Ferrisburg, Vermont

Award-winning Second Life artist AM Radio has a new work, “The Red and the Wild” on display at the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts.

An empty house and a steam locomotive float eerily on the surface of a shallow sea. A dynamic red mass surges out of, or perhaps into, the upper storey of the building, exploding over the landscape. Cables radiate out from the house, leading to boxes containing mysterious artefacts. In the distance stands a row of water towers, brooding over the horizon.


What does it all mean? In a Freudian analysis, a house would symbolise the human body, the open window suggesting a female form, while the locomotive and the water towers seem clearly phallic. The scarlet substance may be blood, or perhaps a representation of energy of some kind. Is it emanating from the building, or penetrating it? Are we witnessing an escape, or an intrusion?

I may be over-analysing this. Mr Radio, in the interviews he has given about the piece, says it was inspired in part by “Breakfast at Tiffany’s“, where Holly Golightly visualises her anxiety as a “mean red”. He also mentions that the house is based on one that he remembers from childhood. Looking inside the building reveals that the red has its origin in what looks like a crystal radio set. So maybe there is a message about containing anxiety by constructing your own reality/identity, something that Second Life is well suited to.

Or not. The ambiguity of the piece is a large part of its attraction. It’s like a Rorschach ink blot. My sexualised interpretation tells you more about me than it does about the artist or the work.

I’ve read a couple of pieces about AM Radio, but I haven’t heard him discuss his influences. I would say that his installations give more than a nod in the direction of surrealism, particularly the work of René Magritte. Doorways, windows, locomotives, are all recurring themes.

(As an aside, I vaguely remember seeing somewhere that someone had created an avatar with an apple for a face, after Magritte’s famous image. If I only imagined that, and no one has actually done it, I want to claim credit for the idea right now).

I like AM’s stuff, though I find it mostly intriguing rather than unsettling in the way that the best surrealist works are. I think the Second Life aesthetic is too clean to really invoke that dream/nightmare feeling that you get from someone like Max Ernst.

My favourite is probably the “Lost Highway” segment of “The Space Between these Trees“:


Doors again. The Doors of Perception perhaps. I should drop some mescaline next time I log on, I might get more of a nightmare thing going.

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