Michael Lingner

Second Best

In search of another life, more and more people are exploring the virtual world of Second Life. This illusory world visited by millions is an Internet product of the Californian Company, Linden Lab. The business consists mainly in selling land in the Second Life world. All the emigrants from the real world have the opportunity of completely reinventing themselves and their existence for the Virtual world. This opportunity, however, is mostly used only with regard to outward appearances. The Second Life person is adapted to certain ideals of beauty which deviate from mainstream ideas in the real world just as little as the rest of weborgs' lives. That is at first surprising, since the widespread need to escape everyday reality, just like the widespread use of other surrogates, is also a motive for taking part in Second Life. But obviously, by now, the majority of globalized people are in a precarious situation similar to that of the man in Franz Kafka's 1922 story, Breaking Out, who, in response to his servants question as to where he is riding to, answers, "I don't know [...] only away from here. On and on, away from here, only in this way can I reach my destination". And when the servant asks further, "So you know the destination," he can only respond, "I already told you, away from here, that is my destination". This urge to make aimless attempts at breaking out merely for the sake of escaping, today masked as tourism, however, is tragically in vain and demands a high price. The eternal escapism costs having to lead an inauthentic life felt to be provisional with, in the worst case, barbaric consequences.

By contrast, an essential cultural achievemnent of art in the modern age consists precisely in not only giving expression to this desire to escape from the existing world into another one, but also to really make it possible to live it out. However, since in the art world, other worlds conforming to their own laws with a maximum degree of autonomy are no longer being created, but, under the dictates of economic criteria, artistic success is defined only financially, the drift of contemporary art toward having an effect on the public has become unstoppable. In all art genres, modes of play of a somehow (such as bizarre, narcissistic, ironic.) ennobled picture journalism, with certain prestigious qualities and in conformity with social norms and media requirements, celebrate their triumph. At art exhibitions in an international large format such as the Venice Biennale and the Kassel documenta, this artistic mainstream is celebrated and multiplied. Involved in the mechanisms of the art markets, today they no longer function as fora for a Special ist public, but as illustrious fairs. Like other offerings for little escapes from everyday life, they are designed and marketed as tourist attractions. Visitors programs and guided tours by the obligatory art communicators serve the purpose of explaining and proclaiming as art these redundant replicas of everyday reality, which can be understood in themselves without any artistic pretensions or simply unmasked as nonsense. Visitors can then fool themselves that they have seen somethine significant and that the motive and the costs for their tautological trip are justified. As a memento they are sold further explanations in opulent catalogs which gather dust on the bookshelves at home as a kind of discursive kitsch.

The ancient Platonic depreciation of art vis-à-vis reality, as a phenomenon to be entered in the books as second best at best, seems once more to demonstrate its truth.


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