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.