intelligent agent vol. 3 no. 2
about avatara: christiane paul talks to jeremy turner
Christiane Paul talks to Jeremy Turner
about the inspiration behind and making
of AVATARA (see DVD review).
Conducted by email on July 16, 2003.
CP: First of all, could you give me some history of how you and your collaborators came up with the concept for the project and how you proceeded?
JT: It is a very long story but I will do my best to
This particular project was a kind of technical beta-test for a more ambitious avatar project we had in mind that gradually became AVATARA. At that time, we were thinking about an art installation based on DigitalSpace Traveler and the Upanishads.
We got local talent (highbrow and lowbrow artists) to
show off their projects as avatars in an avatar room
called "The Cellar," which is the virtual singles bar
and the main virtual nite-spot in Traveler. There may
still be some documentation of it at www.grunt.bc.ca
This is why Donato and myself
turned to the Upanishads for inspiration.
We wanted to show the
Upanishadic qualities of cyberspace
and the metaphysical properties
of existing as an avatar. This
is why we used the Hindu root
CP: What was Flick Harrison's role in the making of AVATARA?
JT: With our commissioned funds
from Centre A, we hired Patrick
"Flick" Harrison as our editor
Flick is a local film critic and filmmaker.
He is quite well known
locally. Highlights of his career
include an R.E.M. video and being
the host videographer for "Road
Movies," which was a show about
Indie film-makers shown on the
Corporation (CBC). He has also
made some politically motivated
documentaries, one of them about
the NAFTA agreement.
CP: How was AVATARA edited?
JT: Throughout the editing
process, we weeded out 16 hours
or so of footage down to just over
one hour of an edited documentary.
We tried to ensure that we fundamentally
preserved the metaphysical
awe of being in this avatar
space while at the same time illuminating
some cold empirical facts
about Traveler itself.
We also insisted that the documentary
remained entirely in-world in
order to avoid breaking the spell of
embodiment and immersion.
Once we had our beta-version
assembled, Donato, Flick and
myself organized a local focus
group (about 30 people) one night
at the 536 HQ to get creative feedback
about the first edit of
CP: What were your specific roles in the making of AVATARA?
JT: My role was that of the interviewer/
guide in the documentary,
and I chose to be a blue horse
avatar named "Kalki" (named after
the Hindu avatar incarnation of
Vishnu who is supposed to be the
up and coming one with judgements
about the future state of
humankind). I took the horse form
since it is written in some Vedic
texts that Kalki is meant to appear
to us in the form of a white horse. I
chose blue because that happens
to be my favorite colour (alongside
CP: Are you seeing AVATARA as an artwork to be presented in museums and galleries and hopefully to be acquired for a collection (for example in an edition)?
JT: AVATARA is both a documentary and a piece of art. We wanted to make this a hybrid and protean piece that we can exhibit as a work of art and/or as a documentary resource for avatar scholars. We also see it as a piece of entertainment for people who are new to experiencing avatar worlds. Therefore, we are currently snailmailing promo DVDs to reviewers, scholars, critics, film festivals and art festivals, galleries, museums, etc.
CP: You mention in the artists' statement that it is 'one of the first ever' documentaries of this type -- I'm actually not familiar with any other documentary done in this way, could you tell me which other ones are out there?
JT: We did and are still doing a lot
of net research into this subject
and so far, we only have come up
with ours as an avatar doc that has
been shot only in-world. The other
ones we came across still have
CP: What is your distribution model for the DVD? Are you selling the DVD (if so for how much and where can it be ordered)?
JT: AVATARA is currently independently distributed (536 productions) but we are open to the idea of an official distributor and/or carrier. We are selling copies of our DVD for $20 U.S. When supplies are low, we plan to prioritize scholars, curators and writers as ideal consumers for the DVD.