Beauty, Violence, and Metamorphosis in the Virtual Art of Feathers Boa
by Gary Zabel

Interactivity is one of the most powerful aesthetic resources available to the art of virtual worlds, and no artist has used that resource more powerfully than Feathers Boa. When she began her work in Second Life in 2007, the real-life counterpart of Feathers Boa was a 19 year old art student at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, named Mary Linley. In spite of her youth, she had come to Second Life with a respectable command of several computer graphics programs, most of them open source, including the Photoshop knock-off, Gimp, and the 3D imaging program, Blender. She did her work on a beat-up old laptop that could barely handle the software, constructing her images from photographs taken with a 35mm camera, and from 3D creations made in Blender and other imaging programs. Finally, she made her images interactively responsive to the movements of avatar-observers by linking their primitive graphical elements to simple programs written in Linden Scripting Language. On the whole, this repertoire of computer skills was impressive for a girl not yet out of her teens, but no more so than for many young people aspiring to become digital designers and artists. What distinguishes Feathers work from that of thousands of other digital artists is the human content and emotional depth of her images. I first met Feathers in 2008 in an art gallery in a simulation of Venice in Second Life by wandering into the opening of an exhibition of her work sponsored by a group of Italian artists. I had been in SL for only a couple of months, and, though I soon recognized its artistic potential, I had yet to meet there a virtual artist of any real stature. Entering the gallery changed that for me, with an experience that may have been common in the first decades of the 20th century, but that is now exceedingly rare in the actual art world as well as the virtual one. In 1959,

I remember two of the interactive works I saw in that exhibition. was quite simple. The disembodied head emerged as a large component of a broken circuit board that transformed at its edges into an abstract. One. The idea is that the repeated injunction to create something new itself produces a kind of jaded world-weariness. but a world seen with genuinely fresh eyes. titled Phantasmatis Ex-Machina. . had already recognized the paradox of modern (and now postmodern) art in the title of his book. an effect both shocking and delightful at one and the same time. From a middle distance. though clearly of digital design. The gears lay on top of one another in a shallow two-dimensional pictorial space until I came closer with my avatar. However. The Tradition of the New. two of them projecting dramatically to different depths in the virtual third dimension. not paint. and then to cast that reality back again into the insubstantial picture plane from whence it had come. three-dimensional form. not a simple machine. though their medium. The exhibition took up two floors of the gallery. while the second floor displayed more conventional 2D works. Others have referred to that paradox as the aging of the avant-garde. Thus it seemed astonishing when. was visually more complex. receding back into two-dimensionality when I moved my avatar away again. It is hard to convey the effect on the viewer of this unanticipated projection and recession of images. with a visually obscure text superimposed on one of the gears. On the ground floor. in the work of this 19 year-old girl. the flat images they supported projected outward in the third dimension. The other piece. one of which is especially important for the insight it affords into her overall project (more on this later). an aesthetic ennui. at which point the three shapes separated. Like Gears. they appeared to be flat. the machine-like head projected outward in semirounded. was pixels. When my avatar approached the picture. titled Gears. But when I moved my avatar closer to the paintings. Nothing grows old faster than yesterday s breakthrough. it began its appearance as a two-dimensional image pressed against the picture plane.the critic. It was as though the virtual flesh of the avatar body had the power to conjure something real into existence from the representational flatness of the mere image. The works on the ground floor took the form of large-scale paintings. though partially composed of metallic machine parts. not the compulsively and repetitively novel. It consisted in three offset circles cut into serrated gear shapes with rusty textures. it depicted. I was able to experience. but rather a head that was decidedly human. architectural landscape. Feathers was exhibiting seven or eight interactive 3D artworks. Harold Rosenberg. of course. The new slips through our fingers like sand.

William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. as well the science fiction novel. part of which extended over the breasts of the nude. but rather in an extraordinary flat picture exhibited on the second floor of the gallery. The antiquated electronic and machine parts of Gears and Phantasmatis ExMachina turned out to be atypical of the artist's work. But my impression proved to be wrong. I found a more precise key to Feathers' aesthetic project. visible from her throat to her thighs. Ironically. supple torso was posed in a classical contrapposto. as well as an equally unobtrusive text in French. To the left of the photograph. The torso sported a single strand of gold.From these two works. I got the idea that Feathers was a Steam Punk artist. Superimposed on top of the staves and text. this one bold and clearly legible. thin. with its fingers curved in a relaxed fashion. The photograph itself was subtly marked with scratches. resting between her hip and thigh. The scratches were thin extensions of the musical staves in the . by the Cyberpunk authors. and merging with it at its edges. the picture consisted in a single close-up photographic image of a naked young woman. in its own register. her weight resting on her left leg. the pastel color of which indicated that they had been digitally created and overlaid on the photographic image. as in a palimpsest. whose sources lay in the writings of Jules Verne. as I ve already suggested. and her right hand. was a second text. was a barely distinguishable set of musical staves. It read: i am a slut i am a whore i am a bitch i am a lezzie i am a stupid cunt who am i? who the fuck am i? i am a slut i am beautiful i am a goddess i am a whore i am a lesbian i am a cunt i am a wife i am a bitch i am a d a u g h t e r a mother a cunt i am a thing i am tits i am ass i am pussy who am i? what am i? The verbal violence of the superimposed text repeated. Her slender. barely perceptible horizontal lines. Steam Punk is a kind of antiquary futurism. The Difference Engine. apparently in her late teens. worn on an angle at the hips. the visual violence of the horizontal and vertical scratches that marked the lower half of the torso. Titled Identity. not in the interactive works. At that time Steam Punk was very popular in Second Life. as well as a handful of vertical ones.

In the image. sexually demeaning characterizations of femininity. . has an ambiguous connotation that requires us to place it in both groups. two signify idealizations of the female body ( beautiful. in the case of the girl in the photo. That text concerns the search by the girl in the photo for a female identity that must be defined through words originating outside of her. thing. including the word lesbian. lezzie. the words of the Other have an overwhelming malevolence. ass. daughter has a special place. by a ratio of nearly two-to-one. but there is also a looming danger. but about which there is no hint of denigration. The remaining word. and one ( lesbian ) signifies. lesbian. indicated by the driven. bitch. and daughter. Nothing in the interactive works or the other flat images could prepare the gallery visitor for the violent eroticism of Identity. goddess). We can characterize the first group. whore. tits. that she will internalize them as her main linguistic resource for defining her emergent identity. the nine words or phrases: slut. merely the surface of another palimpsest. These take on added force when we realize that they outnumber the six words of the second group. including again the word. so to speak. as an aesthetic valence. goddess. While this is true of every process of developing an identity. though we have no clue as to how. wife. stupid cunt. almost frantic.or himself ex nihilo. a sexual orientation that may be shared by only a minority of the female population. misogynist curses. in one group. as violent words. In the other group. mother. it becomes clear that the role of daughter is pivotal to the meaning of the piece. cunt. under which lies a deeper. extensions that looked as though they might have been carved by a narrow blade into flesh of the naked body. When we add to this the apparent age of the girl in the photo. in this context. the words are either positive or neutral. since none of us creates her. is. But that is not all. we have the five words: beautiful. the word is the only one that occupies an entire line of text. the group of ten. verbal assaults. If we arrange the nouns and the adjectival substantives into two groups. the group of six. lesbian. daughter ). In the second group. mother. Among the words of the second group. we have. Not only have the ten demeaning words clearly been directed against the girl in the photo. But this eroticism.image. though more obscure text. nature of the questions posed in the text. a vicious intent that makes the development of an identity perilous. Three words designate traditional female roles within the family ( wife. and pussy.

It is such an emotional thaw that the work asks of the viewer. not only of approaching a solution to the mysterious significance of the daughter role. like Gears and Phantasmatis Ex-Machina. we have a digitally . frozen in the midst of some gigantic. though it also depicts a female nude. the viewer's common entrapment in the space of incarceration. She is immobilized. In Frigid. the work is a warning directed against the facile belief that it is easy to free the imprisoned.If we want to unravel that mystery. alternatively. There are two ways of interpreting the interactive event. Here the interaction between viewer and work is an integral part of the meaning of the work itself. is an interactive piece. Another work from that year. If the nude is to be liberated. What the nude lacks is human warmth. we will gain the advantage. It is the nude who implores the viewer to free her. eliciting the viewer s movement. so that the aspiring liberator becomes in fact another jailor. like Identity. female nude. In the process. but of coming to understand. The nude. three-dimensional formation. the surface of the picture projects outward in a jagged. when the avatar-viewer approaches the naked woman. in which case the aspiring liberator becomes a fellow prisoner. however. so the artist appears to tell us. and freezing are not so much physical entities and processes as they are emotional states. ice. titled Frigid. we can establish the following equivalences. However. If we compare Identity and Frigid. icy. frigidity. The artist created each of the three works I ve already discussed in 2007. which in turn calls forth the icy projection. Her out-reaching arms are clearing imploring the viewer to release her from her frozen prison. The first is that the icy projection incarcerates the woman even more deeply in the prison from which she sought release. a projection that engulfs the viewer. futuristic refrigeration chamber. we have a photographic. The result is the viewer s complicity in the initial imprisonment. it will take more than a spontaneous act of benevolent intervention. the aesthetic achievement represented by this remarkable body of virtual art. On either interpretation. Frigid is the first work by Feathers that uses the interactive resources available to virtual art for a purpose going beyond that of evoking surprise and delight in the viewer. is positioned in the center of the image in exaggerated contrapposto. The fact that the artist chose to depict the prison as an icy space has a significance independent of the interactive mechanism. In the context of the work. and that the viewer attempts but fails to deliver. The second is that it traps the viewer in the space where the nude is imprisoned. or. in greater depth. The liberation she seeks is an emotional thaw. coldness. we will need to devote some time to interpreting other works by Feathers. her arms extended forward toward the viewer. digitally constructed in this case. a melting of the ice of indifference and cruelty. In Identity.

Once again. though still pictorial. She is standing on a small pile of logs. The color scheme of the piece consists largely in shades of brown.. The first is that the logs the woman is standing on burst into flames reaching as high as her hips. the nude is not enclosed by the picture plane. the document gradually becomes obscured when a second image appears in superimposition. unframed picture in our field of view. Everything I have described so far comprises the state of the image before the avatar-viewer approaches. There is also a rectangular. We might anticipate the blazing logs from the overall context of the image. However. titled Witch Hunt. The second is that the woman opens her eyes and looks directly at the viewer. image. undoubtedly the very document the second image is now obscuring. converge in a work Feathers made in 2008. there is a young female nude at the center of the piece. though it is difficult to read because it is caught up in a process of transformation. there is a fragment of parchment with torn edges bearing the name. The power of the piece lies in the second transformation. two changes occur. The colonist at the center of the superimposed image holds in his hands a document that he displays to the viewer. subtly inscribed around the naked young body are curving lines that define an abstract vine. ranging from the dark brown of the parchment in the background. her head extending above the upper edge of the plane. a separate. A Modern Inquiry into The Nature of Witchcraft. "Mary Marshall." Finally. or the look that resides . The streams that flow in parallel in Identity and Frigid. Although she occupies a position in front of the picture plane. the nude is not sculptural but flat. In Frigid. the main forces blocking development are words that demean female sexuality.generated one. The basic image displayed on the picture plane behind the nude figure is that of a document written in English on old parchment. the title page of an old book. to the light brown of the young woman's skin. and in front of a wooden post that extends from her feet to her head. In the upper left corner of the plane the nude occupies. the forces that prevent liberation are those of cruelty and indifference. we have a search for female identity. and her head is turned about thirty degrees to the viewer's left. In Frigid. but nothing prepares us for the opening eyes. a pose at once enticing and vulnerable. The young woman stands in exaggerated contrapposto with her hands behind her back and her breasts pushed forward. In Identity. The second image in turn is gradually obscured by yet another superimposition. and her legs extending below its lower edge. The new image depicts a group of New England colonists accompanied by their slaves. Even without avatar movement. but instead stands at a distance in front of it. The document appears to be a bill of indictment. digitally constructed but photorealistic. we have a plea for liberation. When the viewer moves closer to the work. dotted here and there with leaf-like abstractions. Her eyes are closed. In Identity.

the artist has broadened and intensified the project we first encountered in Identity. But once she opens her eyes. and. cruelty. the woman becomes a subject. the execution by burning in Witch Hunt has an appropriately opposite counterpart in the freezing of the nude in Frigid. the men and women convicted of witchcraft in the Salem trials were hanged rather than burned. The three "canvases" belong to a single. In addition. not the generic shock of the unanticipated. a child with short brown hair who seems to be around eight years old years old. but precisely as executioners. not one of the victims. whose name appears in the fragment of parchment to the left of the nude. The series is titled. namely. But neither of these works has cleared up the mystery posed in Identity. We need to consider what appear to be two historical errors in Witch Hunt before concluding our discussion of the piece. At the risk of sounding hopelessly old-fashioned in the current "postmodern" period.. we will need to examine a series of three reactive canvases (a designation invented by the artist) that Feathers made in 2010. This pairing is an intimately personal version of the cosmic alternative Robert Frost once famously presented: Some say the world will end in fire Some say in ice. namely an exploration of the role played by violence. . the same little girl appears as the central character in each of the canvases. was one of the accusers at the Salem Witch Trials. To solve that puzzle. and who shares a first name with Feathers Boa's real-life counterpart. nor begs for mercy. and sexual denigration in the life of a young woman. but the specific shock of being seen. if so. The resulting aesthetic experience is that of shock. and technical characteristics. unified series in that they share iconographic. In Frigid and Witch Hunt. this error. The artist's restraint at this moment is extremely important. nor expresses resignation to her fate. However. While burning at the stake was a common way to execute witches in Europe. not merely as voyeurs. Willingly or not. I am inclined to say that the look is simply that of a human being. the significance of the role of daughter. what is its significance? The second error concerns the method of execution depicted in the image. has an artistic justification. Hanging obviously would not have allowed the look in the victim's eyes that we have seen to be essential to the piece. if that is what it is. Little Girl Lost. The naked woman had previously been the passive object of our gaze. and the shock we experience is the shock of recognizing the humanity of the victim. Was the artist aware of this fact. we were made by the piece to adopt the voyeuristic position. The first is that Mary Marshall. indifference.. an actively aware presence. formal. With respect to iconography.in them. and we now become the object of her regard. She has managed to give the nude with open eyes a look that neither accuses.

dressed in a knee-length purple frock with short blue sleeves. Technically.the far left in two of the canvases. We see two enormous muscular legs. and she is staring into the dark region that fills the right half of the canvas. The little girl is once again at the far left of the canvas. and leaning slightly backward. father. Formally. Please Find Me. However. Bumpe The letters obviously indicate a bumper car ride. The little girl appears in the foreground at the extreme left of the canvas. her shoulders are rounded. The girl s eyes are opened wide. and the far right in the remaining one. That reading is especially likely because nearly every viewer can recall a similar experience from his or her childhood.and who dresses in frocks of varying colors. Instead each transformation results in a new two-dimensional image. this time in the letters. and not just her current predicament in the amusement park? When we move toward the image. The transformation of the background image has a far-reaching impact on the meaning of the work. while each of the canvases reacts to avatar movement with the transformation of a pictorial element. Now it is not so much the fact of being lost that frightens her. . They have been replaced by a building whose name is once again partially visible. none makes use of the third dimension. because it frames the girl s look of fear in a new context. of vaguely human appearance above the knee. she turns her head toward the viewer 's right. but behind her the fortuneteller and his pavilion have disappeared. Above the letters. and we catch a glimpse of the monstrous being that was lurking there. The little girl remains in the same position and with the same posture. but rather the idea of the violent impact of one body against another suggested by the bumper car ride. the transformation occurs. changing into goat-like legs below the knee. and she holds her hands against her chest in a wringing gesture. She appears against the background of a concrete wall with a protruding arch. She stands in front of an amusement park pavilion. or. more precisely. who holds his hands at his chest in the same wringing posture as that of the little girl. but appears at a far end of each canvas . Without the figure of the fortuneteller. Leave Me Alone. we would read the image simply as that of a child who is frightened because she has become separated in a busy public place from her mother. of its lower half. When we move closer to the canvas. the name of which is partially visible in the form of the letters RYSTAL. The eyebrows of the girl are furrowed. or some other guardian. except the future of the little girl. the figure of the girl is not centered. For what could the fortuneteller be fearful about. in contrast with the interactive pieces we have already examined. the darkness lifts. looms the figure of a fortuneteller wearing a turban. The first canvas in the series is titled. The second canvas is titled. and once again dressed in a frock. the fact that the posture of the fortuneteller mirrors the fear of the little girl makes the scenario more ominous than the common one of being lost in public. Standing on tiptoe.

It's so . She snores and she drools. My sheets get messy and wet. but I swear to her I don't. Originating from the creature s hindquarters. Instead of commenting on this image.and terminating in a spiked hoof. It is crooked. That makes me laugh and she just gets mad if I giggle and hits me again. I know bad things come in the night. when ------------. her eyes get all sleepy and go cross-eyed sometimes. Big. I pull the covers up and hold my teddy so close.is gone they don't come. It makes me feel better. I will allow the artist to speak for herself. She sometimes tells me when --------------. not simply of a monster. Sometimes I get so tired I fall asleep in school and teacher makes me sit in the corner and the other kids call me stupid. Sometimes mommy goes to sleep on the couch and she won't wake up.who sometimes is my daddy stays up. Her boyfriend -------------. I still suck my thumb and mommy says my teeth will grow in crooked and hits me when I suck it. But he always comes back and then mommy is mad or happy. but of a demon. That bad things don't live in the dark. It doesn't have a lock like the garage door. But I know she's lying. When I ask mommy says she is sick and the doctor tells her to take her pills or get the shots.goes away that he is gone forever and that he isn't my daddy anymore. but I can't make it shut all the way. Heavy things that lay on top of me and crush me into the bed and make weird grunting sounds. She leaves her cigarettes smoking in the ashtray and I put them out for her. Seems like he never goes to bed even when he and mommy take their medicine. Sometimes the heavy things don't come at night. Sometimes he's gone a long time. I hate my bed. The skin of the creature is red. I am taking the liberty of quoting at length from a text Feathers wrote for the first exhibition of the canvas: I don't like nighttime. Sometimes she cries and cries and cries and holds me so tight it feels like she might squish me. She hits me and says I'm a liar. All I know is mommy never seems to get better. But I can't help it. signifying the presence. Sometimes I stay awake listening. My teacher says monsters aren't real. I'm scared of the dark. and curving between its legs is a thick and powerful tail. But always things get bad again and mommy gets sicker. Mommy says I pee the bed. I close the door every night. bad sweaty things.

as well as general neglect. and sometimes the mother. Feather s human counterpart. The removal from her home is the theme of the third of the reactive canvases of the Little Girl Lost series. and that now. because of suspected sexual abuse. stupid cunt. I know monsters are real. a brutality that damaged her hearing. I get scared. The little girl is positioned on the extreme right-hand side of the canvas. cunt. and so on ‒ were used by the man." In all three canvases. this time yellow and white in color. Take Me Away shows an old broken-down house in a rural setting. These are the feelings that are visually conveyed in the image on the canvas. Take Me Away. And they live in the dark places at night I know . to swear at the girl. as in the other two works. has left her almost completely deaf. The ouchie in my secret place . One of these men lived on and off with Mary and her mother for a number of years.dark and things are moving around. Its title is. He raped the girl repeatedly between the ages of nine and twelve. words through which she conveys something of the confused and terrifying feelings of her childhood. she is the same frightened and vulnerable child. at her current age of 25. He also sometimes beat her by striking her head. At the age of twelve. I hear them in the walls. She bends slightly at the knees in an attempt to resist the wind that is blowing her further to the right. whore. Something is in the hallway. The door squeaks when it opens and something shuffles in. never knew her biological father. the mystery of the daughter role. In being removed from her home. Mary. public authorities removed Mary from her home. and abused by her ersatz daddy. I doubt that there are many readers who have failed to anticipate this solution to what I have called. I know I'll feel the heavy thing again. She is dressed in a frock. But I also suspect that there are few readers who will fail to experience the jarring impact of the words of the artist. The age discrepancy is aesthetically justified because the theme of the work is an emotional event rather than a merely factual one. a wind the presence of which is obvious . Mary at twelve is the same little girl who was lost at the amusement park. In that piece. the artist portrays herself once again as a girl of around eight. I hear it. Mary was often left home for days at a time without adult supervision. even though the real Mary was removed from her home at the age of twelve. Her mother was an alcoholic and a drug addict who attracted abusive men. The sexually demeaning words of Identity ‒ slut.

removal is loss of substance. her agile sense of humor. in fact. and began to make digital art. erosion of reality. A year after graduating. of course. People were attracted by her art. Indeed her demeanor was normally so light and sociable that many of her fans were completely unaware of the pain behind much of her work. hollow. as in the giant heart set aflame by avatar movement. beyond the sight of her home. ink pots. not straight ahead. above all. paint brushes. she became active in Second Life. They can be straightforwardly erotic. an ethereal. The little girl is looking. but upward in the direction the wind is moving her. Soon she will be past the edge of the canvas. consisting of functional buildings and an open air lecture space made of giant pencils. inhabitable toy. Her foster father had recently died. and she had returned home from Massachusetts to the outskirts of . Now I don t want to give the impression that all of Feathers' work (to return to her SL moniker) concerns the terrible experiences of her past. as in the huge. and charmingly fairy-tale-like. and. and. In short. Feathers became one of the most popular figures in the SL art scene. style. We should add to this list the astonishing Art School she made for the New Caerleon artists colony. and out of the pictorial space entirely. titled Burning Passion. friendliness. attempted suicide at the age of fourteen. In spite of the horrors she has experienced in the house. she turned to alcohol and drugs. Big Angry Robot. Mary was placed in one foster home after another. As we move toward the canvas. Living Book. Openings of new exhibitions of her work always drew very large crowds. the image of the little girl becomes semitransparent. and who were willing to spend the long stretches of time and the exhausting effort necessary to pull her back from the brink. or warmly emotional. but also by her intelligence. she learned to use computers. In spite of such widespread public perceptions of the artist. as in her interactive. For her. Finally she landed in the foster home of an older couple. In high school. like the voluptuous nudes of her Quixotica series. and other tools of the trade. Her pieces can also be whimsical. stencils. Like her mother. a man and a woman who grew to love her. ectoplasmic form about to be dispersed by the wind? After being removed from her home. Mary made a second suicide attempt in 2009. None were able to help her through her despair. as though she were gazing toward heaven. three-dimensional work. She was in danger of going under.from the movement of her hair and dress. she was a Second Life personality. With these among other works credited to her name. What is she now but a ghost. erasers. it is still the only home she has known.

Each of the panels is overlaid with a text expressing in painful detail the despair and selfloathing of the artist. and the angel falls to earth. The simplest one. On March 11. digitally generated portrait of the artist with tears flowing from her left eye. There the wingless angle sits dejected. The panel on the left is a photograph of a hand lying open on a flat surface. razor blades spin in three dimensions. Mary became clinically depressed. takes the form of an ornate picture frame. During the period following her recovery. whose health was also compromised. nose. is equally explicit. is a close-up. In front of the panel. the Tohuo earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. her wings torn off and scattered on the ground. when the viewer approaches the work. she was discovered in time to be hospitalized and successfully treated. while three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. The panel on the right depicts a face in extreme close-up. The triptych. the words "Help me!" emerge and then float into the air. school. One day she took an overdose of prescription medication. Positioned in front of the picture and outside of its plane is a three-dimensional plastic bottle. releasing radiation into the air. Clenched Soul. with palm turned upward. experienced full meltdown. the girl's living head gradually morphs into a skull. was working as a designer of computer game characters for a company on the West Coast. It took a couple weeks for Japanese . a depletion of physical and psychological energy. triumphant in her upward flight. ______. the columns collapse in a broken heap. her actual alter ego. and Second Life resulted in a deep exhaustion. arms raised toward heaven and wings open. In early 2011. work. But. her head bowed and supported by her arm and open hand. and mouth. One of these dark pieces. The buildings in Tokyo shook with the tremors. The frame contains the image of a beautiful. elbow propped up against her thigh. light-haired angel. The central panel depicts a dead body lying supine on the floor.Philadelphia in order to take care of her foster mother. tilted and spilling out the pills it contains. Feathers continued to be artistically active in Second Life for a year and a half following her suicide attempt. When the viewer approaches the piece. she was in Tokyo with some of her associates as part of a team working on a game project. the artist created some of her darkest work. During that time. Luckily. Mary. not far from Tokyo. held in place by two stone columns. Broken Angel. From different positions on the surface of the image. The combined demands of care giving. Other works from this period are even more explicit in their depiction of suicidal depression. consisting only of eyes.

however. and that she prefers to write short stories in her free time. virtual or otherwise. so supportive in fact that he learned sign language in order to communicate with her more easily. whether she does or not. A few months after her return from Japan. Mary found inescapable the fact that each of us lives on borrowed time. but pieces torn from the substance of her self. the real-life counterpart of the popular avatar-artist. a man she had met in Second Life. at first as a freelancer. helping her break her drug dependency. she has already left us with a legacy that deserves our sensitive and intelligent attention. and that. during which time Mary was stranded along with her team. and increasingly in film postproduction. In 2010. She felt that the artworks she made there were not works of art in the usual sense at all. Second Life had become a drain on her time and creative energy. she experienced each as a stillborn child. She was frightened by the depths of suffering they had come to reveal. By the time she returned home. Liv had become so important to Mary that the artist once depicted her as a "Mecha-Angel" in a work that contrastingly portrayed her abuser as a "Mecha-Demon. Although her most powerful works may have caused her great pain. Mary now lives with her wife on the West Coast. She says that she has no further interest in making virtual art. In her estimation. Mary was nevertheless wrong about one thing: they were not stillborn. The Fukushima disaster was largely responsible for her decision. Sabrinna Nightfire. works as a game designer. the man who hired her became in time. had cared for Mary during her most difficult times. and she wanted the opportunity to live her life fully. Quite the opposite. she wrote that each of her creations took something vital out of her. I don t know whether Mary will ever again make visual art. at a ceremony in Massachusetts. and then as the full-time employee of a design studio based in Seattle. She was offered the job by the owner of the company." By the time she married. but a close and supportive friend. In one of the last emails I received from her. After that. Feathers Boa held a final exhibition at which she sold her work at very low prices. Mary married a woman whom she had met originally as an avatar in Second Life. More than 30 years her senior. But. Liv. not only her employer. Mary had already been working for more than a year as a game designer. in the end. These works are the ongoing objective forms taken by creative . Mary had decided to leave Second Life. and supporting her emotionally after her suicide attempt.airports to reopen in the aftermath of the disaster. The story does not end on a sad note. though the decision was also strengthened by the recent death from cancer of Debra Berman. the person behind the avatar. she disappeared from Second Life.

Two of Mary's works as Feathers Boa explicitly take up the theme of the self-remaking of the damaged person. replaced by brilliantly colored tendrils and flowers. In the late nineteen-forties. but from captivity to liberation. They are testaments to the human ability to transform suffering by raising it to the level of expression. The outside of the cubical structure displays anti-Semitic signs and graffiti. It takes the shape of a large "canvas. permitting entry. the whole picture bursts into color. himself a German Jew. by forces that attach us to life.forces. but from dejection to triumph." is painted above the barred jail cell door. at the lower right corner." four times as tall as it is wide. A horizontal line divides the canvas into two equal halves. It consists in a fully three-dimensional hybrid image. What makes the interactive transformation of Requiem distinctive is that it runs in the direction opposite that of the interactive works we have already considered. A big three-dimensional syringe pierces the canvas at its lower left corner. And they are records of the artist s capacity to remake herself. the philosopher. and in their place flowers appear. not from life to death. The first. not from triumph to dejection. claimed that it is barbarous to write poetry after Auschwitz. the male face has disappeared. the face of a young man wearing a headband is visible. but from death to life. the skulls slowly vanish. When the viewer approaches the canvas. Theodor Adorno. The picture plane of the canvas is unable to contain the flourishing tendrils and flowers. while a yellow Star of David enclosing the German word. cut off above the eyebrows and just below the lips. originating from the point where the syringe pierces the canvas. dates from 2008. In the bottom half of the canvas. Our attention is immediately riveted by the beautiful green eyes of the young woman's face (the face of the artist herself). surmounted by a hovering butterfly. Adorno was opposed to anything that might weaken or distract our . the cell door swings open. titled Requiem. It moves. a visual cross between a concrete bunker and a single jail cell. not from captivity to further enslavement. The upper half displays the photographic image of a young woman's face. which spill out of the canvas and take root in the earth in the virtual third dimension. This reverse movement is even more pronounced in a work Feathers made for a commemoration of the Holocaust. Lying on the floor at the center of the chamber is a pile of human skulls illuminated by a beam of light coming from a skylight window in the ceiling. Both halves are overlaid with delicately inscribed marijuana leaves. titled _________. When the viewer comes closer. and the entire image is done in shades of grey. When the viewer approaches the structure. its liquid content halfinjected into the image. "Jude. In the bottom half of the image.

the virtual art of Feathers Boa is exemplary. had it been the work of an outside observer. Mary is the survivor of one of them. In the end. it is instead the moving expression of a renewed embrace of life.is in fact a vital personal resource. As the work of a survivor.awareness of the horror of the Final Solution. there have been many Holocausts. But this process of remaking is not a purely individual affair. with the need to renew our affirmation of life. sexually and physically abused little girl in the process of her losing her hearing transformed herself into the virtual artist. Adorno had neglected to consider the problem faced by the Holocaust survivor. but each of us is faced. we remake ourselves. with these formulations. and expressive power. But. In his view. who must discover a way to continue living in the aftermath of a personal experience of horror. With each renewal. We may not have experienced suffering as deep or as psychologically destructive as Mary's. and a writer of short stories. What appeared at first as an artistic technique . that horror was the product of a will to domination that had been raised to an unprecedented pitch of intensity by the "administered society of twentiethcentury capitalism. Over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. She then transformed herself once again. The artist created works of incredible honesty. Though we have no idea where this series of transformations will end. what is most remarkable about Mary as both an artist and a human being is her astonishing capacity for transformation. this time into a married woman. courage. and only if we are willing to love and care for them in turn. from time to time. It is able to advance only if we remain open to the love and care of other people.the metamorphosis initiated by interaction ." to use Adorno's word. According to him. In conveying this lesson. The transformation of a pile of skulls into flowers and a butterfly might have seemed facile or "barbarous. we cannot help but be inspired by the path it has taken so far. the only way to keep faith with the promise of a better future was to hold unflinchingly before our mind s eye the horror of the past. . The frightened. Feathers Boa. a game designer.

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