Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Everybody Dance Now!

In my Technology, Self, and Society class, we have been doing experiments with being in class in person and meeting in Second Life. One day, a student was sitting in class but her avatar was dancing in our class space in Second Life. As she stopped her avatar dancing, she muttered, "If I could dance in class, I would!"

I started thinking about this and haven't stopped. Why not dance in class? What would be the differences between dancing in SL and dancing in our classroom? (We are musicians and artists, remember, so this is not as strange to us as it might be to others!) So we have been. Twice now, half the class has been only in SL and the other half in the classroom, with me and one other person in both the virtual and physical class spaces. And we have been dancing! I am going to invite my students to talk about that experience first, and then I will chime in. But in the meantime, consider getting up . . . . putting on some music . . . . and dance!

Monday, October 26, 2009

What Is Second Life? New machinima by L1

Watch on youtube here.

Burning Life

The blog has suffered with my return to teaching, and some of my attention has been focused over at my Technology, Self, & Society course blog. I have also been pretty busy, with the Burning Life festival. Here is the slurl to the theme camp joyously and wackily built by Maya Paris and myself, Fembot EggBounce & Pangirl Fries.

My part of it is called "From the Frying Pan into the Fire," which sums up my SL experience! Actually, it is about a character I created called Pangirl, who is kind of a golem maybe created by Lucille Ball or Lucy Ricardo.

That is the Pangirl avatar, which my friend Uzzu made for me out of my Pangirl sculpture, so people can wear it and BE Pangirl.

Here is the story:

A moonlit night on the playa in 1959: a tall-red-headed woman with bright blue eyes raced through the desert in her big shiny car. Suddenly, a frying pan glinting in the moonlight on an abandoned campsite caught her eye, even through her tears of fury, and she screeched to a stop, dust obscuring the car's tail fins.

She flicked her cigarette into the ashes, flames jumped. She picked up the pan, and dropped if fast--somehow it was hot! What she didn't see was the little piece of the pan that chipped off, nestled into the flame and the ash, started to change as she walked away.

Thus was Pangirl created, glinting in the playa moonlight. She staggered out of the embers, made her way to a town, then a city. She tried so hard to fit in, to play nicely in the domestic constraints of American culture in which she found herself, but her fire nature, or maybe her iron nature came out, and she could not. She tried to have it all, to bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, ever, let him forget he's a man, but instead she grabbed her rolling pin and purse, burned the house down, and lit out for the playa again, back to whence she came. There she stayed alone for a long time, growing ever bigger and harder, until one day a space ship hovered, and the Fembots joined her. She had a lot to tell them.


Inspired in part by finishing my book on media history and I Love Lucy, and in part by my desire for Maya Paris's Fembots to have a friend when they landed on the playa, I created Pangirl. In the late fifties, Lucille Ball and her real-life husband were portraying a happy couple in their hit television show while all hell broke loose behind the scenes. I imagine the gap between reality and illusion, always an intriguing theme, must have been hard to bear. Maybe she even wanted to burn some stuff down.

It made me wonder what kind of golem, a magical Yiddish folklore creature made of clay, might have arisen out of women's experiences of the gaps between how the media portrays their lives and how they experience them, whether they are involved in the kind of large-scale public charade Ball was, or just their own. On the one hand, I think a lot has changed in fifty years, but then I look around at the images of women in Second Life and then I wonder. Maya created her Fembots because she didn't see images of female robots that she could relate to, and perhaps together our installation calls attention to how we choose to image ourselves and others in here. Oh, and out there, too.

There is machinima that plays on the television screens at the installation, which is not meant as a standalone piece, but to be seen at the installation. Nevertheless, I will post it here.

The way I made this one is kind of interesting, because I improvised with the Freud chatbot at The Theorists Project (slurl) as well as having some scripted lines that I shot there. I shot some of Poid Mahovlich's fires at two of my favorite beach sims, Monkey Cove and Knowhere, and intercut those with the "session" with Dr. Freud.

Monday, September 7, 2009

What I Learned in Second Life, So Far


Part One: I learned . . .

I learned how to do a lot of things, including how to make machinima (a slow process, and like any kind of filmmaking, one that is never fully mastered), to build the objects I wanted to build in a virtual world (and how to find the ones I could not build myself), to get to know people in a different way than I had previously, to make my own particular kind of virtual art based on an evolving criteria of what I think is distinctive about virtual art, how to find other like-minded and also incredibly different-minded people, and to amuse myself and others seemingly endlessly. I tried a lot of things as ways of being or thinking through the virtual world, like taking metaphors seriously, or following coincidence and synchronicity to see where it led me, with mixed results. Oh, and I learned how to make a whole array of new social faux pas in the new country of the virtual world, without ever really learning how not to repeat them.

I learned that I really liked meeting the people I had met first in Second Life in the actual world, and that even when there were big differences between their avatars and their physical embodiments, I still enjoyed interacting with them more in the virtual world after meeting them in person. Even when the gender didn’t match up, I could still see or hear the person in the avatar, and “toggle,” my term for moving between the virtual and actual image in my mind’s eye, sometimes so fast as to blur the two. I met some of the people I am closest to in SL in person, but not all of them, and some I have “met” through telepresence on Skype or google video chat, in addition to the phone and voice chat. All these forms of communication, connection, interaction, and ways of knowing are incredibly interesting to me, and I look forward to extending these explorations with my students. I am very curious about interacting with people who I know first in the actual world as avatars; I do some of that, but maybe they are too close to me to be good experiments, or often they are with me in the same room, and we can just talk to each other instead of being together only in the virtual space. I also learned about myself that I do not ever really take the avatar as only an avatar, a virtual presence, but always think of the person on the other side of the computer, and make all kinds of assumptions about them, and sometimes those assumptions are way, way off. Botgirl finally taught me that one.

I also learned something I already knew, but maybe had forgotten a little, and really is the take-home lesson of my sabbatical: that in order to be creative, one has to be open and receptive, even vulnerable, make mistakes, explore and experiment. I could see this most clearly in the inworld art I made, particularly in the installation I did for SL6B, the 6th birthday celebration of Second Life. I was in way over my head, and luckily have friends who helped me. I was able to learn enough new skills to make something that expressed the ideas and images I imagined, and even imagery I hadn’t quite imagined, but made as I worked on the sculptures, experimenting with shape, movement, color, line, space. As I explored SL, especially going to the places suggested by Bettina Tizzy in her Not Possible in Real Life blog or inworld group notices/notecards, the creativity, innovation, and wild unleashing of the human spirit in Second Life never stopped amazing me or inspiring me. I feel incredibly lucky to have made friends with whom to trade ideas and collaborate, with whom finding our ways in the virtual world as artists, thinkers, designers, and builders is serious play, of the best kind.

Part Two

Here are some conclusions I have reached.

1) Everyone is in Second Life for their own reasons, and there is no point in generalizing. That said, I will! In a way, SL reminds me of the Peace and Justice Center I was involved in when I was a graduate student in Bloomington, Indiana, because people came to it for a lot of different reasons, and often found other ones for staying around. I do think that, as I have suggested with the fourth aspect of virtual subjectivity I formulated, "virtual agency," that so much depends on what a person chooses to do in a virtual world; as one discovers or develops new skills and interests, reasons can change. Because of the highly individualized nature of a virtual world, because virtual subjectivity is so, well, subjective, even as it is intersubjective and we create that virtual sense of self and place in our interactions with others, no one's experience of a virtual world is like another's. I have also seen quite a few people leave or drift away from SL, and that is interesting to think about, too, as I end my research time and wonder how my relationship to the virtual world will change now that it is not my primary focus. Is there a threshold of time spent that makes a difference to one's experience?

2) Although I am no Freudian, I found myself thinking a lot about Freud’s categories of id, ego, and superego, and wondering where the hell the superego is in SL. At one point, in the screwball comedy, that is what the heroine is looking for! Maybe it is the game-like environment, or the relative anonymity, or the intense visual stimulus, but people act in some pretty interesting ways, unencumbered by the internal censors that ruin so much of everyday life/keep civilization intact. At the same time, the “emotional bandwidth” of communication, to use Pathfinder Linden’s supersmart concept, is lower than in face to face communication, whether in the narrower pipeline of text chat or the wider one of voice. It is absolutely true that a great deal of actual world interaction is now computer-mediated, but in a virtual world, that’s all you got, and somehow, when combined with the relative absence of the superego, people’s interactions and actions take on a different flavor altogether.

3) A virtual world can be an extension of the actual world, and I think it will be increasingly so. It used to be that making a telephone call was a big, huge deal, involving stationary machines and an operator. Now we stop talking on the phone because we are walking up to the person we are talking to on our cell phone. The transition feels seamless. I believe that in the future, we will move in and out of virtual worlds like that, seamlessly, and our avatars will be another aspect of who we are. Combine this prediction with the observation noted in #2 above, and the future might be kind of fun!

4) There is an aura in a virtual world, and it is in the object of the avatar. I am working this up in a more detailed way, but that is the conclusion of L1AURA Loire. (Add this to #3 and #2, doing some weird insight math.)

5) There are great possibilities for both music, education, and new ways of being in virtual worlds, and Berklee should get in there!!

And here are some highlights of things I did during the sabbatical:

"Having But Not Holding: Consumerism & Commodification in Second Life" Journal of Virtual Worlds Research [Online], 1 10 Nov 2008

“The Falling Woman Story,” machinima

“TOGGLE,” machinima, published on the PBS Frontline Digital Nation website &

with additional commentary on:


“Virtual Art, Virtual Aura.” Presentation for Panel Discussion, Brooklyn Is Watching Best of Year One Festival. Jack the Pelicans Presents Gallery. Brooklyn, NY, July 2009.

“The Future of Virtual Subjectivity.” Inworld presentation/discussion, SL6B, Sixth Birthday Celebration of Second Life, June 2009.

“Boston Is Watching: Virtual Subjectivity.” Presentation, Boston CyberArts Festival, Boston Public Library, April 2009.

"Virtual KinoEye: Mutability, Kinetic Camera, Machinima, and Virtual Subjectivity in Second Life." Paper, Media in Transition 6: stone and papyrus, storage and transmission, MIT, Cambridge, MA, April 2009.

"Keynote Presentation, "Digital Transformations and Conversions in Art- Web 2.0 and Beyond: Virtual Subjectivity," NMC (New Media Consortium) Symposium on New Media and Learning, March 2009.

Inworld installations:

L1Aura’s EduGolf:

The Future of Virtual Subjectivity, Fiteiro Cultural

Podcasts for Brooklyn Is Watching:

Professor Loire’s Second Life blog:


Rough cuts of the screwball comedy and a music video

Machinima piece for Journal of Virtual Worlds Research on virtual goods and services

Multimedia essay on virtual subjectivity

Bouncing on my toes in preparation for the Burning Life land grab

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sabbatical Final Exam!

I have been working on my course syllabi for the Fall semester, and looking at the description of the take-home final exam, which explains that it is important to sit down, reflect, and be forced to perform a synthesis of what you have learned, even as you have one foot out the door and you are running around busier than ever (well, it doesn't use that language exactly). It occurs to me that I should have to do such a thing before I rush off into teaching and committees again, put the seat of the pants in the seat of the chair (as my professor Susan Gubar always said was the only way to get work done) and answer the question: What have you learned this year, studying virtual subjectivity on sabbatical in Second Life?

I post this here and now I have to do it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

L1 & Sage Discuss Pieces from the SLon des Refusés

L1Aura Loire & Sage Duncan talk about about some pieces in the fabulous SLon des Refusés, part of the BIW Year One Festival, curated elegantly by Mab MacMoragh, Moncherrie Afterthought, Dekka Raymaker, and Arahan Claveau.

See the SLon show here for an extra extended week, until August 30:

We discuss pieces by: Azdel Slade, four Yip, Man Machinaga, and Robin Moore.

Review of several works in SLon des Refuses 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009

That ain't no woman! It's a man, baby! Reflections on Botgirl's Identity Reveal

Botgirl Questi, AI, had teased that the actual world identity reveal was coming, and I was really looking forward to it. I don't know her very well, but I admire her, appreciate her work and tweets, and enjoy it when we do talk. Who was she? Did I already know her? How cool was she going to be in her human form?? I can wax pretty enthusiastic about my virtual friends, and think pretty highly of Botgirl (still do). When we started chatting on gmail chat and met inworld, talking about a collaboration, I was excited. She tweeted and blogged a couple of my blog posts, and I was thrilled. I am very interested in the virtual band, plan on following it, and think my Berklee students will be interested in it, too. And when we chatted, and talked about our kids, well, we were two techno-savvy, comic-lovin', avatar-inhabiting, mothers connecting.

Oh, right, except that Botgirl is really a man! Read the post here. Yes, as my friend said to me last night when I was telling him about this, there is a lot of that going around, but nevertheless I was really surprised. This is actually the second time a cool woman avatar friend, hip to technology, great to talk with, someone I had been hanging out with, has turned out to be not woman at all. It is a strange feeling, to find out that the assumptions one naturally has made, that one has been encouraged to make, are false, at least on one level. Yeah, yeah, in the virtual world, what difference does gender make? All avatars are really substitutes or alts for the actual person, or the typist, if you will, masks, exaggerating some characteristics, hiding others. Blah blah blah. The revelation still stung.

In the post revealing his identity, David wrote:

The short answer is that the pseudonymity that initially facilitated free expression is now a box that constrains creative growth and the development of more fully realized personal relationships. For the first year or so, social interactions were strictly from Botgirl’s perspective and consciousness. She adamantly refused to admit to having any human aspect. But over time, as a number of acquaintances moved towards friendships, it began to feel like withholding all reference to my human identity was inauthentic. So I started to intentionally inject more of my human self into the conversations. No identifying information, but personal anecdotes that were relevant to a conversation. The problem this created was that although both Botgirl and I feel “real” as unique individuals, we are pretty much a sham as a morph.

Those moments of personal anecdotes were the ones that leaped to mind immediately, because I thought they were from another woman. See, I am hung up on the gender. I really, really am, no matter what I would have thought I would have said, how I thought I would have responded. Not that it actually makes a difference, when I do think about it--two parents talking about their kids, not two mothers, so what?--but I am examining my initial emotional response. I tweeted glibly that she is still Botgirl to me, but that was wishful thinking. Maybe it is no coincidence that my laptop logic board failed right after I found out about Botgirl/David! Something short-circuited for a moment! Do I lose that woman friend, then, the one I thought I had? Or who was never really there anyway. Another piece of the frakking virtual world illusion that I am willing to believe in and then it is gone, baby, gone, and I am just an avatar jerk standing there, looking where there once was something that is never going to be there again. Oh! (Insert David Byrne, "Once in a Lifetime"-type smack on the forehead!) It was never really there to begin with! Yes, yes, the actual world is like that too. Blah blah blah on that one, as well. (Once I have my laptop back, I will be back to my usual optimistic self. Perhaps.)

OK, I am all for people experimenting with gender and other aspects of identity in SL. I think that Azdel Slade's project Becoming Dragon about gender and other transformations is fantastic; link here and slurl for SL inworld installation until Aug 30th here. I am happy to call you "she" if you have a female avatar, and be your girlfriend, participate in making that real for you, even if sometimes I look at you and see you reflect back to me what I see as an idealized, essentialized version of my existence. But, you know, the thing about gender, about SEX, about having a female body that you guys running around in your big-boobed, wasp-waisted "girl" avs don't and will never understand, is that having a female body is not only a social experience. It is not only about how people treat you, but it is also about what it is like to live in that body, physically, biologically, phenomenologically, without stepping in and out of it at will. It is not all about "empowerment" and "sexiness" because of boots and clothes. It is not only manipulating the construct of femininity, the performance of gender. It is also what it means to be afraid that you are not safe simply because you are in a female body, that your sexuality is not always defined by yourself, or that your worth as a human is judged by your appearance and value as, basically, a sexual or breeding object. It is to notice how you are responded to when you are one size, and how that changes if you are another. The whole issue of idealized feminine appearance is one big trap, and so easy to fall into in the virtual world. L1 is up to her shiny eyeballs in it; she may have to become a centaur or something to get out of it. But to be female in a virtual world is not the same as being female in the actual world, and being female in the actual world is very different depending on where, when, and who you are.

This actually brings me to an extraordinary sculpture I saw yesterday, Grand Odalisque, by 3D Soup, at the Rezzable sim The Black Swan, which is departing Second Life for their own OpenSim very soon. Our loss. I didn't intend on including these pics here, but I guess they fit remarkably well with the ideas I am trying to express. And I love her face.

It is unprecedented to see an image like this in Second Life, not just because of the hyper-realism (a topic that came up tangentially in the panel discussion I was on with Rezzable's Paviq Lok and Stacey Fox last week, see previous post), which I see as one of the ways virtual worlds will develop, not because of the skill it must have taken to make the sculpties for this piece. We don't see this kind of non-idealized image, especially of the female body, because most people are not interested, and in fact as I stood in front of Grand Odalisque with a few of my friends, the crowd shifted dramatically, from a quietly appreciative one (mostly in Instant Message, I think), to a rowdy bunch making fat jokes and using local voice chat. Yes, the virtual world is impermanent, ephemeral--that is its nature. But the way it is superficial and false is a choice, the consensual hallucination we create, that makes something like Grand Odalisque so unusual to our eyes, so out of place.

Back to Botgirl: I was prepared for Botgirl to really be Grand Odalisque. We are all more like Grand Odalisque than the idealized avatar, and seeing both in the same virtual space reminds us of that, maybe brings us up short (literally, given the gap in size between us and her! Interestingly, it is with a similar disproportion in size that David chose to illustrate his reveal, BIG David face, smaller Botgirl. I, in contrast, tend to show L1 and myself as the same relative size in the pieces I have done.)

I just wasn't prepared for Botgirl to be Botguy. In the long run, it doesn't make a difference. There have always been good authors who have written good characters of the opposite gender, and I interacted with one. Initially, I felt a little duped I guess, and it makes me wonder about authenticity, integrity, in virtual worlds when so much can be obscured. I am not one to throw stones, and I am getting over it. I could toggle, knowing that behind Botgirl is David, interesting in his own right, and think that through. Mostly, I don't want there to be no more Botgirl, the one in my head (and if I ever needed confirmation about what computer mediated communication can do, this is it.) And this is where I wonder if I am willing to stand here as the virtual jerk with nothing really before her but illusion. Not sure. My sabbatical is over. I would like to give the virtual world a little kick while I stand here. Anyone got a good animation for that?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Footage & Pics from Brooklyn Is Watching Panel at Jack the Pelican Presents in Brooklyn

Here are some pictures from last Saturday's panel discussion at Jack the Pelican Presents, along with a couple of inworld pics Sage and I snapped of the virtual simulations of JTPP, built I believe by Dekka Raymaker, for the Final 5 show of the BIW Year 1 celebration. That's Sage and I, in both avatar form and as the real people we also are. See more of that here.

This video clip is the piece of my talk that ended up on my camera, and so I post it!! Audio of the entire panel discussion is available here, from the Brooklyn Is Watching blog.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Going to Brooklyn!!

Saturday, August 15, 6pm at Jack the Pelican Presents in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, there will be a panel discussion as part of the Brooklyn Is Watching Year One Festival! With me on it! Details here.

I will be talking about virtual art, about the criteria I use for evaluating it and making my own. I'll frame my presentation with Walter Benjamin's concept of the aura, because that's what happens when you get an avatar named L1 AURA to do something.

Can't wait to see THE gallery, especially after being in the Final 5 virtual spaces of it. I am also wildly excited to meet Pavig Lok, big fan of Greenies that I am, and, of course, to meet Sage in the actual world.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Masquerades of Endings

Clever botgirlq tweeted, "Avatars are like costumes we wear to the perpetual masked balls we call Virtual Worlds." I like this. There is hardly anything I like more than a masquerade ball, the way people behave in slightly different ways as they don the mask, even, or especially, when you already know each other. I had a masquerade ball for my 40th birthday, or rather for my 40.5 birthday, because when I turned 40, the heavens opened and there was a record snow storm, canceling the party. It took 6 months for us to get it together to reschedule, and it was no longer a birthday party, just a masked ball, but a good time was had by all, and there was waltzing.

I ponder the differences between the actual and virtual masked balls as I perform some triage on the mountain of machinima footage I have amassed during the past year of my sabbatical. (See pic of Kino and L1 reviewing footage.) I can see how L1 has changed physically, how my interests have shifted, how the people and places I have filmed have shifted and persisted. And what to do with it all?

One piece, the screwball comedy, has been particularly elusive to me, starting out as one idea, becoming ever more complicated, and suffering from a serious lack of denouement. I never shot an ending!! Tons of footage and no ending! I did make a trailer for it back in the Spring:

Somehow, as I worked on it, I got lost in the details, lost the narrative. Suddenly there was a crowd scene to shoot, a first for me who had pretty much only worked with my own alts before, but what did that scene have to do with the story, and what was the story at this point? I am into going with the flow of things, tend to have the experimental approach of: I wonder what this will be like, but I am not sure this is the way to get a movie done. Maybe what I wanted to say shifted around, more than once. Whose story is it anyway? Kino's? The leopard's? The leopard has the voice over, but I found the purring damnably difficult, and only let a few people hear it, who said I sounded sleepy. Not the tone I was going for.

Now I am faced with trying to make something out of what I have, or shooting some more, writing a new voice over . . . starting again really in order to end. It makes me think about the making of Bringing Up Baby, of course the inspiration for my screwball comedy, way over budget and schedule, with Howard Hawks' improvisational style, screenwriters on the set rewriting constantly, much confusion and hilarity, frustration, but also great creativity and sparks. Someplace there is an intersection of my interest in the conventions of the screwball genre and in SL, but I am still not sure where that is. I can only hope it will emerge in the edit.

Botgirl showed me her comedy about SL romance, which you can see (warning, R-rated) here.

It is cynical and funny, with a really good ending, and is slick, savvy machinima, with outstanding use of sound. And knowing that she has commented with characteristic insight and wit on this pattern, I will turn my attention in a different direction, maybe back to computer-mediated communication. Now there's a topic for comedy!!

One piece I know I want to nail down is the footage of my SL6B build that I took at the SL6B gloom sim, on the very last night before they took the sim away, a dramatic ending, really, complete with a mysterious visitor who didn't want to leave, just to stay there in one of my sculptures as the sim vanished. Whatever! I'll use that footage for a tour of the installation and as an explanation of some of my ideas about virtual subjectivity. I can film an intro at the installation at Fiteiro Cultural, and use that machinima for a presentation on my sabbatical work.

So my endings are really masquerades of endings, because the footage lingers, needing to be cut, maybe reshot, simulacra of closure, with a window left open off on the side of my screen, in case.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

See the wind

comet Morigi, an artist from Tokyo, has done some amazing work in SL. Now comet has a 4-sim piece at the Wind Observatory at Orange Island that will--can't resist--blow you away. comet uses the SL wind to move particles; several pieces have graced Brooklyn Is Watching and caused wonder and awe. What we have here at the Wind Observatory makes an invisible aspect of the physics of SL visible, and beautiful, and on a scale hitherto unglimpsed. Bravo. The snapshots do not do it justice. Just go. Here is the slurl.

Brooklyn Is Watching Panel at Jack the Pelican Presents in Brooklyn

I've been following the Rezzable departure from Second Life for their own OpenSim, and so was over at Greenies to check that it was still there. I love the scale, the sense of play, involved in being in that build. I logged off there and so logged back in there, right after, in one of those serendipitious synchronicities that delight, amaze, and sometimes perplex/chill me in SL, I was delighted to find out that not only was I chosen to be part of the panel discussion for the Brooklyn Is Watching Year One Celebration at the Jack the Pelican Presents gallery in Brooklyn on August 15, but so is the artist who built Greenies, Pavig Lok! And also, Superhero/Fox Sage Duncan/Stacey Fox. We are working on some kind of SL component, too, because we love mixing that reality!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Endings & Beginnings

Things change a lot, and fast, in a virtual world. This was one of the themes in The Falling Woman Story, and it has continued to amaze me. The SL6B celebration of Second Life's sixth birthday is long over now; that was my first installation that went up, and then had to come down. I had been dreading dismantling it. Not only did I grow to like it, and enjoy being a part of the larger project and group who exhibited there, meeting some talented and interesting new people through that experience, and learning so much about building, installation, etc., but I just hate endings. I don't know whether the moving date you have marked on your calendar that you can see all the way across the room is preferable to the date you look back on later, that swells with significance only in retrospect, the shudder later when you remember the swiftness with which that event snapped you out the door, forced an ending, when you look back and realize that that was the last time you were someplace, or with someone, but you just didn't know it at the time.

Luckily, in SL, there are always new projects, new beginnings, new places to discover! A fantastic new show opened at Caerleon, always a place to see some of the best virtual art in SL; this slurl will plop you in the middle of Al Lurton's piece at the Caerleon Future Project, and you can make your way from there. Brooklyn Is Watching has moved to the aptly named Impermanence sim, generously hosted by the University of Kansas and Sage Duncan/Stacey Fox, slurl here. My friends Alexith and Shirah Destiny opened an art gallery dedicated to the theme of nature above their garden shop at Destiny Blue; I have two clickable sculptures in it, and so do my good friends Maya Paris and Misprint Thursday, as well artwork by six other artists. From this slurl, you'll arrive at the entrance to the Destiny Blue Designs garden. There is a sign to teleport you up to the gallery.

But the most exciting development for me happened just days before the SL6B exhibition closed, Millagrosa Vella, asked me to install the Gloom Meteor build as part of the Fiteiro Cultural presence in Second Life, at Casa Millagrosa (slurl here). I could not be more excited, and love being over there. Builder extraordinaire kurie Erde is working on a ride between the sculptures, and we are cooking up something about point of view, too. So new beginnings!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Love to Sparkle

Wanting to make the boundaries between the virtual and actual worlds more permeable? Itching to toggle just a little more between them? Then Sparkle is for you!! Sparkle is the delightful name of the iPhone app that lets you log into Second Life and use instant message with friends, participate in local chat wherever your avatar is (although you can't see the space visually), accept inventory offers, and teleport friends to you so they can participate in your local chat.

It seems to work pretty well, except of course that no one knows your avatar isn't "really" there, or is even less virtually there than usual. A while ago, standing around on my land, a mysterious stranger appeared who told me he couldn't see my, that he needed to relog with "eyes," and explained the various viewers and programs that people use for SL; he was using a messaging-only one at the time. It confused me no end at the time. So I try to tell people that I am on my iPhone, that I am Sparkling, or on Sparkle. "L1Aura Loire sparkles at space shuttle launch" I think there are some good verb possibilities here.

What is the point of Sparkling? As usual for these things, there are as many answers as there are people in SL, because everyone is doing something different. If someone is involved in a project and wants to check messages away from their computer, this is a good way to do that. I was glad to be able to answer a question about the build I am installing at the Fiteiro Cultural (see pic above, more on that completely exciting development soon) when I wasn't going to be inworld for a while. Another time, I was stuck waiting someplace and popped in, had an amusing conversation with a SL friend. I don't use text messaging on my phone, but I guess I used it like that.

But mostly the experience of using Sparkle on the iPhone is that it is yet another way that the virtual world creeps out of the computer and into the "real" world. There I am, walking around with the sexy little iPhone, but also "being" L1. Even though I can't see my avatar, she is there in SL, talking to someone, who can see her. I am really in two places at once, here and there, in a way that I am not when I sit at my computer. This is how I see the future of virtual worlds developing, so that over time, as the technology develops, toggling between the virtual and actual becomes as easy as making a phone call is now on a cellphone--wherever you are, with all the info at your fingertips, or braintips-- and we exist in both realities, sometimes simultaneously. And there will probably be more kinds of realities, experiences, and subjectivities, too, that make SL look like having a telegraph exchange instead of a face to face conversation.

Another experience I had recently used the avaline, a phone number for avatars. I called Sage Duncan on her avaline, inworld, from my home phone. She answered in her voice chat in Second Life and we talked. This blows my mind!!! OK, I know she is a real person--Stacey Fox at Kansas Univ--as well as Sage Duncan, superhero/fox as I like to think of her because she can do everything--with panache--and has helped me out more than a couple times when I had primmed myself into a corner. But still!! Calling her in the grid on a telephone! Mixed reality! Toggle! A new interface! Use that technology!

To Sparkle, then, is perhaps to have that double existence in the actual and virtual, to be both/and, to be on the cusp of the toggle, maybe falling over the edge into . . . .

Friday, July 10, 2009

BIW Best of Year One: Top 30 Opens Tonight, Friday July 10, 6pm EDT

The 30 best of Year One of Brooklyn Is Watching are on the sim and just about ready for you to come and see them. The exhibition opens Friday, July 10, at 6pm EDT, and it is breathtaking. The pieces here demonstrate the possibilities of virtual art, and the range is fantastic. This pic here shows L1 in front of Oberon Onmura's Beacon at its transition to collapse, and also DC Spensley/DanCoyote Antonelli in SL magnificent piece Tower of Light. Here is the slurl. Come and see the many many more pieces by artists including:

Dancoyote Antonelli, Dekka Raymaker, Gazira Babeli, Glyph Graves, Juria Yoshikawa, Misprint Thursday, Patriciaanne Daviau, Oberon Onmura, Pavig Lok, Rachel Breaker, Rezago Kokorin, two time nominated Arahan Claveau, Comet Morigi, Ichibot Nishi, Nebulosus Severine, Selavy Oh, Solkide Auer, and three time nominated Bryn Oh and four time nominated Alizarin Goldflake.

Monday, July 6, 2009

There's No Confusion Like SL Confusion: Identity, Alts, & Other Aspects of Self

L1's virtual head is spinning. She has often been confused in SL, as it can often be a confounding and quick-changing environment, but this experience beat all. First, I was talking to a SL friend inworld, then logged off. Then I got a friendship request in my e-mail from an avatar with the same first name as my friend, popped back inworld, accepted it, and said hello. I thought it was my friend, in a new account. I helpfully offered skins and shapes to the "noob"--what an insult, really, but of course only meant as a quick start! Because of the nature of SL conversation, perhaps, or various coincidences between my friend and this person, someone I know in the actual world, it took a while to unravel the misunderstanding, and we had a good laugh, and were glad to connect inworld.

But it made me think. Anyone could be anyone in SL, something I have not really understood fully before. No wonder some businesses are wary of SL, although I had previously thought about it primarily because of the general weirdness of the virtual world, the strong sexual content and the unpredictability of what can happen at one's shop or event. I have had a lot of confidence in my virtual intuition or something, and now I think that is a lot of bunk. Unless we choose otherwise, identity is shrouded in SL.

I had been thinking of this anyway, and the other night took a picture of some willing but wanting to remain anonymous avatars at a fun club I like to go to inworld, Flashmans, (slurl) a place with an excellent 20s and 30s music stream, fun dances, and a surrealist bent in the decor. The clever club owner put a smooching poseball in front of The Lovers, a 1928 Magritte painting that sometimes scares the crap out of me when I see it, prompting thoughts of hostages, torture, and claustrophobia, sometimes seems right on about the illusions of romance, and at other times seems too cynical. Kissing aside, the Magritte image speaks eloquently to an aspect of SL social interaction, one that on one hand allows for greater intimacy because of anonymity, and on the other, puts up barriers, or operates as a barrier that is already there because it is a virtual interaction. And then of course there is the whole element of computer-mediated-communication I have discussed here and on the Toggle page, which leads people to put idealized selves out there, interpret the sparse typed words how they wish, and create feedback loops that reinforce positives over negatives (until, perhaps, they become caught up in a negative feedback loop, when that would take over, and amplify the negatives). Like the figures in the Magritte image, we are all stuck in our own heads, mired in our own subjectivities, and maybe the filter through which we see is more opaque than we ever care to acknowledge.

This also brings me to another topic I have been thinking about: alts. Alt is, I believe, short for alternate account, another avatar with which a person logs into SL. There are a lot of reasons to have alts, and one of my friends and I made a list once. Basically, there are personal and professional reasons. Artists and business people use alts to test things, to make sure permissions work on avatars that aren't theirs, or to see if something works with two or more avatars, etc. Machinimatographers use alts as camera people, as cameras, really, or as actors. I have a whole cast who were in a science fiction piece I made last year when I was learning about machinima that was so bad I never bothered to cut it together. Avatars who are well known, inworld or in both realities, might want some of the anonymity that most people have in SL, and will use an alt for that, either to be able to be incognito, or check out the business competition. Professional people just might want a social alt, and all their friends know who that is, so little deception involved, except maybe to acquaintances, who could of course become friends, and that could be murky territory. And then of course there are probably as many personal reasons to have alts as there are people who have them: to play with different identities, to start fresh, to have more experiences, to have peace and quiet to work or explore, to compartmentalize identity, to be malicious, to have affairs, to hide in various ways inworld. People can experiment with an alt, and might have an alt of the other gender, or one for a completely different purpose, like role play or gaming, or to participate in one of the many subcultures, maybe to have a third or even fourth life.

My camera alt, Kino, started off as a camera holder. I shrunk the avatar and hid it in flower pots and things for shooting. Then, as my scripting teacher was working on my camera follower eye object for me, and I couldn't get it to stop following me, which was hilarious, I realized I could log in as Kino and send him a message from that account: "This is the eye. I am on the loose and L1 cannot control me." Hahaha. Pretty funny stuff. Hilarity ensues. Machinima is made about the eye. Then I start to get some ideas for a screwball comedy, but I don't think I want these humiliations to happen to L1. Aha! These things can happen to Kino! She needs some good hair, an outfit or two, etc., became more of a character. I filled out her profile, because in the screwball comedy, which takes place in SL, the characters look at each other's profiles. I also realized I could join some more groups, having filled up my allotted 25 as L1. At one point, I considered trying a role play game, and almost enrolled as Kino in Star Fleet Academy, picked up the application and everything, but they are very serious over there. I contemplated trying to get kicked out of Starfleet, but I wouldn't want to disrupt their game. I do not think I talk or act any different as Kino as I do as L1. If Kino is around, I will tell people to ignore her because she is my alt, or say funny things as her once they know. Sometimes, if I am in as Kino, I will tell people I am an alt, and leave it at that, not sure why, maybe because her profile is kind of crazy.

To be sure, alts are deceptive. I went to a philosophical discussion at Thothica--as Kino--about alts. I was going to say I was an alt, but I thought the moment to do so passed and it seemed too dramatic. I did send IMs to the people there who knew me. It is just murky territory, I think, with absolutely no parallel in the actual world. How could you be right in front of someone, interacting with them, having a whole relationship with them, and have them not know they had met you before but you had a different name, and face? That you were being two people with them? Or used to be someone else and now were this person and they didn't know that? Even if the reason is innocuous, or justified, or none of their business, even if the alt-perpetrator was not trying to put anything over on anyone, but alting for some other reason known only to him or her, it is a rotten thing to do to someone if it makes them feel bad, or if it would make them feel bad if they knew it, or if you thought it would make them feel bad if they knew it, but maybe they wouldn't care less. Does the golden rule apply? Or does that just tighten the burlap around our heads?

Except of course that it is in SL, in a context in which the social contract is often based maybe not on lies but not on truths either. It does not automatically include revealing actual identity in the way that a face-to-face interaction might. Alts may be deceptive, but so is SL, or it can be, even if no one is trying to make it that way on purpose. Isn't the avatar an alt for the actual person behind the computer, the typist? What difference does it make who else an avatar is, if we are interacting with an avatar on the level of SL?

I am sure there are all kinds of deliberate and malicious uses of alts, but my interest doesn't tend there, and it all makes me think of some of the scenes in the screwball comedies of the 30s, like The Lady Eve or The Awful Truth, or even the jail scene in Bringing Up Baby. The Lady Eve has an edge to it, in part because it is Barbara Stanwyck, so maybe not the best example here, although it is a sort of alt revenge now that I think about it. (And maybe there is a good machinima noir of an alt story, a femme fatale who is genuinely unknowable, maybe even to herself, lost between accounts!) I saw a production of the play The Importance of Being Earnest in Second Life, and thought that was a particularly resonant and funny play in the SL context. Shakespearean comedies, too, would have excellent significances, with the cross-dressing impersonations, mistaken identities, and overall investigation of self, appearance, and social customs.

And, yes, all this makes me more interested in what I call the mixed-reality works in progress of friendships, ones that bridge the boundaries of the virtual and actual worlds, and have been enjoying playing with some new gadget/applications that facilitate those border crossings. There is an app for my new lovely iPhone called Sparkle, that logs me into SL and I can IM or have local chat with the folks inworld with it. There are the new avalines, phone numbers for avatars, and yesterday I called Sage Duncan and talked with her with me on my home telephone and her on SL voice chat. Earth calling Sage, Superhero/Fox!! These are the kinds of technologies that make toggling between the actual and the virtual possible.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Imaginary Friends

My former chair sent me a funny comic strip, as he does every now and then, and this one really made me laugh. It gets to the heart of one of the issues around computer-mediated-communication, which is the way we establish and maintain friendships and relationships in online communities and within virtual space. Certainly, one of the fascinations for me in Second Life is the social engagement; in such a rich visual and imaginative environment, where does my subjectivity end and that of the real people on the other side of their computers begin? It is a moving line, and maybe a liminal space that we share, at times, at the best times. That is my utopian vision, at least, and has been my experience sometimes, with some people, and so that is my story and I am sticking with it. It is the theme of TOGGLE, the piece I made for the Frontline Stories from your Digital Nation project, which you can see on their site here or if you want HQ, on youtube here. Mine is the top right bubble. I made the piece specifically for an audience not familiar with Second Life.

I fleshed out some of the complexities I thought I glossed over in the piece on this webpage. Basically, the "hyperpersonal" mode of computer-mediated communication that is fostered by the text messaging in SL, which allows for selective self-presentation (according to scholar Joseph Walther; see the webpage for more) means that relationships are forged between two idealized selves, with a feedback loop that tends to reinforce positives over negatives. It doesn't mean that those qualities aren't there in the actual person, because undoubtedly they are, but the selective self-presentation gives the typist more control over what is shared, even to the point of being able to erase what one is typing as you see what the other person has just said, an impossibility in voice chat or face to face communication. No matter how natural or relaxed one is being in text chat, there is always that element of control, and of the lower "emotional bandwidth," as Pathfinder Linden terms the low-cue environment.

So given that, what does it mean to be an online friend? That question has so very many answers. Are they, as the comic strip snipes, "imaginary friends?" Who can have 1000 friends? Or how about followers, as Twitter terms them? There are as many reasons to "friend" someone in SL as there are people, so that question is impossible to answer in a broad way. Everyone has a different idea about what it means to have people on their friends list, and some people edit those lists, trimming away people, and some don't. I tend not to.

To turn to another online friend-space, I do not spend much time on Facebook, don't get the updates in e-mail, etc, but I do like it , and do check in now and then. I've connected with people with whom I have lost touch, and I do feel back in some kind of network with them now. They are right there, virtually. And all of a sudden, in one virtual place, are all the different chapters of my life, from high school (because it was a high school friend who got me to actually do more than put up an empty page on Facebook to begin with) to people I only know in Second Life. It makes me feel more integrated, like all those parts of myself mingle there on the facebook page, and a narrative forms for me. I have been rotten at keeping in touch with people, not for any good reason, and so I am glad to be reconnected, to be part of the web of contacts, to see their pictures and find out what they are doing. In some way, there is a little piece of me still there in Bloomington, for example, and I suppose it is there with the people who are there. Maybe that is what is left behind when we make a choice and leave someplace instead of staying; in my mind's eye, in a flash of memory, sometimes in dreams, all of a sudden, I am right there, in Bloomington, walking down South Stull to my house. I see some pictures, some faces, on facebook and it happens then, too, and I am in both places, here and there. It is a kind of virtual experience, mediated by technology, or prompted by it.

So what does that have to do with imaginary friends? I think it is in the same category, of a highly subjective, individualized, internal experience that is also connected to something real and external. In one way, all friendships and relationships exist in the imaginary; we are symbolic for each other. I do not believe that my SL friends are imaginary friends; I do not think that I have that good of an imagination. I am also sure that I participate in creating the image I have of them in my mind, the same way I fill in the gaps between the people I knew in the past and the current photos on Facebook. But even more than that, in the way that Bloomington is still there in my mind, or rather, how I am still there in my mind, then yes, I suppose that there may be a good place for imaginary friends, extensions of connections made. Do our interactions with the people we care about stop when we are not with them? I think not; our minds, our connections transcend time and space, and that is what imagination is for.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Desert Place Clickable

This piece was really the turning point of the build for me, when some combination of the meteor gloom and unforeseen emotional upheaval reminded me of the Robert Frost poem, "Desert Places." I was inspired by Penumbra's "so much depends" piece, which interprets that Williams Carlos Williams poem in a virtual context. I also think of all the desert places, internal and external, actual and virtual, we inhabit, and how we cope with them.

There is a flower that holds the poem; click and you see it in local chat and are offered a notecard. The particle snow sparkles briefly in the night. The ice twist sculpture gives depth, and the swirling texture on the inside of the snowglobe destabilizes one's point of view. The poseball makes the avatar creep and climb around in the snow. Stand up and you will sink into it.

The piece also makes use of an experiment I've been playing with: using friends' rez dates for the numbers in particle scripts to make different colors and effects.

Desert Places

by: Robert Frost, 1936

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast

In a field I looked into going past,

And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,

But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it--it is theirs.

All animals are smothered in their lairs.

I am too absent-spirited to count;

The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is that loneliness

Will be more lonely ere it will be less--

A blanker whiteness of benighted snow

With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces

Between stars--on stars where no human race is.

I have it in me so much nearer home

To scare myself with my own desert places.

The Future of Virtual Subjectivity, or From the Gloom Meteor

Here are some pics from my installation at SL6B, and here is the website I made, with the notecard info from it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


L1 has been clicking from poseball to poseball to get around the SL6B build, sort of swinging on virtual vines. This time she went from the waternap chair to the snowglobe, and ended up just lying down in the snow instead of creeping around. She worked hard at the presentation/discussion event tonight, so I just let her be.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


My build, "The Future of Virtual Subjectivity," which could also be called, "Greetings from the Gloom Meteor," is seen from afar in the above snapshot; it is the one with the spheres in the air and the marvelous dome on the ground (built by the talented and ever-patient Cinco Pizzicato). I took this snapshot at 2:50 am my time, just as the group notice went out that said: pencils down, and will get some better ones today when the exhibition reopens. The build time was over, and what is there will be my first virtual installation. Yes, there is EduGolf, but that has a practical purpose different from this piece, which really is my attempt to participate fully in the inworld virtual art making I have been around and experimenting with in various ways.

I learned a lot in making this piece. I banged my head against the limitations of my knowledge and skill constantly as I tried to figure out how to make the things that were in my head. I asked a lot of people for help, and they were really generous with me. That is one of the best aspects of SL, of course, and my friends are talented and patient. When the fourth skilled builder/artist I know came to my land, took a look around at what I was doing, and told me to simplify, that I was making things needlessly complicated, I really heard it, and so that became the thing I worked for this project when I got stuck, stepping back, remembering the focus, going for simplicity, and then of course ramping up the ideas and complexity again, because that is my nature. It was an interesting process, and maybe a dialectic I can play with inworld, with particles, textures, and other kinds of scripting and movement.

So, here is the short version of the narrative of my piece:

Here on the meteor, it is 2499 and we hurtle through space, bereft of sun, with barely enough water to keep us being civil to each other. Sometimes I think if I bang my head on the edge of the dome one more time when I'm cleaning up, I'll really scream. The gloom persists. But not too long ago, we found some fragments from a non-quite forgotten past, and they ignited our imaginations. Images, a poem, some sounds, a fragment of video, pieces of text, pulled off an ancient disc that somehow survived in space and floated to us.

What an archeological find! The motifs invigorated our design, infiltrated our dreams, shaped our virtual environments. The sun, the flower, the ripple, the snow. A poem that speaks to our experience here on the gloom meteor, my own desert place that I call home. But then of course I toggle into the virtual, and my eyes drink in the water, my skin sears with the heat of the sun, I am enveloped by the petals of the flower, and I turn my face and part my lips to taste the falling snow.

Part of what we found has made us think about the long ago past, how quaint it must have been when the virtual was so split from the actual, when it was not so effortless to shift between, when not everyone was moving between realities. On that disc, maybe corrupted because it doesn't all make sense, were some ideas about virtual subjectivity written by someone named Lori Landay in the year 2009, a primitive time of computer screens, something very bad called lag in an early virtual world named Second Life, and also I think a time of great hope and invention.


The installation has two parts, really: the part on the land, which is mostly Cinco's dome and Alexith Destiny's fantastic glowy thyme and meteor flowers. The domehouse is decorated on the inside with the images and video "found" on the disc, which I imagined as a back up CD or DVD I might make when working on a project, that somehow ends up floating through space. Yeah. The images include photographs from my garden, a photo of the sun from NASA, a picture of a peony from an online bulb catalog. These are the designs on the chairs, on the walls, the floor, in the dome.

A teleport object (with a super clever script by Cinco) takes you to an approximation of some of the experiences the meteor people have when they toggle into the virtual, immersive sensory experiences that provide them what they sorely lack on the gloom meteor. The images you saw in the dome as design motifs are the virtual environments themselves.

I wanted to have a ride take the avatars from one sculpture to the next, but I could not get that damned thing to work right. Misprint used it for the suck train at Brooklyn Is Watching, and I was over there with her when she was installing it, and it gave her problems too, I remember. She of course, fixed hers, but I ran out of time and patience, and so simplified, and people will have to fly around my build.

I am having an event, a short talk and then a discussion, at 5PM Pacific Time on Thursday, June 25.