Interview by Nora Silva
Originally published in the third issue of the isthisit? magazine in December 2017
Ped.Moreira is an online entity and Internet based artist with a practice centered on questions of the meaning of the word “reality”, and how the ways in which it is consumed blurs the lines between virtual and “real” space and identity. This is usually attached to queer identity, and expression of the body and natural landscapes as canvases for virtual consumption. Aside from these concepts the artist’s background in a cultist upbringing encourages a juxtaposition of these notions of “virtual existentialism” with theological and scientific theories.
‘A Level Playing Field’, 2017-18 is an art research project by Ped.Moreira. The artist intends on using gaming as both a method of research and a medium, with a focus on analyzing and questioning concepts of identity performance within virtual spaces. For the duration of a month, Ped.Moreira will be residing in an MMO RPG (or Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game), disconnecting himself from all social contact outside of the virtual space. Pedro is currently working with PACTO, an artist run collective and research-based residency group exploring “communal negotiations of autonomy”. For this interview, Nora (a member of PACTO) and Pedro discuss Pedro’s venture into the virtual world.
Nora Silva: I think It’d be good to start by asking you about the concept of “residing”. The proposal you submitted to PACTO states “For this research project I propose residing in an MMO RPG”. So I guess my question is what do you mean by “residing” because usually that means locating your body somewhere but obviously in your case it’s different?
Ped.Moreira: I’ve recently been into this notion that social media and other modes of online presence operate under a “virtual architecture”. Our actions online occupy a “space”, and I wanted to take that idea further into a more immersive virtual environment that is halfway between occupying a space physically with your body and occupying it with your thoughts and images. In an MMO RPG you inhabit a virtual space through an avatar that represents you. It’s easier for me to conceptualize this when talking about specific games like “Black Desert Online”, where I’ll be staying, where you have the ability to purchase and inhabit property and interact with a community in public spaces. I guess I’m performing “residency” through an avatar.
N: I think the key is to be present somewhere. And presence doesn’t necessarily have to be only physical anymore. I just looked it up and the definition of “residing” is “to have one’s home in a particular place” and I guess this place will be your home for the month. It also means “to belong to a person or body”. So you can also reside in a body, or in your case…
P: In an avatar! Which is a virtual body.
N: Thinking about how you manufactured your Ped.Moreira identity online through your instagram. You have this control over how you edited your identity. In the virtual space you will have even more control over how you express your identity, this very distilled version of Pedro Moreira is going to exist in this videogame. I was wondering do you have any idea of what you are going to be like in the videogame? Are you going to manufacture a personality? Or are you going to find yourself through virtual reality?
P: Originally when I thought about this aspect of the project of self-creation, I wanted it to kind of be in reference to the notion that within virtual mediums we all edit our identities to an extent. Whether it’s conscious or not, whether it’s honest or not, everyone is only able to show a facet of themselves. When the window that you open up to the world is so heavily managed by your own production of your self-image and personality, you become more of a character or a mask, rather than a multi faceted and complex human being. I think with my Instagram I am trying to go as far as I can with this idea of a character and looking at my “self” as a case study of how I would come across when framed a certain way. In doing that I think I did find out more about myself, and I think to an extent I’m going to be doing the same in this virtual space. It’ll be interesting to try and create an avatar that speaks for my essence and how I’d like to be perceived, both visually and socially. Aesthetically it would be as though I had access to gene splicing technology.
Ped.Moreira, PACTO workshop, 2017.
Courtesy of the artist.
N: A what technology?
P: Like CRISPR-cas9!
N: What is that?
P: It’s biotechnology that can alter your genes. Basically an editing and altering tool for your DNA, I’m obsessed with it. Creating and conceptualizing that the avatar is my real body for the duration of this research project is kind of like that. I get to decide exactly what the body that represents me consists of.
N: When you’re talking about gene modification and how that’s real life… the power you would have to do that in the game, which is essentially a program… I guess it’s desirable because it’s a comfortable place? Do you think people enjoy playing as avatars because it’s this kind of contained comfort zone? I feel like that’s something that makes it a safe space for the development of an identity, as opposed to the real world.
P: I agree and I love that concept. In a way the Internet in general is a safe space that allows the exploration of one’s identity. Take trolling for instance. It’s only possible because the Internet has liberated that way of communicating an identity. Which can both be a blessing and a curse.
N: I was thinking in the case of trolling, it’s like you only feel empowered because you lose your physicality through the Internet. Do you think you are your truest self when you lose your physicality then?
P: I think we all have multi-faceted identities, and it’s almost like your consciousness possesses the different facets that are there at your disposal. I think in that sense physicality is a prison, your body is your meat cage, and your mind inhabits more spaces through your interactions with modes of communication that don’t require the acknowledgement that your body exists. I don’t think it’s possible to pinpoint someone’s truest self, because we’re all so affected by different circumstances, like the weather or time of day. We don’t really have that much power over our mood, it’s not something that we can hack (yet). Defining your self as your true self to me is an idealized branding exercise.
N: That’s what your Instagram is, right? A branding of you.
P: What I find interesting about the platform is that it’s your own perception of yourself. You’re the producer, you’re the model, you’re the set designer, you’re the director, you’re the camera technician, you’re the costume and makeup, you’re post-production etc. It’s a fictional story that is produced around you. Maybe it is your true self, maybe that’s as close to your true self as you can get, but it’s a simplified version of that.
N: Have you heard of that Chinese social media application, Sesame?
N: So Sesame is this Facebook-like app, where you can write statuses and check in, and you get a score ranking set by the government. What’s scary about it is that in 2020 they plan on making it obligatory for every citizen to have.
P: That’s scary, it’s like a stat system in a videogame, but real.
N: Yes, and it affects the way your survivability as it can impact your likelihood of getting a job, or being arrested… So in that sense managing your identity in social media might become a vital skill. What do you think about editing your virtual self, being something that you are forced to do to be legitimized or validated?
Ped.Moreira, Creation of the self, 2017.
Courtesy of the artist.
P: The notion is scary to me, but in a way online presence already affects us in the west that way. It’s 1984, it limits the self expression that the Internet should allow us to have. This application sounds like a set of algorithms made to create a perfect citizen, which restricts the existence of an identity.
N: What happens when virtual reality stops being an escape and starts being a prison…
P: In a way I’m kind of putting myself in a physical prison for this project to happen, which is the price I have to pay for this virtual liberation of identity I’m trying to achieve. I’m confining myself to no social contact at all outside of the videogame. I’m basically going to be someone in rehab or solitary confinement for a whole month, of course I’ve given myself the privilege of going outside…
N: It is a durational performance, in the most traditional sense. It’s physically enduring.
P: I wonder if at any point in the future this kind of endurance will be norm.
N: Actually one of my questions was going to be, do you think this is going to be how things are going to turn out for us in the future?
P: My rationale, which goes back to the first questions you asked me, is that your consciousness is the beginning of your actions, and your body is something you control with your consciousness, and when you’re consciously controlling your physical body for it to control a virtual avatar, your physical body becomes nothing more than a linking tool between your consciousness and your avatar. The thing about this project is that it’s actually quite cost-effective as a residency. I won’t be expending that much physical energy, I’ll be making home cooked meals every day for a month, I won’t be spending money on transport, and my rent is going to be cheap. If this was the way of life for everyone, it would be a sustainable way of life. It could probably solve a lot of resource scarcity issues.
N: Haha yeah but you need social contact!
P: But the thing is… Will I? I don’t know if I’m going to go crazy or not from this month, because I wont have social contact with people in a physical space, but I will be in constant contact with other people online. In fact social contact will be even more accessible than it would be if I had to travel to meet someone. And again it will be a lot cheaper because we won’t have to frequent a coffee shop, or a restaurant, or a bar. It won’t matter what I’m wearing or how I look either. Doing things with other people is hard work.
N: Will you be able to Skype?
P: I’m closing all social contact, even Skype or social media. I will have to Skype with the gallery spaces I’m working with and I’ll be seeing people on the screen but I’ll use my puppet to communicate so I won’t be seen.
Ped.Moreira, A Level Playing Field, 2017.
Courtesy of the artist.
N: I guess something that you’re going to prove or prove wrong is whether we, as human beings, really need physical social contact, or if we can be content with virtual social contact.
P: Also even if it’s something that you aren’t fully content with, will the efficiency of the situation in terms of resource consumption prove that it’s actually beneficial to us as a whole? Would that sacrifice be worth it? I’m aware that it’s a dark thought, and a dark future. But it also removes a lot of tension and adversities in society. The removal of this fixed identity attached to living in a physical realm could even end war and identity focused conflict. We’re trying to destroy racism, sexism, xenophobia, transphobia etc. Would re-starting in a virtual space where everything is set at a level playing field (hence the title of the project) be an easy fix to those issues? And even if there’s conflict between people in a virtual space you can do anything you want to protest those emotions, even to the point of killing each other, and you’d have no real life repercussions. How would we solve conflicts then?
N: You were raised Mormon, and the Mormon church is a very specific social setup, it’s a very tight community. Do you think coming from that background is something you’re trying to explore in other levels? Like does it impact your interest in exploring identity in your virtual world?
P: I think my work is always in the context of my upbringing. Even though I left the church at 18 it’s always going to be a part of my life that formed me that I can’t get away from. It’s part of my identity in a very fixed way whether I like it or not. I think spirituality is a very specific kind of identity and it’s not really something you can control.
N: I think it’s also a set of characteristics that shape your interests.
P: Maybe, I mean the Mormon after-life idea of the Mormon Church is that in heaven we will become gods what will create their own world much like our god created ours.
N: Wow, well aren’t you kind of conquering a new world in inhabiting this virtual space?
P: Haha I mean I didn’t create the game. But maybe if I had the means to do it I would! I’ve always wanted to create my own open world videogame.
N: How do you see PACTO supporting the project?
P: PACTO will keep me sane. I think making the exception of being in contact with the members is a welcomed compromise for the project. I don’t think I would have been able to take this project as far as I want to if it weren’t for the support of PACTO. Having them available on Discord (PACTO uses a server in the gaming application to communicate) is just like having a hand to hold. To me it’s like a family, even though it’s a professional group, it’s a support group that I know understands what I’m doing and will be there for me when I need them. It’s helped me take my work to new heights, which is priceless. It’s allowed me to get more involved in my work with subjects that I really care about and enjoy exploring.
N: That’s great to hear! If you had to make an avatar for PACTO, what would it look like?
P: It would have to be female, the group is 80% female and I love that female energy. Maybe a tall muscly mixed race female, with pointy elf ears of course.
Nora Silva (b. 1988) is a Spanish artist based in London. Currently studying at the Royal College of Art, recent shows include Exchange of Spaces at the Camden Art Center, The Dose Makes the Poison at Carousel or VR Exhibition at the ICA. Upcoming exhibitions include Lost Senses at Shonibare Studio in London and her first solo show in London, Your Friendly Local at Chalton Gallery. She also co-directs The Gramounce, an exhibition supper club, and MilesKm.