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Michael Green

Meet the artist living in a virtual world for a year

Portland-based multimedia artist Michael Green, known for his infamous balloon gif, is living and documenting a year spent in animated reality Second Life

Gone are the days spent torturing our Sim families in a stairless pool, or making $$$ with the Rosebud cheat. Despite the enduring allure of Facebook and the endorphins we get from Instagram likes, virtual reality isn’t a world many of us are as familiar with. But for Portland-based multimedia artist Michael Green, living online means spending every day in the virtual world of Second Life.

Green is a conceptual artist – we spoke to him last year about his balloon gif project, "Balloon Dog Deflated", which he tried to sell on eBay, billed as the most expensive gif in history. This project, #secondlife365, sees Green spending one year living on the animated computer programme, documenting his encounters and progress along the way via Twitter. He hopes to raise $497705 Lindens (Second Life currency) to build an art venue for his avatar to die in, exploring the growth of online culture and our perception of self in an Internet-obsessed world in the 364 days prior.

Why use Second Life as an artistic platform?     

Michael Green: I played it before and I thought it would be cool to do work in there. It’s an interesting concept. I’m very interested in virtual reality and I can see that this is where we’re going to be spending a lot of our time. It’s the leading virtual platform and I thought it would be interesting to spend a year in there and see what life is like.

It’s like real life – you have friends and common interests with them. The vibe is cool, as long as you’re outgoing and friendly. It was kind of difficult to make friends when I didn’t know the inner workings. I eventually stumbled upon the artist community and found myself connecting with those people. A lot of the other artists like to build and sculpt objects like houses. There are also critiques that I go to where we show each other’s work. It can be real life work too.

How alike are you to your avatar?

Michael Green: The avatar is modelled on my internet persona. When I started the project I had no idea how this character would develop and through time it has become a meta version of myself. We share the same outlook, goals and perspective. I do the same things on there –I work a lot on art, have my own studio, have the same goals as in real life. My goal is to create something that will be immortal and outlive me. My purpose in Second Life is to build an art venue that will exist for longer than I will.

He’s gone through a metamorphosis: he started off noobish, in generic clothing that aligned with his sense of self. Then as he became an artist, he wore more artistic clothing and evolved. It’s supposed to die, the whole idea of the IndieGoGo campaign is to fund a real life funeral at a venue in Portland called XChurch, which has virtual reality hang outs and work sessions. So the idea was for me to dress up as my Second Life avatar at the real life XChurch, and do some sort of Marina Abramović-style performance in Second Life. I want to sit in a coffin and work from there in real life, and have the avatar doing the same thing in a similar-looking venue on Second Life. Or maybe I’ll let him die drinking

What’s the plan for the next phase of the project? 

Michael Green: Today I’ll be focusing on the end of the Indie GoGo campaign and I’ll probably just be promoting it. The project has been really improvised so far. The first half has all been about exploring and finding my own identity, building a life. I’m experimenting with narration, so if I get funded, there’s a very specific plan for my avatar. If it’s not funded I’ll go another half. The next few months I’ll be working in blocks with concepts. I’ll have a specific theme that I want to work with and I’ll explore it. It was realism at first but not it will be a bit more surreal. 

It’s kind of boring for my avatar sometimes. I’ve been reclusive for the last few weeks. I was involved in an art community and spent a lot of time in this grid world, where each artist has their own little studio where they can build stuff. I did a lot of building and hung around with other artists. That was great, but that world unfortunately shut down, so I’m homeless now.

Has it been a personal learning experience?

Michael Green: I would get very frustrated with people and short tempered. And then a month or two later I would look back at the pictures from my project and realize what I was doing. I managed to deal with my anger problem and take care of it and I think I’m a lot more in control of it now. I think just every part of you comes out in that avatar, I think it’s an extension of yourself just like anything else like Facebook or Twitter, except it’s a little more intense because it’s in the third dimension. Whatever happens in this project my avatar is going to be defiant until the last day and I think that’s a good way to live.

What has the response been like?

Michael Green: I got a lot of negative criticism when I committed a trolling action and it really upset people. I would go to a dance club, where I’d attach a table to myself or do an obscene dance. I realize now if you do it in real life you’d be ruining the vibe. I did it in the early days when I was experimenting and didn’t have many friends and I was bored. I have spoken to other people in Second Life who did the exact same thing when they first started for the same reasons. I had people reach out to me because people saw I really didn’t know what I was doing. Without connecting with people it’s nothing. It’s magical when you connect with other avatars.

Do you think Second Life gets a bad rep?

Michael Green: There is a public misconception of what Second Life is – there are articles where it’s portrayed as a freaky place with weird sex orgies and stuff like that but it’s more than that. It’s very strong in there­ – it’s very alive, there’s a very strong community and I think the public misconception is that it’s dead. That’s why I’m also feeling ambitious about this project because I just want to show people something else.

You can donate to the project here