Avatarium - A Consumer Paradox

The British artist Paul Sermon, who is visiting Istanbul as a guest of Istanbul Digital Culture and Art Foundation, will exhibit his new interactive public art installation, AVATARIUM - A Consumer Paradox in City's shopping mall between 11 to 16 November 2008. Supported by the Faculty of Art and Design of Istanbul Technical University, this project brings together fifteen years of telepresence research by artist Paul Sermon with his current experiments and experiences in the online three-dimensional virtual world of Second Life. Second Life revolves around an innate economy built on the users preoccupation with their self-image and the desire to personalize their avatar persona through the consumption of virtual retail in the abundance of virtual shops and malls that span across the Second Life landscape.

AMBER08 Media Art Festival Istanbul

Exhibited at City's Nişantaşı Shopping Mall, Istanbul, Turkey

11–16 November 2008

This reality crisis and apparent decay of the real is polarized in the recent project AVATARIUM - A Consumer Paradox (Sermon 2008), inspired by Slavoj Zizek's semiotic account of John Carpenter's 1988 sci-fi classic They Live (Zizek 2003). Sermon combines Istanbul’s premier shopping mall 'City's Nişantaşı' with a deconstructed derelict shopping mall in the virtual world of Second Life. Through a live video link between First and Second Life, the installation allows both real- and virtual-life visitors/customers to converse, interact, and confront the consumption-driven aesthetic and architecture of contemporary shopping spaces.

The installation in Second Life depicts a shopping mall in ruin that reflects the current global economic credit crunch, as the last bastion of the consumer-driven Western economy. Instead of shops, logos, and brands of consumption, the shoppers of the virtual world are presented with semiotic instructions such as 'buy', 'pay', and 'desire' that evade the subliminal messages we are presented with in today's shopping centers.

By placing large format public video screens in both the Second and the First Life shopping centers, Paul Sermon created a portal between these two parallel worlds through which the shopping-driven world of Second Life meets our consumer-obsessed society of First Life. Whereas the online consumers in Second Life wander the escalators of the crumbling mall in search of answers to our economic future, the offline consumers in City's Nişantaşı have the opportunity to question their own existence and desire to consume an imposed identity.