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Although artist Julius Redillas is based in Manila, Philippines, both his day job and much of his art practice are located online. Redillas works for a real estate company in Second Life, which grants him an even greater god-like perspective than the virtual world usually allows. In his art videos shot in Second Life, he acts as a silent observer, using the privileged access that his job gives him yet remaining a ghost. This is a powerful metaphor for Manila and its sea of call-center workers and content moderators — the city is filled with purposefully hidden people who are connected to the internet, but largely in the service of Western companies and customers.
At the beginning of July, Redillas began a six-month artist residency in Second Life. Orchestrated by the Linden Endowment for the Arts (Linden Lab is the company that created Second Life), Redillas is participating in the 11th round of the artist-in-residence program, which takes the form of Second Life land grants given to the participating artists. He is operating under one of his avatar names, Mahnong Guardian.
Redillas studied painting at Far Eastern University in Manila, and when he’s not working online, his practice takes the form of watercolor paintings. Even then, however, he continues to investigate the relationship between humans and networked technologies, by using the algorithms of Google and social media services to help determine the contents of his work.
Second Life experienced a meteoric rise in popularity in the 2000s, perhaps because of its seemingly boundless opportunities to construct everything from yourself to the space around you. Artists like Cao Fei, Starax Statosky, DC Spensley, and Eva and Franco Mattes pushed its possibilities as a medium. Second Life’s popularity has since dwindled, and spambots are endemic, but some artists, including Spensley and Skawennati, have recently worked there or continue to do so.
I first met Redillas during my own residency at an artist-run space in Manila, 98B COLLABoratory, of which he is a member. When I heard about his Second Life grant, I took the opportunity to speak with him over email and Facebook about his work.
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Ben Valentine: Tell me about your day (or, in your case, night) job. What do you do, and how did that lead you into using Second Life as a medium for your art?
Julius Redillas: I’m an estate manager and a landscape designer for a real estate company in Second Life. The company I work for owns hundreds of sims (simulated environments), and I’m pretty much responsible for making sure that the sims we own look realistic, are at their best performance, and are free from trolls.
Most of the works I make are video documentations and re-created snapshots of instances and events I get to see and experience in Second Life. One of the first videos I made is confetti exploding in air. In Second Life, we call it an “xploder,” a script that floods the server until it lags. I recorded it because I like how colorful and festive it is, yet you know its purpose is exactly the opposite.
Second Life has always been a place for makers and creatives. It is about building things. The fact that it has no rules allows Second Life users to do and be whatever they want. Working here every day for eight hours allowed (or forced?) me to witness what they do and make, whether through their avatar or their sim. As an artist, there is this need to do something about it, or at least document it.
BV: Can you talk about the relationship between your paintings and your new media work?
JR: My paintings and new media works are similar in the way that they attempt to record and re-create experience and existence. They are depictions.
Both practice revolves around the idea of identity (creating façade, portraying image, creating a role) and how it is influenced by hyperconnectivity and modern technology.
As a painter, I am trained in how to make the object I create last. Working online in Second Life, everything is virtual and temporary. The need to create a physical space and an object you can grasp is important. For me, it is a proof that it exists.
BV: Many of your paintings feature imagery taken from the internet. Can you explain the concept and process behind those?
JR: I once made a series of portraits based on Facebook suggested friends that I don’t know. There’s a vulnerability about it, because I’m sure they don’t know me either, and I’m making them a portrait. There’s also a sense of control. Another series was of images of meat and dead animals that I collected in Google. These images I made to look like anatomy book illustrations. Most of my paintings are copied and re-created images I see on the internet. Google Image Search and social media are a huge image bank. I like how it is accessible, random, and temporary, yet there is something intimate and personal about saving the image, painting it, and spending time adding details to it.
BV: I want to situate your work within Manila’s dichotomy as a hyperconnected yet also impoverished city. You live in the selfie capital of the world, but so many people there work in call centers and as content moderators for Western companies. These are near-robotic, not-yet-outsourced-to-algorithms jobs. Do you think that this is an appropriate way to position Manila, and if so, how does it inspire your work?
JR: More than Manila as the selfie capital of the world, we are a country with the slowest internet speed. I think connectivity was never the issue, but rather accessibility. We can connect, but it’s not enough.
I believe it is also the reason why there are few Filipinos in Second Life: the average internet bandwidth and speed is not enough to access it. It is the same reason why the company I work for only has customer relations/sales jobs in the Philippines. We can communicate very well, but we don’t have the skill set and technology to be in design and the tech industry.
In spite of that, these limitations create a very interesting and unique topography from the rest of the world, because this is something that only we in Manila/the Philippines get to see and experience. It forces us to a different perspective …
More than the technology part, it’s the human and social aspect of it that interests me. I can relate to a friend video-calling her relatives abroad rather than the glitch or bug it creates. More than the algorithm, I would likely do something about someone’s new profile photo.
BV: What are your plans for the Second Life residency?
JR: For the project, I will be collaborating with artist and filmmaker Richard Coronel to create a reimagined landmark in Manila using readymade objects found in Second Life. Once finished, installation will be set up as part of the 2016 London Biennale Manila Pollination. The exhibition will take place in old and abandoned buildings in Manila.
Coronel is also based here in Manila. We first collaborated in Second Life in 2013, when we did “Manilism,” an immersive art project that incorporated virtual reality, animation, performance, sound, and video. I invited him to do another project after finding out the theme for this year’s London Biennale Manila Pollination: exploration of “built, temporary, and imagined architecture for sharing culture and inter-connectedness,” which is basically the definition of Second Life.
For the installation, the plan is to create a surreal rendition of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, or EDSA, both a historically and economically important thoroughfare in the Philippines. We chose EDSA because it is a road that connects all parts of Metro Manila. The 14.8-mile stretch is also known as the main hub of the People Power Revolution. In a way, this reflects Second Life as a venue to connect with people worldwide. The installation can be viewed during the London Biennale Manila Pollination at the designated venue, where we will use available laptops/monitors through a pre-prepared avatar/account in Second Life provided by the artists. Anyone who wants to remotely view the installation online must create an account/avatar in Second Life. Those users can access the installation by teleporting to the sim.