Gazira Babeli is an artist who lives and works in the virtual world of Second Life, where she was born on 31 March 2006. Like all inhabitants of virtual worlds she is an identity construction known as an avatar, but unlike them, she does not acknowledge the presence of a “human” controlling her.
In this short space of time she has earned attention and respect with her provocative performances which explore the issues of the body, space and identity in virtual worlds. Babeli acts like a virus, unleashing earthquakes and showers of icons extrapolated from pop culture, or spreading epidemics which deform the bodies of other residents of Second Life. “Gaz” has become a multivalent term, and a household name in her virtual world. The aura of mystery that surrounds her has engendered a kind of legend, which quickly moved beyond the confines of Second Life.
Gazira Babeli is a “virtual” artist, but her work is “real”. She explores the body, space, identity. She compares her oeuvre with art history. She talks about us. She is closer than we think, with our multiple identities, our way of representing ourselves, our lives in front of the screen. To those who ask her if there is a point in living in a virtual world, she mockingly responds: “What about you? How’s life in Microsoft Office?”. Seen in this light her work acquires meaning and efficacy even outside the world which generated it, as her numerous appearances in shows and festivals demonstrates.
Now, in this solo exhibition at the Fabio Paris Art Gallery, the artist presents a selection of works that reflect the two fundamental poles of her oeuvre: her world and her identity as a virtual artist. Babeli lives in a simulated world, a realistic, 3D universe generated by castles of computing code, yet “inhabited” and experienced on a daily basis by millions of people. Her work explores the conventions and contradictions of this world, addressing concepts like time, space and the body by simply manipulating language. Her work is ‘performance’ in the purest sense of the term: language which generates action. Bodies change shape and come alive; giant towers collapse and then rise from their ashes once more; mysterious forces and objects take possession of us. But Babeli’s main work is Gazira herself, and the knowing manipulation of her legend, as shown in the video triptych Saint Gaz’ Stylite and the movie Gaz’ of the Desert (March 2007), the first high definition film entirely shot in a virtual world. Babeli mixes hagiography and slapstick, surrealism and country music, to tell the story of her life behind the screen, midway between isolation and sociality, asceticism and temptation.
Gazira Babeli has taken part in festivals and exhibitions in Italy (Peam 2006 – The Diamond, Pescara 2006; V07, Venice) and abroad (Deaf 2007, Rotterdam 2007); and with the collective Second Front she took part in Performa 07 (New York). A year from her birth, the retrospective Gazira Babeli: [Collateral Damage] (10 April – 31 May 2007), put on in Second Life in a museum-sized venue, represented a definitive confirmation. In the space of two months the show attracted more than one thousand visitors. Her work has also elicited the attention of publications like El Pais, La Stampa, Liberazione, Exibart, Der Spiegel and Kunstzeitung. Gazira Babeli is her first solo exhibition in the “real” world.
The exhibition will also see the publication of a book, Gazira Babeli (edited by Domenico Quaranta, with essays by Mario Gerosa, Patrick Lichty and Alan Sondheim).