[-empyre-] A Brief History of Second Front

The (true) Apocryphal Story of Second Front
By Patrick Lichty

As part of documenting Second Front, the (alleged) first performance art group in the online virtual world, Second Life, Iâm giving an account of its origins to the best of my ability.  As to a claim of a âfirstâ, firsts are a difficult thing in the art world, and we wholeheartedly acknowledge that there are others out there who are also virtual performers.  For example, there were artists performing in LamdaMOO, and there are performing artists in SL, as well as single/duo performance artists in virtual worlds, myself and co-founder Jeremy Owen Turner being two of them. Joseph De Lappeâs âQuake Friendsâ is certainly of note, but I think it is âinterestingâ not note that few ensembles have been together as long as Second Front, working in virtual worlds.  This (I think) is Second Frontâs uniqueness, legacy, and contribution.  That being said, letâs look at the history of Second Front.

Second Front has its roots in technology and performance, as it derives its name from the legendary Vancouver Artist-Run Center, Western Front, with artists such as Hank Bull doing performances in media like video and Slow Scan TV in the 1970âs.  Because of the concentration of SF artists from Vancouver (4 of 8) and the confluence of technology and performance with the participants and the new focus into âSecondâ Life, the name made sense.

Getting further into the events leading up to the formation of the group may be longer than the casual reader may want to engage with, and may be expounded on at a later date.  Important points that feed into the discussion are Turnerâs long-term involvement in the Vancouver performing arts scene, and having been a curator of the Vancouver Live performance art festival on multiple occasions.  Doug Jarvis has been involved in various capacities with the Open Space ARC in Vancouver, also placing him within the performance tradition as well. Also, Patrick Lichty has done media performance with haymarket Riot, Guillermo Gomez-Pena/Pocha Nostra, RTMark and others since 1990, and been interested in VR after meetings with Jaron Lanier in the 1990s as well. And lastly, Gazira Babeli is one of the few wholly virtual âCode-Performersâ, who, like artists like Mez Breeze, look at code as a form of cultural performance in itself.

There are a few events that are seminal to the formation of Second Front, one of them being Christiane Paulâs introduction of Jeremy Owen Turner and Donato Mancini as correspondents of  Paul & Lichtyâs journal, Intelligent Agent.  At the time, Turner was releasing a DVD documentary about the online virtual community of the Onlive Traveller virtual worlds called AVATARA, and the conversation started about performance in online worlds.

Between 2003 and 2005, Lichty and Turner had a stillborn online industrial band called The Hellfire Missile Club, which repeatedly threatened to perform various scores in the OnLive virtual universe.  Time and Lichtyâs hesitation with regards to the size of community slowed the development of the project.

In 2005, Jeremy Owen Turner, Doug Jarvis, and Patrick Lichty were roommates at the Banff New Media Institute for the REFRESH! Media Histories summit, where more talk about performance in virtual worlds (and with remaining Slow Scan TV equipment) continued.  At the time, Turner continued to do his virtual performances in gallery settings in the Onlive world, and Lichty by now has a dormant Second Life account.

By September 2006, Scott Kildall is online, as is Turner, and they are reenacting pieces like Abramovic/Ulayâs âRest Tensionâ, and Chris Burdenâs âShootâ

In late September of 2006, Lichty is now at Columbia College Chicago, and Turner and his partner Tanya Skuce are interested in getting more involved in Second Life, and a critical mass occurs when Lichty agrees to come online, creating a performing arts center (The BitFactory, now the main structure at Columbia College Chicagoâs island), Jarvis comes online, as does Browne, and Kildall joins the group at the same time that Lichty actually finds him through the Chicago New Media art scene.

In October of 2006, Milan-based code performer Gazira Babeli (having actually worked with Lichty under pseudonyms in the 1990âs) joins Second Front by request of Turner and others. 

Currently, Second Front has seven performance videos online, a DVD, and is negotiating to perform several historical score-based performances.

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