Exit Interview: Thoughts on judging in the Brooklyn is Watching competition

I was one of the judges in the Brooklyn is Watching Top Five. I am really, really hesitant to write about my experiences participating in that process, because to be honest, I’m just glad the whole thing is over with. I know, for instance, that there are some hurt feelings about who got in and who didn’t, and I don’t want to extend that kind of unpleasantness.

However, one of the most positive parts of the entire BiW project has been its transparency – that anyone could drop off a work on the sim, have it looked at and listen in to the critique panel as they thought and reasoned aloud about the work. Being able to view this process was key – learning how one of the panelists came to like or dislike a work was much more helpful to the artist (and those interested in SL art) than simply being told a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” Or so I felt.

So the entire idea of a secret judging panel that steps in and confers in private, emerging only to announce a list of the Top Five artists seemed… weird, and very much against the spirit of the entire project. But this is how the process operated. In the end, I think that was a huge mistake.

I want this article to be a critique on the administration of the competition as it took place in this particular set of circumstances. The larger question of “how does one judge a work of art in SL” is good, but not something I want to take on right now.

I have been on several other panels like this one in RL, and inevitably what happens is this: The judges create a list of artworks/artists they would like to see win whatever prize is at stake, then they get together and meet and discuss their lists. First all the votes are tallied up and then all the judges are told, “Ok, if we go to press now, this is how the list will read. Are you ok with that?” Each judge then weighs in, in front of the group, if they are or if they aren’t, and no one leaves the room until everyone is satisfied with how the list reads.

That’s not how things happened with this competition. Not only was the process shielded from the public, but it was mostly shielded from the judges as well. The directions we were given was that we were free to talk to one another if we liked, but we didn’t have to if we didn’t want to. Maybe in theory that makes sense, but in practice getting five busy adults in different time zones who don’t know each other at all (two of the judges asked me what my SL name was – that’s how much we didn’t know each other) to come together over a potentially sticky situation… well, it doesn’t work. Any attempts I tried to talk informally with the other judges failed miserably. (To be fair, I totally understand why that is. This whole contest is a political minefield and suddenly, here comes this woman you’ve never heard of and she wants to discuss your votes with you. I can see how, if you don’t have to talk about it, you might not want to.)

When we were emailed who the Top Four were (there was a tie for 5th place, and so another mostly-secret vote ensued), I was completely speechless and crushed. Except for one of the participants, it bore absolutely no resemblance to the list I had compiled. In particular the style of art I am most interested in being supportive of in SL (work with strong emotional or political overtones) was pretty underrepresented. Again, this is something that, had we been told we had to come up with a list together, we could have talked it out and made sure everyone was happy with how the final list read.

But my biggest surprise was who hadn’t made the Top Five; I was really shocked that Ichibot Nishi wasn’t somewhere on the list. So I inquired a bit and found out something that really horrified me.

The way the voting was tallied (again, this was all done away from the judges, so I don’t know exactly how it happened) was that each vote for an individual artist equaled a vote for that artist, but each vote for a collaborative team equaled a vote for that team (not for the artists in the team). Which means, in effect, that artists that entered collaborative works along with individual works were essentially running against themselves. By having one solo work by Ichibot, one solo work by Arahan, and a collaborative work by both of them, their votes got split. I voted for “Beyond Human,” and – not understanding this nuance in the rules – decided that to be fair, I shouldn’t spend another vote on either Ichibot or Arahan again and instead should include someone else.

This doesn’t really make any sense. Assume for a moment that DanCoyote had two pieces in the final. No single judge would vote for both of them when you only get five votes and there’s so many other people to choose from. But if DC and Neb collaborate, the rules get really fuzzy. Do you really want to vote for a collaborative piece and then also vote for both collaborators separately? That means have spent three votes on two artists, and you only have two votes left and 28 pieces to choose from… which doesn’t seem really fair.

The next issue was that concerning Gazira’s place. I’m very unclear as to how all that came together (I know that she is on vacation but, given that her work was entered into the Top 30, did she not realize the Top 5 was on its way? Is it really so impossible to contact someone on vacation in Italy?). I don’t know anything about the conversation that was had between the organizers and her going into the Top 30 or since then. Was her not responding to requests to get back in touch with the competition her way of intentionally snubbing it? Was she out of the loop in a very temporary sort of way and will be back in a day or two? I honestly have no idea. I understand and support Jay’s desire to get this all sorted out as quickly as possible so as to give the replacing artist as much time as possible… but I’m also missing an awful lot of information. I might feel differently if I knew more (maybe; maybe not? That’s the problem with missing information – you don’t know). Another vote was held without any real conversation between the judges; there was a tie among four of us, and then without any discussion in the group, the fifth judge cast their vote and we had a winner. The whole situation left me feeling very unhappy.

Here’s the bottom line problem with the competition and possibly, Brooklyn is Watching as a project: It simply isn’t anyone’s full-time job. Jay is a very busy guy who runs his own company; he lacks the experience working in arts administration to know how things like this normally function. His heart is absolutely in the right place and I truly believe he operates with the best intentions in mind. But ultimately, there’s no one running the ship who has the necessary experience needed and time set aside to see that things go smoothly and that everyone is treated fairly. The process instead got rushed and when things get rushed, they often go wrong.

To be blunt: I regret having agreed to be a judge. I think the Top Five as it stands will be a very strong primer to the potential of SL art for an audience unfamiliar with it, but I wish it was handled better and in a way that I felt more comfortable with. Chances are, the audience viewing the work will know nothing about this controversy and instead will simply see five great works of art by five great artists. But that doesn’t diminish the problems I personally have with the way the competition was handled and it doesn’t make me feel any better about the process.

I’m going to close with my personal Top Five. I can explain why I chose them and so forth in a future article, if anyone cares to know.

2. SELAVY OH, Attractive Art


~ by amyfreelunch on July 26, 2009.

2 Responses to “Exit Interview: Thoughts on judging in the Brooklyn is Watching competition”

  1. […] marriedMab MacMoragh on Boris / Adonis getting marriedBryn Oh on Glyph Graves replaces GaziraExit Interview: Thoughts on judging in the Brooklyn is Watching competition « see-through on The Final FivePen Carter on Boris / Adonis getting marriedDekka Raymaker on Glyph Graves […]

  2. Amy, thank you kindly for including me in your top five list! Ali

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