Saturday, August 29, 2009

This is it! New virtual world Blue Mars rolls out Open Beta on Sept 2 - Plus, news for registered users

According to Jim Sink - recently promoted to CEO of Avatar Reality – the company will be taking its Open Beta of the 3D immersive virtual world and platform Blue Mars public on Wednesday, September 2 at 12:01am HST (Hawaiian Standard Time). The first weighty contender to Second Life® in the user-generated content category of virtual worlds, delivering dazzlingly realistic graphics and unprecedented physics, has been in Private Beta for less than a month, and open only to registered developers since June.

Jim shared that he’s been impressed with the number of people registering, and expects that the new features packaged in the significant update they are rolling out with the Open Beta will come as a pleasant surprise to those who have already participated. Moreover, he revealed that all Private Beta testers had been locked at the highest performance settings, but that the new version will soon allow for each user to make adjustments to their resolution.

To prepare for the Open Beta, Blue Mars will be shutting its servers down Monday, August 31, at 10am HST during which time the budding virtual world will be offline and their websites unavailable for several hours. All charter members who participated in the Private Beta – save registered developers – will have to register again on or after September 2. However, charter members will be able to log in immediately after registering, whereas all others will have to sign up and wait to receive an invite, unless, that is, they have a friend in Blue Mars. Each participant in the Private Beta will have the ability to invite up to 3 friends who will be given immediate access – after registration - via the charter member’s “my page,” on the Blue Mars website.

I spent a few hours exploring Blue Mars and also spoke with several Private Beta participants who often commented on the sparse interface – which apparently will change dramatically in the new version – and limited features, but always ended with, “but it’s so beautiful.” It most certainly is that. I’ve been lusting after the visual ecstasy afforded by CryTek’s game engine CryEngine 2 since I first laid eyes on it, but had no interest in playing the games that use it until now. For me, it will have to be a virtual world where user-generated content is enabled or nothing at all. The debate on this last point is heating up and it remains to be seen whether Second Life’s content creators will adapt to the Blue Mars’ off-world creation model, versus SL’s prims that empower even amateurs to build and manifest their creativity in Second Life.

Some folks like Rock Vacirca believe they will and others like Phaylen Fairchild think it's not possible. I'm still on the fence.

Aussie digital media consultant Skribe Forti has been cranking out video tutorials about Blue Mars

Jim’s most recent tweet informs us that he “just finished installing the new build of Blue Mars on my iMac,” and when I asked him about it, he said it was running “great,” and that "Just because CryEngine doesn’t run on OS X doesn’t mean that it’s a big deal to dual boot using Boot Camp,” Apple's free software that can boot Windows on your Mac natively.

That Blue Mars will deliver spectacular fidelity, physics and scalability that 6 year old Second Life might not ever be able to attain unless it's rebuilt from the ground up is not under discussion, but I can’t help but wonder if it will be able to catch up to the amazing content and growing user-base that SL’s residents have come to expect, along with the attending friendships and social, educational and business experiences.

Either way, I am welcoming Blue Mars with open arms. While I applaud the efforts of the open source OpenSim community and want to encourage them to move forward, I will never have enough options, and Blue Mars is exactly that: A very viable option.

See also:

July 31, 2009: More Blue Mars – The official roll-out dates (and some musings)

April 15, 2009: New answers and more questions regarding the upcoming virtual world Blue Mars

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tezcatlipoca Bisiani: Thoughts on SLCC

Before I attended Second Life®'s Community Convention in San Francisco earlier this month, I knew that Tezcatlipoca Bisiani (aka Andrew Sempere) was the Boston-based cross-eyed jackal avatar who conducted design research and taught computational art for IBM's Collaborative User Experience Group/Center for Social Software. I knew that he holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Masters of Science from the MIT Media Lab, and that he was the University of Kentucky's first Visiting Curator in Virtual Residence and that he curates IBM's art sims (Glyph Graves and Bryn Oh shows were nothing short of magnificent). Andrew first experienced Second Life as an alpha tester for LindenWorld (circa 2001), but logged off "relatively unimpressed." Seems he returned to Second Life in 2006 and soon discovered "what LindenWorld had lacked: a community of skilled content creators whose work was playful, engaging and beautiful."

In San Francisco, I discovered that his eyes twinkle, that he wears his great hair a little bit spiked and leans forward and really listens with his whole body, and that he has an air of playfulness about him that's contagious. I hope I will know him the rest of my life. - Bettina Tizzy

Andrew and Tezca - Universally interesting and interested in everything - BT

by Tezcatlipoca Bisiani

When Bettina asked me to write about my experience at SLCC I thought perhaps I'd write about the keynotes (in general very disappointing), the incredible tour of the Exploratorium courtesy of Patio Plasma (amazing, thank you!), the delicious NPIRL Dim Sum (all the food was PIRL, but honestly with Dim Sum that's just fine). In the end I think what I want to focus on here is us, and what we can do as a group to further the cause of shared 3D virtual worlds as a place for creative exploration, because much like everything else in Second Life, no one else is going to make it happen.

If there was one thing that my visit to SLCC last week brought home for me it is the conviction that Second Life is not, and never has been, about the technology. It is not, and never has been, about Linden Lab, nor any other company or organization. Everything good about this universe comes from the people in it, in all their messy chaotic glory.

I'm not suggesting that we ought to give up trying to influence our infrastructure, but whenever I used to speak about Second Life to people less familiar with it, I found myself in an uncomfortable position as apologist. Why was the server so slow? Why was the interface so difficult to use? What about those flying penises? No doubt you have fielded dozens of these questions yourselves, and to be fair to Linden, things are much better than they were, But I for one have always found these questions incredibly frustrating. They're not the right questions! Instead ask me this: Why would an otherwise sane and healthy adult professional work a full work week and then spend hundreds of hours logged into a virtual world? Why, exactly, do we care so damn much?

In its specifics, the answer is as varied as each of us, but in general it all ends in relationships, and community, and the sheer joy of building a world with people of like mind. So these days, when people ask why I spend an inordinate amount of time in this odd artificial universe I have an answer, and if you read nothing else in this post, read this: it’s you (or most of you, anyway). It’s the community that includes many of the Linden staff, and also independent scholars and musicians, professors, painters, physicists who run hands-on museums, ad executives, business professionals, students, mathematicians who explain hyperbolic space with aplomb, magicians who perform even when their hands get stuck in car doors, writers, IT directors, teenagers, illustration students willing to share their avatar making secrets, weekend Goths, vampires, old, young, straight, queer, able bodied and not, sushi experts, world record holding skydivers – even the griefers who rent party busses and cover corporate headquarters in chalk slogans.

This is so true that even a week later I’m still thrilled by it. To be sure there is the happy conference bubble (short time frame, beer and free food make many things possible), but even accounting for that, the last thing Eshi Otawara said to me, standing outside of Lori's Diner before heading out for the day, rang true: It's about the sense of touch: "We can be anything we want in Second Life. Friends, even lovers, but in-world we can't hug." Unexpectedly for me, this became the proof I never knew I needed, confirming what I’ve known only with my eyes and my brain for the last few years: SL is real. You can touch it.

Second Life is now in the downward slope of the Gartner Hype Cycle, and rather than being upset about this, I think we should rejoice: it took the dot com bubble bursting for the real value to emerge, and now that the novelty has worn off, those of us who are left standing can get down to the business of showing the world what really matters. Unfortunately this also means that we should see less direct support for our work, because Second Life in general, and our corner in particular, is so small from a business perspective that it amounts (in the words of Clay Shirky) to a rounding error. Moreover, our job as creative content creators is to push the boundaries of the universe, and the goal of any profitable company is to trend towards commodity users. It's not that we're at cross purposes exactly, but we certainly serve a different set of ideals.

Again, I don't think this is cause for despair, but it does mean that we need to become ever more self reliant, and the onus on outreach is on us. If you are part of a professional community and you believe in virtual worlds, focus your attention on bringing your community to us - we can only be strengthened by connecting to the real world. You don't need to tell the world how amazing SL is, instead tell us the amazing things your RL communities are doing with SL. Inspire us. If you are an artist, work on connecting your in-world practice to those on the outside. Share your world, don't leave it locked inside a server somewhere. Go and get the audience, don't expect them to just show up.

If you want something to happen technically, focus on supporting the open source communities that are trying to make it happen. Support the development of unofficial viewers. Think carefully about the need for Second Life alternatives, content portability and free reliable backups, not because you want to boycott Linden in a fit of pique, but because you care about this community and realize how fragile it is to hang on the future of a single corporation. Start truly respecting your work, because it really shouldn't be surprising (as I learned at SLCC) that someone like Ina Centaur pays her actors union wages. She said it herself: they are a professional theater company, why wouldn't I?

Above all continue to push the boundaries of the universe in surprising and exciting ways because that's really the reason we're all here. And when someone asks you why you spend so much time online, or inquires as to the business value of virtual worlds, answer them loud and clear: It's all about the people, and the community, and what we continue to build together.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Get your steampunk on

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Nix Sands describes himself as a neo-Victorian, a humble tailor, tinkerer and occasional adventurer, but that representation seems quite muted when one comes across this outrageously good freebie at his shop, Xcentricity: Victorian Steampunk Clothing for Rakish Gents & Reckless Ladies.

Photos courtesy of Nix Sands

You can pick up your own gloriously free copy of the Monstro hat by teleporting to Xcentricity directly from here.

Then Cutea Benelli, co-creator of Bogon Flux, one of the most imaginative builds in Second Life®, as well as Epsilon's Fabulous Eyestem Thingy, and hundreds of the most delightful cyberpunk fashions and avatars, has insured that future steampunk fashionistas needn't compromise personal sophistication and elegance when it comes to adorning their avatar's feet.

The Vapour Vanity luxury steampunk heels are available in a zillion colors and metals but all feature a "mini-chimney" emitting tiny clouds of steam.

Teleport directly to Cutea's main store, Grim Bros. from here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Avatar movie is ahead of the curve, and you usually are, too, Vanity Fair

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

This is a gentle rant brought on by Vanity Fair magazine's twitter: "@VanityFairmag Don't Be Fooled by Avatar's Lame Trailer #Avatar" a couple of hours ago. For like forever, I've been known to say that if I only had access to three magazines to keep up with the state-of-play, smarter, faster, better-informed intelligentsia, I'd pick Vanity Fair, Businessweek, and Utne Reader, and that selection still stands, but it's teetering. Vanity Fair, don't make the same mistake that Chris Anderson and his Wired made in 2006. I forgive you, but hurry up and realize that avatars are ahead of the curve. Like you. In fact, your readers are mostly going to embrace their avatarhood and evangelize about it within the next three years, and that "lame" Avatar trailer and movie are going to have something (if not a lot) to do with it.


It was 1997 and opening night. I recall whispering in the dark to my companion that if Kate Winslet's aged character "throws that damned necklace into the sea, I'm going to have to leave the theater." And she did. And I did. To this day, I have never seen the ending of James Cameron's Titanic, the all-time highest grossing film at the box office. So yes, I have questioned and even suffered visceral adverse reactions to Cameron's work.

Yesterday, I watched the teaser trailer for Avatar, slated to hit theaters this December. I've spent the better part of the last two years traipsing around virtual worlds as an avatar, so I'll confess that the poor trailer was in trouble even before I hit the "play" button. My overlayed cynical filter was as thick as the bottom of a glass Coke bottle and I fully expected to loathe it.

But I didn't hate it. Turns out that I can hardly wait to see it, and it made me want to learn more about the plot, the script and how and where it was produced. It looks as real as the island of Kauai does, which stands to reason because that's where most of it was shot.

I don't play games in virtual worlds. As Metanomics puts it, I'm all over the serious aspects of three-dimensional persistent, immersive, massively multi-player online "games," such as art, architecture, business and education. I've put up with an awful lot to be an early-adopter avatar, including lag so bad that my "character" couldn't move, umpteen flying penises and banana phones (annoying griefing devices employed by sophomoric idiots), communications so shoddy that my text chat never made it to the person or people I was trying to speak with, and hundreds upon hundreds of *crashes,* to mention only a few of the ways that I have been inconvenienced.

Things are picking up for avatars though and at a high rate of speed. Stability, scalability, tools for user-created content, communication, and collaboration are all vastly improving. The number of choices an avatar has on how to spend a quality hour consistently overwhelms me in much the same way selecting an art film to screen in Manhattan does. And just this week, industry analysts at Piper Jaffray released their forecasts for virtual goods, indicating that 2009 US revenues are expected to hit $621 million (134% over 2008), and $2.5 billion in 2013. Global revenues from virtual goods should exceed $2.2 billion this year, and climb to $6 billion by 2013. I'm old enough to remember when total online (2.0 web-based) revenues were lower than that, and how so many detractors doubted they'd rise significantly for decades. Heh.

Just two days ago I finally got around to downloading the client for the new virtual world Blue Mars that's in private Beta until... sometime real soon now (maybe in a couple of weeks?), and I can only say that I was overcome and dazzled by the life-like graphics, the rolling ocean foam, the exuberant vegetation and shadows that behaved the way real shadows do. In fact, it looked a lot like the trailer for Avatar.

Virtual Space Entertainment is just one of the developers rushing to create content on Blue Mars' gorgeous CryEngine2 platform

So wait, Vanity Fair. Please tell us why the Avatar trailer is lame?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Grand Odalisque - a sculpture by an unknown artist

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Most everything that Rezzable Productions showcases has an element of mystery to it, and today's first look and reveal to the members of the Not Possible IRL and the Impossible IRL groups was no exception.

All photographs have not been retouched.

New and completely unknown Rezzable artist 3D Soup has created an immense sculpty sculpture called the Grand Odalisque: a hyperrealistic sleeping female nude, complete with stretch marks, pimples and calluses on her feet. She is lovely and endearing and we all know someone like her in Real Life. In fact, she probably looks like many of us do in Real Life.

Reminiscent of the works of Lucian Freud or Ron Mueck, the Grand Odalisque marks a leap forward in content creation in virtual worlds... an exacting portrayal of, and the embracing of our very real physical qualities.

As RightasRain Rimbaud (aka Jon Himoff), CEO of Rezzable commented, "It's really about realism, isn't it? It's an amazing piece. Gives you another dimension and level of access. At the same time, this piece makes you wonder why the avatars haven't changed or become more realistic on the Second Life® grid."

New media rockstar Gazira Babeli admires the Grand Odalisque

When I inquired further about 3D Soup, RightasRain stated that the artist believes that the piece will speak for itself, and is not taking any interviews. Of course, most old timers who remember the groundbreaking work of a certain Starax Statosky who later became Light Waves, believe that he is the only person capable of doing this quality of work. Coincidentally, Light Waves worked for Rezzable Productions until he left the grid, creating the startlingly poetic, very majestic sim Black Swan, which will be leaving Second Life at the end of August, to be re-rezzed on Rezzable's own OpenSim grid. Light Waves was also responsible for the creation of the Greenies sculptures and avatars, and the Ballerina which is currently rezzed at the Greenies Home Rezzable.

You can view the Grand Odalisque, rezzed at Black Swan, by teleporting directly from here, and then walking through the door on your right and down the pathway.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Eshi... sings!

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Eshi Otawara is so gifted, in so many ways, it hardly seems fair! Virtual artist and celebrated fashion designer, Real Life painter... and now it turns out that the woman has a voice.

It's so hard to distinguish her voice amidst the sounds of a very loud, very happy crowd at the recent Second Life Community Convention, but here's an earful. Accompanying her on guitar and also singing is Cylindrian Rutabaga, and sitting in the middle is Robert Bloomfield (aka Beyers Sellers) from Metanomics. He also has one heck of a voice. Talent, people.

Many thanks to Pato Milo for capturing this moment

Love you loads, Eshi.

Douglas Gayeton (aka Molotov Alva) shines in both lives, publishes sumptuous book

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Allow me to correct a common misperception about the quality of people who inhabit virtual worlds. While mindless jerks, drones and memes (not unique to virtual environments) certainly have a presence, scores of the most interesting folks I've met in any life first became known to me in avatar form. Take Douglas Gayeton, for example.

His acclaimed 2007 ten-episode film and documentary "Molotov Alva and His Search for the Creator," was shot entirely in Second Life®, acquired by HBO and screened on Cinemax. He has created content for many social network and virtual world platforms including Gaia, Habbo Hotel and Sony’s Playstation Home. He lives in Northern California on a goat farm that produces Laloos Goat’s Milk Ice Cream. In 2003, commissioned by PBS and POV to document Italy's Slow Food movement, he trained his camera and his questions on the lives of people from the town of Pistoia, Italy.

Now a gorgeous hardcover book, Slow Life in a Tuscan Town, featuring recipes alongside his charmingly scribbled notes a top sepia photographs captured during his numerous visits to rural Italy, will be on the shelves next month, prefaced by Carlo Petrinim with an introduction by my culinary hero, Alice Waters.

I'm proud to call Douglas a friend and a member of our virtual worlds working group Not Possible IRL, and I've never met him in person. My hope is that someday we will cook for each other. I bet he'd like my risotto.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Earth Primbee gets Metaphysical: An analogy of worlds, real and virtual

One of the most interesting Twitter exchanges in recent memory began when Aussie virtual artist Nonnatus Korhonen (aka Andrew Burrell) responded to one of my blatherings with "the ultimate divide between the virtual and the real surely remains one of semantics?" I responded: "The virtual/real divide seems less so for those of us who inhabit virtual worlds. How to make the concept less abstract for non VW users?" to which Austin artist Earth Primbee then responded, "to make VWs less abstract, I use the soul or mind to body analogy. Since all physical input is electric signals anyway." How could I resist? I persuaded Earth to tell us more. - Bettina Tizzy

by Earth Primbee

We've all grappled with creating a "It's like this" reference to explain what Second Life® is like. How do you explicate a concept so abstract to someone who has never experienced a virtual world? To many, the 2D representation of “real world” fiction and non-fiction called Television is all the virtual world they will ever need; their ability to understand what a 3D persistent virtual world looks and feels like is on par with that of another dimension.

In my own journey in life I have sought to understand our existence. I have asked myself questions like “Why are we here? What is all this stuff about souls and how does it relate to me? Why are we so creative? Why do we care about anything? What’s the point to all this?”

There are many answers to these questions. More than we know even today. On the way, I feel I’ve stumbled upon a perspective that might help all of us in different ways.

The analogy is “Logging into a virtual world using your computer to connect to your avatar, is like your soul logging into your mind to connect to your body.”

Earth Primbee, real and virtual (Photos by Earth Primbee)


First Life
Our body is our physical avatar in first life. It is the outward version of us that everyone sees. We dress it up, we change it, and we derive a great deal of our well being from the condition it is in.

Second Life
Our avatar is our physical body in Second Life. It is also the outward version of ourselves that everyone sees. We have much more control over our appearance, and judging by the importance we place on our bodies in first life, it is no surprise that one of the most commonly enjoyed activities in Second Life is customizing our avatar. Just as in first life, there is an entire industry devoted to changing our appearance.


First Life
Our mind is our living personal computer. It records and caches our memories, manages our body's sensory information, and even takes care of a lot of tasks concerning our body that we are often unaware of such as breathing and processing food. As far as the mind is concerned, everything we sense is just an electric signal with meaning.

Second Life
Our mechanical technology: a personal computer, network, and server space provide, record, and process sensory information, and then transmit this information to and from our existence inside the grid. It provides us with our view of a virtual "reality" in all its color and detail and sounds. Without it, we'd be unable to control our avatars or understand what’s going on around them. We'd be cut off from ourselves. Just like the automated processes of our first life minds, our computers and scripts handle a lot of tasks we'd find way too tedious to manage manually. Apart from our emotional experiences, everything we sense is processed by our computer.

Soul/First life "you"

First Life
Our soul is the pure us. I believe is our true nature and that it is connected to our mind and body through a means we have yet to discover. What form our soul actually takes is scientifically unknown but as I ponder the nature of first life and Second Life, I believe that I have formed a reasonable illustration of how the three parts of us relate to each other.

Second Life
When I sit down at my computer and log into Second Life, I am my soul connecting to my mind to my body. My avatar is my physical body. My computer is my sensory and information storage center relating to my life in my body (avatar). I exist both inside and outside of Second Life at the same time.

This is the reason I believe we take so well to these worlds. It makes sense to us in a way we don’t fully comprehend. Imagine if you were an avatar with no memory of being connected to the physical you. In the future, our immersion in virtual worlds will likely reach a point of realism that matches the capability of our physical senses. Will we sometimes forget that we were logged into anything? Why would we believe that there is anything more to our lives than our avatar’s existence?

One of the most difficult parts of discovering “the big picture” is our inability to see our world from outside the box. Each of us is wrapped in a cocoon of comfort and discomfort assembled over the years of a life. What we have seen often dictates what we will see. Many people find it difficult, for example, to imagine a creator setting all things into motion. To think that the world in which we live, in all its vastness and complexity, is without purpose is very similar - in my mind - to thinking that Second Life was developed by no one.

As I walk around and experience things in Second Life, the emotions and memories flow from the grid, to my computer, and as I observe all of this sitting at my desk I grow and change based on my experiences. I form close bonds with people, I create things in the world, and I even amass wealth and business connections.

Just about everything from first life save the experiences of touch, taste and our bodily functions, are present in the Second Life experience. Just like first life, it is up to you to chart the course of a life that evolves and gets better. And believe me, we are much more newbies in real life when we start than we'll ever be in Second Life.

If God is the creator of first life, at some point he coded the base logic that allows the fabric of space to exist. He created physics. He coded the most amazingly dynamic environment ever: the universe. On day one, he turned on the server and through the “big bang” brought up the "grid" of existence. Our universe resolved and expanded into the form we see today, a seemingly infinite expanse of diversity in texture, shape, and size.

Much as Linden Lab, the company that develops Second Life, make changes to the fundamental structures and how we perceive and understand them, perhaps God also alters the fabric of reality upon request. People sure do talk a lot about prayer and we certainly cry to the Lindens to change this or that. This is perhaps one of the best ways to understand why some become so passionate about their second lives that they attack the Lindens with insults, ridicule, or sing their praises. I'm quite certain however, that God has been taken to task many million times more than the Lindens.

Virtual Maritime Pine and Wild Mountain Pine. Copyright (c) Dolly and Lilith Heart 2008

Trees in real life, as photographed by Earth Primbee

Take a look at a tree in Second Life, and look at a tree in first life to begin to grasp the awesome creative power that could be behind it all. A look at the scripts associated with our avatars in Second Life and those of our real life genetic code reveals a similar understanding that we are creating in the same way we may have been created. Our computers are models of ourselves and our virtual worlds are models of the creation.

Drifting further into thought, one can even imagine hell as being stuck in Second Life as an avatar with no governing body to turn to for changes; a grid that is an autonomous self replicating chaotic evolution machine. I can even imagine avatars denying the existence of their true "user" selves claiming that since Second Life is the only life, they might as well live it up till they log out for the final time and are banned from ever logging in again.

When we do log out of first life for the last time and physically die, I believe we will carry our experiences onward to our new state of being just as if we quit one virtual world for another. We likely won't have the same kind of relationships or exist in the same social and physical boundaries we've known all our first lives. We'll have a new existence flavored with the color of our experiences on earth. Ultimately our love for others is not dependent on the physical world and transcends it no matter the structure. The person is not the body or the avatar.

These realizations and understandings of our reality would not have been possible without virtual worlds. Second Life, in particular, has helped me in this quest for wisdom due to the "anything you can imagine" nature of the environment. It has also helped me to realize that most of the problems on planet earth are created by mankind. The majority of our stresses and burdens are man made. You can take human out of reality, but you can't take the reality out of human. Wherever humans go, they carry the best and worst of themselves along for the ride no matter what world they live in.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the read and are better equipped for future discussions on virtual worlds like Second Life and maybe even First Life.

Earth Primbee is, among many other things, an active member of the NPIRL working group, a talented machinimator, and a co-creator of the much loved Second Life classic: Inspire Space Park (teleport directly from here).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Want your virtual art to receive Real Life recognition? Here's the recipe

Last Friday at Jack the Pelican Presents Gallery - the Real Life counterpart to the Brooklyn is Watching project in Second Life

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Sautéed Real Life recognition of Virtual Art
(Serves 1,000+)

1 (one) Second Life® account/avatar
1 (one) or more prim-based virtual artworks

1 (one) each, notecard giver and notecard explaining your artwork
1 (one) Brooklyn is Watching landmark or slurl
Patience, a pinch
Tolerance (omit ego)

1) Log into Second Life
2) Using the landmark or slurl, teleport to Brooklyn is Watching
3) Rez your virtual artwork there
4) Garnish your artwork with your notecard giver
5) Sit tight until the following weekend
5) Direct your browser to the Brooklyn is Watching website and listen to the weekly podcast to hear if Real Life art critics reviewed your piece.


That's my take on the recipe offered by the man who conceived it, Jay Newt (aka Jay Van Buren), back in March of 2008 when he launched what was to be a one year mixed realities project: Brooklyn is Watching (BiW).

That year has come and gone, culminating with the two-month long Best of Year 1 Festival and the unquestionably "not possible in Real Life (NPIRL)" installations created by the Final Five: Dancoyote Antonelli (aka DC Spensley), Glyph Graves, Bryn Oh, Selavy Oh, and Nebulosus Severine (aka CM Pauluh), not to mention a write up in the New York Times.

The finalists were tasked with creating original virtual art that relates to the virtual version of the Jack the Pelican Presents gallery, and...

Nebulosus Severine enveloped the virtual gallery in a luminous fortress-of-solitude-like structure — that is a meditation on the nature of the self.

DanCoyote Antonelli exploded the metaphor of the virtual gallery by using the building blocks of that illusion as raw material for a dynamic, rhythmic, abstract sculpture stretching up into the sky.

Selavy Oh exploited the intrinsically flexible nature of virtual space by creating an interactive maze of nested, shifting Jack the Pelicans in which she curated a show within a show featuring artists not selected by the judges.

Bryn Oh turned the gallery into a ruin of glowing technological fragments infested with digital flora, inviting the viewer into her own idiosyncratic fantasy narrative.

Glyph Graves used the gallery to show how art is a reflection of its physical and social environment by creating a work that changes based on the number of people viewing it.


The project is now slated to go on... indefinitely, and while it's had its share of bumpy technical moments, the concept and the people behind it have given the most acclaimed virtual artists in Second Life a reason to roll up their sleeves and not only participate with their art, but also to launch their own BiW initiatives and boost the effort in every way they can think of.

I thought we'd find out what is on Jay's mind these days now that so much has gone down, and the future seems to be wide open.

We already know what your original vision was for Brooklyn is Watching. What is your current vision of what BiW can be?

Jay: The biggest thing that has changed in my mind because of my experience organizing this show is that I really think control needs to start to shift in the direction of the community that has grown up around this project. There are people remote from Brooklyn who are willing and able to have more of a say in what BiW is and what it becomes and I'd like to find ways to let them.

Regarding the Festival, what have you learned from this experience that would be valuable to other Second Life'rs wishing to organize events around a theme? Or around the arts?

Jay: Well, organizing artists is like herding cats... but I knew that before. Never try to organize something this complicated in two months. Don't have a day job. No really - the parts that have worked very well in all this are the parts where specific people had discrete tasks they were responsible for and the authority needed to see them through from soup to nuts: Penumbra Carter and Stacey Fox making the machinimas, Dekka Raymaker and Wltrr Rajal making the virtual version of Jack the Pelican (art gallery in Brooklyn), and so on. Where I got into trouble was when people had overlapping or dependent duties - one person couldn't act without another. Also, give yourself twice as long to plan as you think you'll need.

How much do you get out beyond the BiW borders? Will this remain the same or do you intend to explore other lands?

Jay: I probably won't as long as I'm involved as I am just because I don't have time. I do think that focusing the conversation on what people bring to BiW is useful for two reasons: 1) You can't have a good conversation about everything. You need to limit it somehow and this is an easy (if arbitrary ) way to limit it. 2) It is one thing for us to give our honest opinion about art by artists who have actively sought out our opinions. It would be pretty nervy of us to just roam the grid saying what we think about all kinds of stuff when probably the people who made that work never wanted our opinion in the first place.

How has your opinion of art in a virtual setting changed from day one of the project to now?

Jay: Really this summer has just confirmed what i thought about it before -- its uncontrollable, it wants to stay wild. I think the virtual art has the capacity to undermine peoples assumptions about art more than art in a real space can. The SLon De Refuse is amazing - its more BIW than BIW - and Selavy Oh's show within a show inside the final five is another great example of how virtual art can turn everything on its head.

What has all of this activity meant to Jay Van Buren and his real life and how are you finding the time to balance both lives?

Jay: I'm not. I'm completely strung out and brain-fried. After the 23rd of August I'm gong to hide for a week from everyone and then I'm only going to talk to a few people at a time about where BiW should go. In late September we'll emerge from hibernation stronger, better, with a solid plan for the future and more people on board helping me in some kind of official capacity. With job titles. And sharks with lasers attached to them. I'm going to get me some of those, too.
  • Teleport to Brooklyn is Watching's headquarters, sponsored by Popcha! and the University of Kansas' Department of Visual Art, from here. This is where you can rez new artworks on a weekly basis.
  • Teleport to the 30 Best, sponsored by the University of Kansas' Department of Visual Art, KU Art, directly from here.
  • Teleport to the Final Five exhibit at the East of Odyssey from here.
  • Drop by the Real Life Jack the Pelican Presents gallery at 487 Driggs Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211.

Merging the virtual and the real: A new virtual reality system

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Apologies to all my readers, as I have not been blogging at all as of late. If you follow me on Twitter, then you already know most of my sagas, but the stars and planets were aligned against me (and my real and extended family), and I've been putting out fires for days on end. Things seem to be normalizing now, hopefully, so let's get on with the show!

Via post-doc mathematician and virtual artist Seifert Surface (aka Henry Segerman), we learned of Technology Review's writeup on new technologies featured at the ACM's Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques at SIGGRAPH 2009 in New Orleans this week.

Of particular interest is a new virtual reality system called Virtualization presented by INRIA (The French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control) and Grenoble Universities that allows users to interact with virtual objects in a very "real" way, by tracking their movements using several cameras simultaneously.

Technology Review explains: "The user wears a head-mounted display (HMD) and moves through a virtual space while several cameras track his movement. The video here shows a guy kicking over virtual vases and pushing around a virtual representation of himself. A cluster of PCs is needed to perform the necessary image capture and 3D modeling."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Truthseeker Young and "Voices: Orion's Arm"

Posted by Alpha Auer


Yes, that's it folks! Absolutely no need for any further pontifications from yours truly on this newest one by Truthseeker Young. Teleport directly from here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Role Play: Memory or imagination? The use of masks to create an Impossible Reality

NPIRLer Yohann Emoto was so captivated by this place and topic that I invited him to guest-blog about it here. In Real Life, he is a 41 year old French man, self described as "a night owl," father to two children, a designer of social and pedagogical games and a corporate consultant. He's been a resident of Second Life since 2006. - Bettina Tizzy

By Yohann Emoto

I have always been fascinated by the unfolding of passions and rejections provoked by Role Playing (RP) in Second Life®.

I have seen the compelling fervor of various creators and players who, pressured by the constraints of their ideas devote their limitless energies to their tasks like hypnotized collectors or enthralled philatelists. And I have observed those who reject RPs all through the anthology of questions of morality or the lack of personal desire to embody a role other than representing one’s true self.

To become a prowling vampire during a whole night, thirsty for vengeance with a neighboring tribe, or a Star Wars character that battles against his own impulses of the “Dark Force,” or a lonely cowboy who will drink his cupidity in a lost saloon, or a mermaid, a fairy, an elf or a powerful dragon... there are as many choices as there are sensitivities, a wide array of unbridled imaginations allowed by the role of masks that Second Life makes possible.

In a way, all of this is Impossible in Real Life, hence the presence of this article in our preferred blog!

To bring a novel alive, or a literary piece of work through collective creation, by a vastly improvised yet well regulated play, was my concept of the RP until my unexpected encounter with Jo Yardley, the creator of the 1920’s Berlin Project, which opened on July 18th.

During one of my many explorations, I landed in a place where I immediately perceived the excellent quality and historical sourcing of the textures used there.

When Jo Yardley greeted me with the sharp tone of a German school teacher, admonishing me for not adhering to the dress code, I knew that I had arrived in “outer space” and that I would experience “wow!” moments that only Second Life can provide. It happens when one meets seriously devoted people.

After we became better acquainted, she offered me a guided tour of the place, the main area, the small streets, the “backstreets," the “nightclub”...

...her typical “Berliner hoffs,” with a space so tiny that you have to share water and toilets.

Her movie theatre screens films of that era, a hotel welcomes lovers who can enjoy moments of care-free “insouciance” possible only because they were taking place in between two wars, a cabaret fills with musicians who play live music of the period. There is an “education factory” where classes about the 20’s are offered, as well as documentaries about life during those years.

I also liked the original and interesting “posing balls,” which animate avatars and enable them to physically have an argument, or dance the authentic dances of the 20’s. It is easy to lose oneself in this well-reconstructed atmosphere, and listen to the accurate music of that period that comes from another time... Jo, a historical consultant from Amsterdam in Real Life, is passionate about life between the two great world wars. “Berlin, at that time, was very interesting as well as exciting for its politics, culture and music, but we also wanted to show its darker side of poverty and prostitution," she explained. Jo has additional projects planned and hopes to own a complete simulator. I wish her a well deserved success.

I was fascinated by this woman’s passion. While she only just rezzed in Second Life in February of this year and is therefore an apprentice creator, she has built quite a realistic place sourcing over 80% of the textures from her personal archives. I have discovered through her work another form of RP: that of bringing back to life a forgotten era of our human history and making it a place for social gatherings where exchanges are regulated. Berlin was at the hub of captivating world and part of an enlightened time, before darkness engulfed it, and the late 20s were a defining moment in the new era of modernism before it was followed by conflict.

The rules of this “game” become a sort of a framework through which time stops and the Masterpiece theatre begins.

I was familiar with RPs that stemmed from romanced imaginations; I have now discovered those born from Memory and History. It is no more an issue of merely incarnating a character than reincarnating it…

Jo’s passion has deeply inspired me, and today I question the living reason for Second Life. Is it not an immense RP in which we incarnate someone else? Do we live with insane or phenomenal powers? Don’t we fly from one place to another and speak “telepathically” with others? Don’t we teleport ourselves? Don’t we disconnect from it at our leisure? How then are our human behaviors based on this model modified? What does “being our self” mean when the self becomes a totally imagined being?

This reminds me of the “Comedia Del Arte” where the Art of Masks was used to bring forth the true personality of man... we think we hide, and in fact, this is where we allow ourselves to be truly who we are beyond our permanent social masks!

Who said anything about playing a role?

You can visit the 1920’s Berlin Project by teleporting directly from here.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The impact of Selavy Oh

Posted by Alpha Auer

By way of an introduction
Anyone who has had the patience to read what I write about will have noticed that I have a few bees in my bonnet to which I keep returning over and over again. One is avatars and identity creation; the other one is the creation of cohesive visual systems over standalone objects/or conversely the presence of a strong system within the standalone object; and the third one is narrative. Now, it is here with this third one that I tend to get into the biggest trouble in that more often than not I end up getting vastly misunderstood: It is inevitably assumed from my lamentably unclear delivery that I am talking about tangible stories with a beginning, a middle and an end - things that are decipherable, that can be conveyed in the spoken language just as well, if not indeed much better, than a visual manifestation. Nothing could be further than the truth - and it is entirely my mistake in that I have really not been at all clear about just what it is exactly that I mean to convey when I say "narrative".

For starters I should probably be using "visual narrative", rather than just "narrative" which does, after all, mean "story". But in any case, here is a quote from Marcel Duchamp, talking about "humor", which does come very close to what I want to convey when I say "narrative" in my hitherto fumbled manner of expression (please note the bold text):

"A great power; humor was a sort of savior so to speak because, before, art was such a serious thing, so pontifical that I was very happy when I discovered that I could introduce humor into it. And that was truly a period of discovery. The discovery of humor was liberation. And not humor in the sense "humorist" of humor, but "humor" humoristic of humor. Humor is something much more profound and more serious and more difficult to define. It's not only about laughing. There's a humor that is black humor which doesn't inspire laughter and which doesn't please at all. Which is a thing in itself, which is a new feeling so to speak, which follows from all sorts of things that we can't analyze with words... ...A large amount of rebellion, a large amount of derision toward the serious word... ...And it's only because of humor that you can leave, that you can free yourself".

And here is yet another quote, this one supplied by Soror Nishi, during a conversation we had going on her blog a while back: "a long, immense and deliberate derangement of the senses" - already suggesting narrative in that in it is embedded the very notion of temporality and process.

So, for me (amongst much else) visual narrative, i.e., the construction of a visual language is primarily a vastly complex set of maybe half verbal and very possibly even entirely non-verbal elements which conglomerate to form "a thing"; a temporality, a process, a visuality in which things are implied, half implied and yes, maybe even not even implied at all. A dark process involving metaphor over description, enigma over clarity. A thing whereby the individual components converge to create a whole larger than the sum total of its parts - a Gestalt.

And no, in no way does visual narrative have to involve recognizable objects, things which are realistic or are endowed with realistic references at least. My own work is of such a kind that a power plant does in fact look like a power plant (well, sort of anyway...) and a gym like a gym (regardless of whether the exercise stations may be placed on steam pipes). It does not mean that this is the type of work which I prefer, which I take to be the sole carrier of the potential of visual narrative. The starkest abstraction can be a powerful conveyor of what I consider to be visual narrative. If anything, indeed probably much more so, since precisely in the very abstraction lies a vast potential for the conveyance of metaphor, of enigma, of process - of the telling of the story that really has no words whereby it can be told...

Which would, of course, bring me to Selavy Oh; an artist whose work I have loved from the very moment in which I set eyes on it.

The creation of an identity
I had already assumed that Selavy Oh's choice of name was not a random event, but was closely associated with the famous alter-identity of Marcel Duchamp, Rrose Selavy. And so indeed, the urge to find answers to questions such as "would it be possible to create an identity out of nothing", what exactly "would be needed to create an identity that is separate from your own", and very importantly whether you "would need a history" were what led the human behind the avatar, who incidentally is a computational neuroscientist in Real Life, to the creation of Selavy Oh, whereby a contextual, if not historical, reference to not only Duchamp but to the whole idea of "alter-ego" seems to be implied.

"Impact" and the power of abstraction
The metaverse is teeming with so-called art objects which are meant to interact with the avatar. What is usually meant by that is that something completely ineffectual occurs as I approach or touch the object in question. I say "oh" and move on. I have not changed, nothing fundamental has occurred to me which has brought on "a long, immense and deliberate derangement of the senses". And not only the metaverse obviously: The whole web is a dump site of "interactive" art installations. Very few resonate with me in any kind of meaningful and profound way, they simply do not interact with me, my inner being...

The Giant Arc, Photograph courtesy of Selavy Oh

So, how is Selavy Oh's work, the kind which does interact with the avatar, different? The keyword here, I believe, would be impact! This is, of course, yet another word hard to pin down into a description in that it could be constituted of different attributes in different cases. In Selavy Oh’s case, at least one of these attributes is scale. So magnificent, so vast, so sublimely endless and yes - ultimately so visually satisfying in its amazingly cohesive system is the huge arc which stretches itself over the virtual sky above the Museum of Hyperformalism (teleport directly from here), and which begins its unutterably sad and yet graceful disintegration and demise upon my touch; that as I watch spellbound, something is in fact changing in me...

I am slowly demolishing the cubes...

So absorbing in its complexity, the complementarities of the contrast between the hard edges of the cubes and their soft descent upon my collision, are the nested cubes, which Selavy Oh rezzed for me, thanks to the generous hospitality of Mab MacMoragh, that I spent an entire afternoon and early evening slowly demolishing them.(I am indeed very proud to be able to proclaim that apparently I am the second avatar in metaverse history to have completely done so, the first one being Wizard Gynoid).

My reward? The magic of having them restructure themselves in a choreography, the enigmatic beauty of which would be very hard to describe in mere words. That is the impact of the abstraction of minimalism when it transcends the ordinary and moves into the realm of the resplendent: You cannot describe it, what it does to you, what it means to you or even how it looks. It is completely intangible and therein lies its huge power. And yes, I dare to say it, again: its ultimate power of narrative - as I define it in "a long, immense and deliberate derangement of the senses"...

But does "something" really need to do "something" before it becomes truly "interactive"? The third piece of Selavy Oh's that I wish to talk about after the sky arc and the nested cubes is static: Formes Nocturnes, now no longer in existence - alas. Nothing moves - or at least it did not while I was there. A torrent of bits which has become frozen in a tempest, reminding me of Goethe's famous words that "architecture is frozen music". Interaction is not pushing a button. Or bumping into an object which then goes "squeak" or whatever. Interaction happens in the mind: Something or someone evokes a change in me - interaction has happened.

Formes Nocturnes. Photographs courtesy of Selavy Oh

And with Formes Nocturnes and Goethe's statement I come back full circle to Duchamp, and his pre-occupation with frozen time and space: The strong connection which I felt that the island had to Duchamp's glass painting "The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even". I was gratified to hear that my instinct was not unfounded, that there had indeed been this connection in Selavy Oh's mind as well. A connection with the temporal fragility of the "Bride" and with happenstance and chance (apparently the glass broke during transportation), as well as the shared obsession that the artist has with Duchamp: "Dureé", temporality and space, reflected throughout the extraordinary output of Selavy Oh.

I have been wondering how to end this post and what I think I will do is refer back to an email conversation which Selavy Oh and I have been intermittently conducting over the past week or so, concerning wherein might lie the difference between the creation of cohesive visual systems and visual narrative. One would almost be tempted to say that the difference between a cohesive visual system and visual narrative is a matter of degree. However, ultimately, I suppose the difference lies in the temporal element given that “static” visual work can have a temporal connection/element, be endowed with an attribute of temporality even though it captures only a single instance in time. A cohesive visual system need not necessarily have embedded into the notion of the 4th dimension, whereas visual narrative would. So, in the end, in a way, it is still a matter of degree, I suppose: The output of creative activity (and I would dare to suggest that this would involve the output of all creative activity, regardless of whether it is text, sound, visual or indeed scientific data) relies on the engenderment of systems to come to their full fruition. While textual and audio systems inherently carry the element of temporality, when it comes to static visual systems there would seem to be a distinction, they need not inherently possess this dimension: It is whenever we find that the 4th dimension has been evoked within a static visual system that we can begin to talk about “visual narrative” having begun its magical process. The process of the art of Selavy Oh.

Selavy Oh’s Flickr stream from which I have borrowed some of the photos of this post can be viewed here. You can teleport to the giant arc at the Museum of Hyperformalism from here.