Opening on November 15th 2020, Future Fossils is Teruumi Simoneaux’s debut solo exhibition.
I first got in contact with her work through Flickr, in which snapshots inspired by the work of Seoul-based Korean photographer Rala Choi caught my eye, along with the richness of perspectives over subjects other than her own avatar. Our first in-world contact was at the beginning of August, in which we talked and I proposed to her to occupy one of the pavilions with an environment.
Approaching personal traumatic matters and using only readymade objects, she recreated her childhood home in Second Life, where due to the outbreak of Covid-19 she was forced to move back.
Due to a mutual interest in introducing more art discussions and also to be able to share her process and talk further about her work and experience on the grid, Teruumi agreed on being interviewed by yours truly. The conversation can be read down below.
Marina Münter (MM): OK, it seems logical to start by introducing yourself in the virtual world. Who is Teruumi Simoneaux, the avatar and artist behind Future Fossils?
Teruumi Simoneaux (TS): It’s a complicated question to answer. Teruumi started off as a character, but roleplay never really interested me. I stuck with her for so long that it became impossible to separate us, even though I no longer run in those circles. Now I view her as a facilitator for me to enter into a virtual space. She’s me, but in many ways I’m also different from her. A person has many sides and, to me, Teruumi is a side, but not the full person. I think since we started working together, you were able to see more sides to me and I was quite candid when sharing about my life with you. I don’t do that with every person I run into in SL. It’s not something I do intentionally, in my real life I’m also a very private person.
MM: Do you remember what made you enter Second Life? Was there a specific aspect of the grid that caught your attention when you joined it 12 years ago?
TS: From a very young age I had a fascination with the virtual space, I’m not even sure why. I didn’t enjoy gaming, because I felt like I’m being too controlled. I always wanted to explore the environments and to watch people interact, but I didn’t like that I had to become a vessel for a character’s story. Maybe that’s why I don’t care for roleplay? Anyway, one day I was flicking through my younger brother’s gaming magazine and an article about SL caught my eye. It was around 2007-2008 and the article mentioned all these brands moving their stores to SL, it spoke about the freedom the users had to create and do what they want. What truly drew me in was the fact that it was a user created world. It took me a couple of years after that to finally sign up and give it a go.
MM: Future Fossils is your first exhibition in-world. Originally you intended to have this installation happening in RL and during our first conversations you mentioned how even during this first process you felt like the proposal would be more suitable for a virtual environment, which is curious because all the elements, the scale of the objects and so on are present in the real world.
TS: I came up with Future Fossils during a residency I did in Berlin, at University of Arts Berlin (UdKB). The residency was centered around environmentalism, but I felt like the people in charge were very tone-deaf in their statements. The constant display of inability to recognize one’s privilege made me feel very upset, so I wanted to make a piece that would be provocative. Initially I wanted Future Fossils to be a display of excess, an installation that hoards and is wasteful. Ultimately I didn’t have the time or resources to execute it in a way that would satisfy me, so I scrapped it. When I work on the concept for a specific show, I always consider more than one option, but I don’t throw anything away. I have stacks of notebooks and scraps of paper where I’ve randomly written down ideas, when there’s a need, I revisit them. I think Future Fossils suits a virtual space much better solely because of how much of an investment it would be to create something like this in the real world. IRL I envisioned a single room, in SL I was able to have an entire house, I could control the surrounding environment. There’s an element of surrealism to this piece that could not be achieved if I were to recreate it IRL. I think the biggest mistake that artists make when crossing over into the virtual space, and what made art in SL so unappealing to me, is the inability to recognize that virtual and real spaces call for different things. I’ve seen galleries IRL attempt to make a quick crossover after Covid started and the way they showcase the works is boring. To walk into a scan of a RL room is not engaging. Viewers want to be able to experience the work. And so I believe that works shown in a virtual space have to be made for that space. You and I wandered through my house multiple times and I learned about so many fine details that need to be considered, like how to place objects in a way that wouldn’t require the viewer to stop and adjust their camera and so on and so forth. Even if it’s a show of 2D works, it still has to be arranged without clinging onto the knowledge of how things are done/would be done IRL. Yes, my piece is rooted in realism – everything is on a realistic scale and the objects displayed are everyday things we see IRL, but they’re shown in a way that can only be achieved in the virtual world. When I finished writing out the outline for Future Fossils it became clear to me that I’ll either be able to create it when I’m rich or that it would have to be done in a virtual space. I didn’t see myself doing either, so my conclusion was that now is not the time for it. There was a second opportunity at the beginning of 2020 to show it in a virtual show by a RL gallery, but I didn’t feel like they understood how to make a virtual art show engaging to the viewer and declined participating.
MM: Maybe we could say that for a virtual world, especially something thought for an offline environment, requires adaptation and flexibility, especially working with readymade items and conceptual art. We had our first talk in August, in which I was gratefully surprised in knowing you thought of reaching out to the GBTH but actually to be part of the behind the scenes aspect of it, and here you are, brand new member of the GBTH team and debuting artist, occupying a pavilion, a space dedicated for more intricate proposals. You also had a previous interest in the art world in Second Life, visiting galleries and exhibitions and bringing up interesting commentaries about formats that are applied here and in a sort of constructive comparison to the art world you experienced offline. How is the process of developing an exhibition in-world affecting your view of the grid?
TS: As I mentioned in our initial conversations, my interest in the art space in SL came and went. I would become curious on a whim and after not finding what I’m looking for, I would move on to other things. I have a lot of experience working behind the scenes IRL. I feel like in order to be a successful artist, you need to understand the entire process behind putting together a show. The times I spent assisting other artists in their processes gave me the kind of insight and understanding that I couldn’t get anywhere else. I felt like the GBTH has a lot of potential and while I didn’t see myself doing anything myself as an artist, I wanted to give support to other participants of the art scene here in SL. I didn’t expect that, but I went through the exact same steps I go through when creating offline. It shifted my perspective of SL. I’m a very distant person and when I’d close the SL window, I would forget about it completely. All the emotional turmoil and drama people usually deal with when they’re here never reached me, but going through a creative process here, a process that I feel very comfortable with, made everything seem closer to me. Even after going offline for the day, I continued thinking about my things here.
MM: It has been a very rewarding experience working with you. The core of the GBTH is all about the process of making an exhibition in a virtual world coming through and all the steps required in order to accomplish them, and during the assembly we were able to exchange a lot of information and have a more direct dialogue in the process. Future Fossils, amongst other things, is the first environment that required an adaptation of the format we have in the pavilions, in which we brought the house down instead of keeping it in a platform up in the sky, removing the necessity of contextualizing the building with other elements that might distract and allowing the focus to be on your concept. How did you divide the steps of the process for the assembling until conclusion? Did you have to compromise a lot of your original idea?
TS: My process for Future Fossils was the same kind of process I go through when working IRL. After our initial conversation, the piece was only a thought in my head. I kept thinking about it, envisioning myself working on it, trying to imagine how it would look at the end. This usually takes me a few weeks. I need the vision to ruminate to a point where I want to see it materialized. After I picked the house to work on, I spent a lot of time simply being in the empty space. During this time I want to be left alone and input from others only muddles my mind. When I finally felt ready to begin assembling everything, I subconsciously gravitated towards objects that I saw a lot in my own homes. I guess the aesthetics that always surrounded me permeated my mind to a point where it’s the most visually pleasing sight to me. I think it also overlapped with the fact that, at the time of the assemblage, SL became a venting space for me. And as I put the house together I experienced a lot of emotional moments, I cried a lot. I felt odd. To me, SL always was about putting distance between myself and my mind, but during the process of creating Future Fossils everything merged into one. When we moved the house down I was ready to allow more people into the space. At that point I needed feedback from others, especially from people who encountered the space for the first time, so I even kept the pavilion entirely open to visitors. Sort of an open studio kind of thing. There were sim visitors who wandered by, it was fun to see their reactions and get feedback from people who knew nothing of me or the piece and saw it for the first time. I’m really grateful for how you managed to navigate between my need of being left alone and the need of receiving support, I never felt overwhelmed by your presence. And I think because of how you and other GBTH collaborators were able to facilitate me, I didn’t have to compromise my vision at all. On the contrary, it even grew bigger than I ever imagined it to be. I remember how during our first meetings you asked if I feel prepared to fill up a platform and I replied that I just need to do what the platform calls for. We laughed about Magic Mike and moved on, but that was what I meant. The work unfolds on it’s own, I just need to be the hands that put it together. Every day I would log in and add more things, that was the most draining time. Constant reviewing again and again until the house felt complete. And then I was done, now I’m ready to let others experience it for themselves.
MM: Yep, I remember when you mentioned wanting to open the access to the pavilion during the set up. This notion that we don’t have full control over people’s perspective on the work – we can only prepare the space to try and guide them through the best way possible – is something I still find challenging to explain, when needed, without frustrating the artists, and it is quite an unusual approach to prepare for this “birth” before the work is completed. And that’s the thing: in order to have a final piece that feels authentic and which both artist and curator are proud of the final result, we have to separate ourselves from this notion that SL and RL are so distinct, at least on the amount of work invested on something done in the grid, aside from good communication between all parts involved. Do you have any suggestions for someone that is reading this interview and wishes to exhibit at the GBTH as well?
TS: I guess first and foremost I would suggest to take a step back and evaluate, as objectively as possible, where they stand in terms of SL and art-making, creating, you name it. For a lot of people SL is solely for fun, for play. That is fine, however I think a lot of problems come up during the process of putting together an exhibit here, in SL, because the parties involved weren’t expecting how much of an investment it is. To put together a good show takes time, an ability to communicate, a willingness to meet the people helping you halfway. If you aren’t willing to help others help you, then there’s no need to even begin doing anything. I could talk about just taking a deep breath and jumping into the fray, and that’s a part of it too, but you have to be prepared to understand that taking that leap of faith and starting to do something is the easiest part of the entire process. So my suggestion is to be honest with their own self, to be honest with those around them and to have an open mind because that will be the base of a good collaboration between the artist and the curator. It’s not about skill or RL experience, these things can be learned and achieved through other means, it’s more about being dedicated to the work you’re about to start on and that can be done by anyone, regardless of their background.