Tatong Recheta Torres: A Second Life
A Second Life by Clarissa Chikiamco
The name of the artist Tatong Recheta Torres is frequently associated with painting, which is the medium the majority of his works have been for his past solo and group exhibitions. But from 2010, Torres has surprised his colleagues and collectors by his interest in technology and producing artworks in the online virtual world, Second Life. This includes his ongoing exhibition there called MAKE_MY_DAY_!, which opened in June 2010, initially focusing on his being a beginner in this new environment. It featured snapshots of new avatars and virtual assemblages he made out of free things he collected in this virtual world, which was installed in Yarn Factory Art Projects, the virtual building that he had built himself. He has currently taken a number of these works down (still viewable in a truck parked outside the virtual building) as he continues to experiment with the space. Through my own Second Life avatar, I attended a performance there as part of a closing event for the third Fete dela WSK.
I also conducted two interviews with Torres in July and December last year on the new direction of his artistic practice. He points out to me that while it seems very disparate, there are still some connections to his past work. Below are excerpts from the interview.
Clarissa Chikiamco: How do you differentiate this practice in the online virtual world from your past artistic practice in the “real” world? Do you see a relation between the two? Do you think what happens in Second Life is also “real”?
Tatong Rechata Torres: Producing an art work or a project in 3D virtual environment is the same as doing it in real life if we talk about time effort and dedication. Like in real life, I have to know and understand the materials before I can work on a certain project. I think the only difference in this kind of environment (user-created virtual world) is the ability to produce something that is not possible in real life. Like what I did in my previous installation in Second Life, it’s like a one-man-band: I made the exhibition space from scratch, the advertisement and promotion of the show, the curation and the exhibition itself. It’s like I’m the architect, the builder or construction worker, the gallery owner, the manager, the stuff, the curator and the artist all in one in producing my own solo show.
A 3D virtual environment like Second Life is made out of pixels including the avatars, but behind those avatars are real people with real feelings and real emotions. Everything you do “in-world” or inside Second Life is a massive collaboration and interaction with real people around the globe in real time. And that’s what makes it “real”, in my humble opinion.
CC: Asides from production, do you see certain themes crossing over? How have people reacted to this you shifting your artistic practice?
TRT: It is not always easy exploring a new field or medium especially when you’ve already established one and people are comfortable with what you are doing. Same thing with the internet—most of the people from the net are always unhappy whenever there are changes or upgrades, like for example when a social networking site changes their user interface. It also happens a lot in Second Life every time there is a viewer update, but in the end people will get used to it and start to like the upgrade. Before I entered the art scene, I was in my 4th year of Architecture in college and it was not really easy explaining and convincing my colleagues and family about my decision to enter art. It’s happening again and I’m so used to it and kind of numb to this situation. I am always “bahala na boy.” I don’t think of what will happen. I just go forward and do whatever I want to do to explore my curiosities and interests.
I’ve been painting ever since I can remember so it’s in my system but it doesn’t mean that I am only doing this medium for the rest of my life. I just realized that what I’m doing right now is upgrading, not actually shifting my artistic practice. This is because the disciplines of the mediums I’ve learned will always be in my practice, like for example architecture. Most of my imagery have architectural influences whether in painting or digital art.
I am very thankful to the art market and the collectors who believed in my art. I mean not everyone has been given a chance to do what they want to do and make money out of it. They are the ones who helped me to continue my practice. But I don’t want to bore them and, of course, the viewing public by producing the same thing. It’s like most of us don’t want to see a movie with the same plot.
CC: What are the unique challenges presented to you as an artist working in Second Life or in a simulated environment? Not only technically but conceptually as well.
TRT: I have zero knowledge in three dimensional applications or software and even simple computer programming. After few weeks of exploring Second Life, I learned that almost everything in there was created by a resident or a user like myself. For you to be able to make one, you have to be familiar with some 3D applications and basic programming. So I attended some building and programming classes inside Second Life. There are lots of schools or places which give free tutorials and lessons/workshops about basic building and programming. You do the lessons and actual building application with the teacher and the other students in real time, using chat or voice.
After months and months of attending classes, I was able to make simple builds but of course you can’t compare a newbie to an experienced builder. Since I was limited in 3D techniques at that time and still not a pro, I played with some freebie items. These are 3D objects and some are scripted that you can get for free inside Second Life. I disassembled and reassembled them to make a new form. It’s like a “found object assemblage” in real life which I’ve always wanted to do but I feel like I’ve been typecasted as a “painter” in my real life profession.
CC: What are the possibilities do you think working with an online virtual world offers and how are you planning to expand from this? Will you keep on using Second Life or are you planning to explore other similar or different environments?
TRT: Like what I’ve said, this platform is a massive collaboration and interaction with other people around the world. Second Life is like a huge sandbox that you can make anything that you can imagine. I see endless possibilities with this kind of environment. Second Life is just an addition to my medium. As a visual artist, I need to explore and learn other mediums and disciplines.
CC: Yes, you started with Second Life but you’ve told me before that your artistic interests go beyond the in-world game. Can you discuss your other interests in working with technology and your future exhibitions?
TRT: I can’t elaborate so much at the moment but right now, I’m working with new materials which are also very familiar to me in another context. I’m planning to do an art project which is rather expensive to produce and I also expect that I won’t be able to make any money out of it. I hope to do this show by the 2nd or 3rd quarter of 2012. Late 2012 is supposed to be the end of the world!
Visit the exhibition space Yarn Factory Art Projects in Second Life’s Tochigi, Japan (138, 235, 23).
This interview was first published in Philippine Star on 7 May 2012.
About Tatong Recheta Torres
Tatong Recheta Torres (b. 1979, Valenzuela, Metro Manila, Philippines) studied Architecture at Mapua Institute of Technology before deciding to pursue a career in the visual arts. Since 1996, he has done numerous solo exhibitions locally and major group shows abroad. He was shortlisted in the recent Ateneo Art Awards for his work in the virtual world Second life.
About the author
Clarissa "Lisa" Chikiamco is an art writer and independent curator based in Manila, Philippines. She completed her master's degree in Art Curatorship at the University of Melbourne as an Australian Endeavour Scholarship Awardee. She participated in the Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces’ Emerging Writers Program in Melbourne in 2008 and in the Gwangju Biennale International Curator Course in Korea, 2010. She is curating End Frame Video Art Project 3: Present, a series of solo exhibitions of Philippine contemporary artists presenting new video work from 2011-2012. http://writelisawrite.blogspot.com/