VAA Interviews Juria Yoshikawa

At The Bluffs, the lake and the woods are filled with light and sound and motion. Bright multicolored cones move through the trees; over the lake brilliant orbs circulate, as well as a number of avatars wearing conical gowns in bright moving colors and flying through the air or burrowing into the ground under the control of unique animations, emitting shouts of glee. This is the participatory installation art of Juria Yoshikawa, aka new media artist Lance Shields, living in Tokyo (weblog at memespelunk.org). This reporter had the privilege of an exclusive interview with the artist a few days after the very successful opening.

VAA: So, talk about the art ‘n’ stuff.

JY: Well, this is my debut you know; it’s my first official showing in SL after doing art in sandboxes for the past 2-3 months.

VAA: How long have you been in SL?

JY: I really just started; since march. But it’s been a very full second life ;) I started with a male AV, Andres Watanabe, but very quickly changed to Juria. I found people were nicer to her, and more open.

VAA: What’s your background, art-wise?

JY: I have a background in RL installation art and conceptual art, and did a lot through my 20s. After getting out of art school – the San Francisco Art Institute – I moved to Osaka and started doing installations. They were very participatory, but were in small galleries with no exposure. Then I got into digital art and the web, and set aside installation art. Soon I moved back to the US to do commercial design, which i still do. So there has been a 6-7 year gap since I really made art, but now I’m coming full circle through SL: through digital spaces I can do installation again.

VAA: Did you come into SL in order to do art, or was that an unexpected benefit?

JY: Unexpected! I lead the social media work in my company in tokyo: social networking, blog, and SL eventually. It was research. But then I just loved making things right away, and couldn’t stop. Now I’m building a little artist persona here; it happened very organically.

JY: So, the work here. This piece has two parts: the forest and the lake, the Light Cones and the Light Orbs. The Orbs are tied to the lake, like forms of precipitation. While the Cones are in my mind abstracted “trees” and live in the wood. As I was developing both of them I began to imagine a story between the shapes and spaces…

VAA: What sort of story?

JY: The story of light that was forgotten about, misplaced. That in some way, these lights have minds of their own and have come back to their final resting place at the nature reserve. Also underneath all this 3D rendered trees, grass and water is really electricity which the lights were born from. In this “natural” setting the Lights clash and merge to remind us that is really just simulation.

JY: At the same time, I’m interested in the experience you can have with your av in the art: this is everything from visuals, to sounds to animation.

VAA: Is that a major difference between RL and SL art; how easy it is to make participatory?

JY: Super; it HAS to be participatory. I mean this is a 3D virtual space like so many games; even though people don’t see it as a “game”, I think we have similar expectations. “I want to experience art with my av that I can’t do in RL”. That’s the reason I created the Light Gowns for people to wear and fly around the lights in.

JY: The next thing I like to think about is the place itself. Take Alien Beach: I look at the strange texture of the beach, see alien like qualities and sense an isolation, and then grow a surreal alien contraption right out of the texture. The nature of the beach adds power to the piece. The place itself should dictate a lot, as the viewers should.

VAA: Did you do the animations in this piece yourself? They’re unique.

JY: Yes, I started making animations almost right away in SL, using avimator, on my Mac. I try to make them really awkward or otherworldly motions for people to experience with their AVs.

VAA: And are you still using avimator, or have you moved to something expensive?

JY: Avimator is actually easy to make broad strokes but hard to handle nuance; but free is cool.

JY: I want to experiment more with animations in the future, to give people more control; speech driven gestures are interesting to me, but arty ones.

VAA: Neat! I look forward to seeing what you do with that.

[At this point the artist is briefly interrupted by a storm of IMs.]

JY: Good grief, that’s another thing: the social aspect of sl for artists is just amazing. Now that I have a little friend network, I can do improv openings right after finishing a piece and get 10-20 sets of eyes to see the work in minutes. Imagine that in RL!

VAA: Indeed! Any advice for new artists, to get that kind of thing going?

JY: for new artists?

VAA: Well, new to SL anyway.

JY: Hmm. Try to use SL for what it is. Even if you’re a painter, try to find ways to use the tools of SL to make work that can only exist here. I think it’s cool to show RL work here, cuz it’s exposure for them, but personally I find SL media itself as the most dynamic and fun to play with. I guess having fun is the most important thing, and working hard just like in RL.

JY: Also don’t be afraid of the scripts! There are tons of reusable scripts that can make big effects. Like all I usually use is rotate and animSmooth; both are default scripts in our libraries. I mean, that’s all that it takes to get things moving.

VAA: And I assume there are scripts governing the motions of these cones that keep passing through us as well?

JY: Nope, just rotate and animSmooth; I fooled everyone.

VAA: But the cones are moving from place to place ‘n ‘all!

JY: There’s a transparent ball in between them, which they rotate around; that’s it! Then I space them out.

VAA: So they all move in circular patterns, but there are so many that it’s not obvious to the eye?

JY: Yes, an illusion; but meaning and experience can be an illusion and still very real. This is a “simulation”. So I’d say artists should do what they can to create interesting experiences even without the skill of scripting, but don’t make excuses unless you know Dale. ;)

VAA: I’ll be sure to print that part.

VAA: And the overall effect is of something more complex.

JY: So that’s my card trick; no one will ever trust me again!

VAA: :) So where should I send our readers to see your things? Here at The Bluffs, and Alien Beach, and Pleasurection?

JY: Yes, all three; that order works too.

VAA: And are there any other places or pieces that you’d recommend everybody see? (Obligatory SL question)

JY: Other art you mean?

VAA: Sure, or anything else relevant really. Whatever you feel like mentioning!

JY: Well I have been so busy that I really haven’t seen too much! I like a few places in particular. I like working at the Berkman Sandbox; it’s smaller but the people are open to the art. There are also guards there so they keep the griefers out, and they help out with scripting or building advice. A unique little culture.

VAA: So what’s next for you?

JY: Things are really cooking for me. I’m just opening a show called “I’m Not Here” at a new art space Gaping Lotus Experience May 16-30. I have two more shows starting in June. One is at the White Cube Gallery. The other is at the outdoor space of Sea Song Gallery at Caledon on the Sea. The theme in both shows is still undecided, which is what I like actually. Improv art is the best; make it like I do in the sandboxes.

VAA: Anything else you’d like to mention that I haven’t asked about?

JY: Hmm. I’m really interested in collaborating, especially with people of other disciplines like yourself. Musicians, coders, poets, business people, normal people, sex goddesses (I’m serious; you can print that!).

Respectfully submitted, with many thanks to Juria,
– Dale Innis

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