?
Actually, most of the artists who've built at Split Screen were wonderful to work with, and it was truly an honor to host them. Some even became good friends. A couple of them lived up to the stereotype about artists, but the majority were great.
Was Split Screen hurt by the LEA sims?
I feared that it would be when the sims were opened. LEA provides enormous opportunities for artists, far beyond what Split Screen could offer. However, Split Screen's small size meant that as long as I could get two artists, I was on my way ... although getting artists to meet their agreements was sometimes a challenge. The LEA sims could have hurt Split Screen by drawing away potential visitors -- for casual art viewers the LEA sims clearly offer more bang for the buck -- but the visitor statistics don't bear that out either, because they have been reasonably steady. (Not that the numbers were ever what I hoped, but I suppose many curators feel that. Except maybe for the curators of the now-closed Art Screamer sim, where the visitor counts passed the tens of thousands.) My concern at this point is that LEA inadvertently led artists to feel no need to seek or talk with independent curators.
Are you thinking of curating a LEA sim?
No, I don't plan to apply for a LEA sim. I can't think of a circumstance in which I'd want to -- the basic issue, after all, is that I'm burned out from curating. I suppose anything is possible so I'm not going to say I never will, but for the time being I doubt it.
Nooooo I was hoping you'd invite me to build at Split Screen!
I hadn't yet invited all the artists I might ever want to bring. But are you saying you're so fantastic and famous that I should have come begging you to work at Split Screen, or that you're not very well known yet but nevertheless I should magically know you exist? The best way to get to build anywhere is to ask. Maybe a quarter of Split Screen's artists got there by asking. I really liked being asked, and to be honest, had more artists asked, I might have kept Split Screen going longer. In a few cases I had to tell someone no (maybe they weren't creating the sort of art I want, or they weren't quite ripe, or whatever). In one case, a year later the artist asked again and I said yes. But usually I said yes right away. That includes one person who was decidedly an emerging artist.
Can you loan me 10 lindens? I'll give it back to you tomorrow!
My, that certainly is a frequently asked question. Sure, just give me your credit card number as security. I'll give it back to you tomorrow.
OK, folks. Maybe Split Screen will return some day, maybe it won't. Meanwhile, everyone is welcome to start their own installation space. I've shown it can be done. And thanks, all of you.