Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Second Life and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance

#class update: Today sees the table discussion that many people have been waiting for : Art World as High School, 4pm – 5pm "You can't possibly have a discussion about the art market without thinking about New York as a series of carefully placed lunchroom tables where even the subtlest glance, bit of gossip, or movement can set off a fight. Are you a cool kid? A rich kid? A fat kid? A jock? A nerd? An Outcast? Think about it, and if you want to address how reputation, coolness, likability, personality, wealth, and other social aspects shape the art world, please volunteer to have a deeply uncomfortable discussion." Then, 6pm – 7pm,n "My Sweatshop, My Sweet," Mary Walling Blackburn examines the art world's unregulated romance with the factory. Kisses to the workers and warm hugs to the product! Finally, The Writer is IN: Sarah Schmerler 6:30pm – 8:00pm Sarah Schmerler, art critic and journalist, will talk about how to write an artist's statement—and then will write as many of them as she possibly can. Itinerary: From 6:30–7:00 Schmerler gives an introductory talk on how to write about your own work (participation encouraged). From 7:00–8:00, Sarah Schmerler will attempt to write in real time about your work for you. Yes, that's statement-writing (or bio writing, or cover letter writing, or exhibition statement writing, or press release writing, whatever you want) in 15-minute intervals, tops. First come, first served. ( Schmerler says: "Don't worry; no one likes to write." Schmerler also curates and does consulting.


A while ago in #class a group of us entered Second Life for a lovely afternoon touring virtual art galleries and a fabulous museum. Our guide (the charming Debbie Ainscoe) was in London, many of our participants were not in the gallery, and even within the gallery, some of us were in other rooms as we all moved around together in the virtual room. It was fun (we ended up being wonderfully silly on the dance floor at a Reggae avatar danced much better than I do).

Monday evening, Bambino and I attended the presentation at MoMA by new media artist Joseph DeLappe, who has gained quite a bit of attention with some of his projects in Second Life, including a real world/virtual world performance in which he re-enacted the 26-day walking journey taken by Gandhi. His Gandhi avatar later returned to second life for a re-enactment of the Indian leaders term in jail, after which a somewhat revolutionary music concert in honor of his release and featuring quite a cast of characters (all singing from their living rooms or offices in different places around the world) took place. Joseph's description of how it felt to participate in that reminded me of the joy we felt dancing in the Reggae club.

In the Q&A portion of the presentation, an audience member asked Joseph if he thought his work contributed to the dehumanizing distancing of the digital age. After all, he was spending an amazing number of hours doing his work alone, separate from other real humans. Joseph acknowledged the limitations of the medium, but didn't agree that that aspect of his work defined his entire practice (he also makes sculpture and other real world objects).

I later asked him myself though, whether there isn't something about the odd and silly way you connect with other people in Second Life that isn't in fact somewhat more real or at least poignant than how most of us connect with people in the real world. I was thinking specifically about a passage I had recently read in Robert Pirsig's classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He explained why he felt more connected to the people he'd meet in small towns through the countryside more than he did in the big cities. These folks truly lived at a slower pace, would engage you fully when talking with you, they were open to learning about you, and didn't have as many distractions going on around them while they did. They live much more in the moment, he wrote.

It felt that way to me, as well, in Second Life. It's awkward moving around at times, which slows you down. You are clearly in this environment to be there, so you're more willing to take the time to get to know a stranger who happens by. And while the environment is other-worldly, it's self-contained, which permits an odd level of letting go of the real world around you and enjoying the moment.

Of course, I have way too much to do to spend much time in Second Life, but I do wonder whether, rather than contributing to the distancing of humans in our fast-paced digital age, it might not re-train us on how to connect.

Labels: art appreciation


Anonymous Cedric C said...

On the internet, you can go in the "horny room" and you know everybody there is horny. And so that is very helpful, because in the real street of everyday life, you can't tell who's horny and not, and to frequent "institutions"
where you know people are likely to be horny is kind of a big leap when you just want to act silly for 15 minutes. The irony of internet is that we borrow masks to help us be ourselves, better.

Cedric C

3/17/2010 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

I wrote a major piece about a second life project in Williamsburg a couple of years ago. I spent months critiquing peoples "art" projects. This concept is creepy and the political implications (too complex to go in to here) should give every clear thinking individual pause. If people were doing a good job in their "first life" they wouldn't need a second life.

3/17/2010 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

Yes, it's the internet, the way of communicating, it's a tool, it's new and novel, we all enjoy technology, email, chat, blogging, google, (I haven't tried second life yet), texting, social networking etc.. it opens new worlds, it's new and exciting.

The question is what will happen in 10 or 20 years, when all this is no longer new, are we still going to enjoy the novelty and vast communication or are we going to feel isolated?

As for artists: many artists spend hours in the studio, in isolation, whether it's working on the computer or the canvas, many choose this vocation because they are loners who enjoy being and working by themselves. Although the goal, eventually IS to communicate, to show your work to the world.

3/17/2010 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger Brent said...

I agree with what you said Ed! An interesting note, is you are sometimes able to connect with people you'd have little way of connecting with in real life. Case in point, I was involved with a group of Quakers in SL a couple of years ago, and found out a few of them were autistic in RL. You would never know of their condition(at that time there were no provisions for voice communication, just text), and even if you did, it was doubtful that you could have had as meaningful an interaction as you did through this medium.

3/17/2010 11:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

some of the connectedness one finds on the web, might also be attributed to silent "reading" (like on a blog) which means all the posts are happening in your head, with your voices, you know them already -these aren't strangers voices, just strangers opinions. Your reading silently to yourself - minus the mediation of sound via your ears and the feedback of visaul cues- might mean you connect easier (it is your intimate voice you speak to yourself with and hear with)then otherwise. Sometimes the net connection is made with incorrect stereotypes you carry - you choose the tone of voice, you misunderstand the post.

Misconstruing the intimate voice in your head as a real connection to another person might happen. But then again, the net isn't all about reading. Sometimes the voices are real.

3/17/2010 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger Sowa Mai's dog said...

I'm sorry I missed you all in Second Life. I read about the #class excursion too late but I'm glad you had a good time. There is a lot going on artwise in the virtual world as evidenced in meatworld by the NY Times magazine article on Filthy Fluno, and the Art 21 segment on Cao Fei to mention just two.

The connections in this media are far different than the facebook, twitter, blog, model in that the avatars generally connect with those in the vicinity and more one on one conversations take place.
The virtual world is inevitably part of our future. It will be the way we connect and yes, in many ways the virtual makes the world a much smaller place. There definitely is a shift in perception and in how our brains work already -- as various studies have shown. It also develops a whole new level to the art of play, and play (or being silly) can only enhance our creativity. The great thing about Second Life and the art is the ability explore ideas on a bigger scale. To make things work with different forms than what we're used to challenges perceptions if not for everyone else, for ourselves; much like DeLappe's recreation in SL of Gandhi's experiences.

Artists in SL are trying to straddle the space between the real world and the virtual. There have been a number of Second Life shows that had real life openings as well. Right now, we're working on an installation that represents the people behind the avatars by collecting recordings of voices and setting them up as a field of sound to be explored and experienced and a large scale which would be cost prohibitive, require a football field or larger and be a true feat of electronic, electrical and mechanical engineering to be recreated in the real world. The installation which is part of a larger show is set open in April in Second Life and also in 6 real life galleries around the world. (And if you want you can participate by contributing your voice at

3/17/2010 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Solo Mornington said...

I'm a big fan of Joseph Delappe. He's one of the more important artists working in virtual worlds.

As to the distance or dehumanizing, in a word: No. As a result of being an artist in virtual worlds, I have seen more opportunities to collaborate and get to know interesting people than either physical space or my social skills allow.

Also, Second Life is a tool set. The process of learning the tools is a very low barrier between what you want and what you can accomplish. The system is easy to use, and the community is very helpful.

Basically: You haven't really begun to explore Second Life until you've learned to build.

3/17/2010 12:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting idea, that something like second life might re-train us how to connect.
Cedric's post reminds me of how I interact with this blog. I can comment as me, anonymous, make up a pseudonym, etc, but I am always me when I post, and I always know others reading and posting care about and understand art.
Maybe one day I'd walk into a gallery and have this kind of discussion with real people, but maybe I'd be too busy, or too engrossed in looking at art, or too shy, or just irritated by people to do it in person.

I think whether it is true or not that virtual interaction can help us reconnect in the real world depends on your ability to take that way of connecting virtually and apply it to other aspects of your life. Kind of like therapy (geez- enough with the analogies, already!). It is quite possible to spend many years in therapy and not have it affect your daily life at all, or you can take the work done in that highly considered, intimate situation and apply it to other aspects of your life.

That said, I can't say I believe we can truly separate the virtual world from the lived world very well anymore, just as it is no longer possible to separate nature and culture anymore. Both are becoming more and more intertwined.


3/17/2010 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

I love DeLappe's work.
While I also don't engage with Second Life much on a personal level, I love it as a material, as a space to investigate not only relationships and performance (per DeLappe and others), but also the things it lacks - bodies and time, for example. (Tangentially, it's also great to get footage of things that'd be hard to get in real life - circling sharks, for example...). I remember having a discussion with you once about this Edward, and am glad to see you still maintain interest. Related: I finally launched the installation you and I talked about at the time:
video and images:

Feedback, as always, welcome (but by no means expected).

3/17/2010 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger Mab MacMoragh said...

Ed, you're great. A true arts-lover.

In my comments below I will be using the ® symbol, as I try always to do in referencing Second Life®, to emphasize that one of its limitations for artists is that it is a proprietary commercial marketplace product offering a platform for artworks and interactions, not a democracy, not a society, not a drive-through neighborhood nor a way to simulate a one-night-stand unless that's specifically what your aim is in being there.

As a profit-seeking product based on cutting-edge technology, the system requirements and capabilities are ever-changing. The company that manufactures Second Life®, San Francisco's Linden Labs, have their eyes on the bottom line, demographics, and their competition. This marketplace focus does not always equate forward thinking and sometime in the future it could become a major quasher of serious art in SL® and artists will move on. However it has resulted in an extraordinary opportunity for artists to build something incredible and new out of what is essentially tabula rasa. It has provided means for collaboration and artistic influence on an individual scale unimaginable only a decade ago.

The current difficulty in exporting artists' creations includes the formidable paradox that Linden Labs makes claims for control of intellectual property in the commercial realm outworld and also makes it possible for intellectual property to be copied inworld (though they are working on this second issue and it's being used as a conceptual question in art). But as a breeding ground and ideas lab for certain digital artists Second Life® is a great experimental tool, with results that can (and do) help direct and inform outworld art projects.

For art teachers, the question of online education with elements in formats such as SL® and its like looms large, already many are finding traditional pedagogy to be in process of rapid change, possibly facing permanent disruption. See MIT's Joel Foner's blog post for his thoughts on this.

Yes, nothing will ever beat the alternative (if available) of hands-on and face-to-face experience in personal and teaching arenas, but times they are a changin' as they have always done and always will do. The only things that stay constant are the deep zen moments, the real engagements with the now, as Pirsig so eloquently traces in his book. Those happen inside the soul (or psyche if you don't believe in souls).

to be continued

3/17/2010 11:31:00 PM  
Blogger Mab MacMoragh said...

2. continued

@Cedric On the internet platform (of which Second Life® is but one evolving blip on the road through art history, as blogs and YouTube are) you can go in the "art" room and you know everyone there is wearing the "art" mask- good point!

@kalm james I'm surprised at your cynicism! I've been watching your (excellent!) art videos in virtual form (the internet!) for years now and recommending them to other artists. One constant is your refreshing goodnatured openmindedness in the face of apparently baffling things! Come on now! The Experience of Life is the experience of life whether it's spent navelgazing, cloudspotting, or staring at the stars, which don't exist in the form you see them! Aren't you an artist? Or are you simply making a joke about mirroring complexity here? If you could call it "the uncurated binary gallery where everyone who cares to can make things if they want and some of it will rise to the level of the sublime while most of it will be dreck but nevertheless important to support the moving target of virtual art and its relationship to tactile art and outsiders can make fun of it if they want to but it's all cool because it is what it is" instead of the branded Second Life® (a jokey easy target of a name given it by the blue-skies founder) would that make it more palatable? Just kidding, please don't unfriend me! Give SL® another chance! Visit some of the curated exhibitions, installations or studios if the chaotic free-for-all of the sandbox is not your cup of tea. Sometimes Art just wants to Be Fun.

@Iris Yes! In 10 or 20 years the world will be a vastly different place due to technology and its rapid morphing of societies, not just western culture but all cultures. The difference will be even greater than the technological divide separating 2010 from 2000 or 1990. Art technology must keep up with times or be lost in solipsism (a valid form of art in itself but not generally long-lived unless the documentation of it becomes its raison d'être). Most artists work in solitude but they require the "other" as muse. Muse comes in surprising forms sometimes.

@Brent Yes! SL® is a tool. You use it to accomplish something, whether connecting, making art, being silly, trawling for trouble, or as therapy (something military groups are exploring for PTSD sufferers, just one example of many). I hope to meet you one day in SL®!

@Gam Yes! Strangers on the internet can and do become close over time even if they never meet. Those who say this is rubbish have never experienced the power of the phenomenon. Reality is an abstract idea and construct, the realm of philosophers and arbiters. Humans can be in close proximity for years and never know much about each other at all.

to be continued

3/17/2010 11:34:00 PM  
Blogger Mab MacMoragh said...

3. continued

@Sowa Mai's dog Those are good examples of SL® art. Also there is Selavy Oh, who does groundbreaking conceptual art. An example can be read about here on the Smarthistory blog by Beth Harris (Director of Digital Learning at the Museum of Modern Art) and Steven Zucker (Dean of Graduate Studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology)

I challenge everyone here to be a part of Sowa Mai's Voice Art project. It's easy, just send him 10 seconds of your voice. Say anything you want, even say stuff about how Second Life® is for losers! Make it interesting and thought provoking if you want! Or simply whistle a tune, which is just as good! Do what you want, that's the point!

@Solo Joseph DeLappe is my hero. So are you. It was nice floating underwater with you this morning.

@ Anonymous (saskia) I walk into galleries and never have the kind of discussion that Ed inspires on this blog. It's all very superficial (usually) unless connecting one-on-one directly with the artist or the gallery owner or the curator. A gallery filled with off-the-street-visitors or invited-opening-guests-with-wine-and-cheese, or beer, is not conducive environment to having thoughtful, measured responses, especially to provocative art that asks you to think or to be. It's not that it's bad to have that spam-chat experience, it's just different. Perhaps this was the problem with james kalm's experience in the Williamsburg gallery and Second Life®.

It's true, there is no natural separation between crossreality worlds. This is a theme that art frequently explores.

@nathaniel Viva! Pretending to live in Second Life®? Unreal. Making experimental art in Second Life®? Absolutely!

3/17/2010 11:35:00 PM  

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