[-empyre-] Missive 4: Second Life and the Question of Audience

Art in Second Life and the Question of Audience

When thinking of the creation of art for online worlds like Second Life,
the question of the audience comes to the fore.  The conception of the
audience for SL - based art shapes the discursive nature of art in any
virtual world, with SL being one.  The issues at play in regards to
addressing the audience with virtual/engine art are relatively tiered.
That is, the question of engaging audiences in virtual worlds, has to do
with whether one's intent is to solely address the virtual world in
itself (interactive/persistence), the modes of representation, whether
documentation will be the work in itself, and the modality of that
documentation (text/image, time-based, etc).

The question that I have in regards to the addressing of audience is
analogous to that of the proverbial tree falling in the woods.  If it's
virtual, and only five people have been on the server in the past month,
is it being effective?  Taken to extremes, a story that broke in
February 2007 was that of the "Second Life Liberation Army" setting off
"particle nukes" on various servers to protest the Linden labs' sole
control of Second Life.   While it made many of the major American news
feeds, to quote one blogger, " t's not a big deal. It's happened all the
time. There have already been so many more destructive ... attacks
against the grid in the form of replicating objects, and nobody called
those terrorism."

A second instance has to do with the inauguration of Columbia College
Chicago's I Am island, which hosted part of the Manifest school-wide
senior art festival.  Also during that day, a student protest against
the lack of health benefits for the contracted security workers was
ovccuring.  Earlier in the day, the physical protest was dispersed by
Chicago police, but live projections from the island were being
displayed to vice presidents at the opening, and protesters arrived
in-world to try to get their placards in front of the eyes of the
administration.  It was quite clever, as someone obviously knew where
the administrators would be, but the only reason why the message as not
seen was that their timing was off by about fifteen minutes.

>From these two instances a number of concerns in engaging audiences are
evident.  In performance/time-based works (which usually only have a
maximum audience of perhaps 40-50), how can the artist guarantee the
intersection of the audience beyond the moment of the event?  For
SL-based work, in that a maximum of about 40,000 people worldwide have
any access to the work, how can one expand their potential audience?
How can SL-based works engage larger audiences than those which are
solely in-world?  And, being that SL is 3d as well as time-based, how
does one document the work for larger audiences in w way that properly
represents the art?

Different artists have chosen to do this in different ways that address
whether the work is being documented or remediated for objective
production.  Angrybeth Shortbread's time/sound-based works are
well-documented through online videos.  The "captures" do not give the
onlooker the actual feel of interacting with the in-world works, but
they do give a good 'gist' for the events and the audiovisual sensotia
associated with them.  Also, artists like Kildall and the Mattes are
creating derivative works from the performative moments that few would
have actually seen through the creation of high-resolution print.  I
believe Cao fei used live projection in the Venice Bienniale while her
Cosplayer was in its space. Other artists use methods specific to their
practices, as Gazira Babeli places her "objects" (code snippets out on
gazirababeli.com), as well as Virtual Surrealist machinima.   

Where the addressing of audience gets delicate is that audience
engagement comes in close proximity to the rampant promotional culture
of Second Life.  Part of the reason it has grown and survived as long as
it has is due to a tightly managed PR/marketing campaign through partner
companies such as Millions of Us (PR firm which was the media outlet for
Linden Labs to nearly all the major media channels) and Electric Sheep
(lead content developers).  The ubiquitous PR/entrepreneurial culture
that is part of Second life is probably something that cannot be
completely removed from in-world practices, challenging the artist to
confront how they relate to that aspect of world's culture.

But I digress.  As I have been talking about how various artists and
events have propagated their memetic content, I'd like to describe (with
all apologies for any conflation between representation strategies and
PR) how Second Front has tiered the development of its work for broader
audiences than in-world.

For those of you who have been to an SF performance, it is usually
happening-based, places itself in various contexts, and operates in a
very dynamic fashion.  Whereas our first public performance at Ars
Virtua (Border Patrol) was highly scripted and had a dedicated audience,
it guaranteed only a certain number of people.  Currently, when Second
Front does not have enough of an audience, it usually finds a region
with enough avatars to constitute an audience of 20 or more.  Avatars
already at the performance are teleported along, and the whole event is
videoed by 2-3 people in the group.

The second tier is re-editing of performance video.  As with much
performance video (e.g. the Kitchen Fluxus tapes) the record does not
represent the event well.  From this, Second Front recontextualises the
recorded performances as "performance edits". These are remediations of
the event, everging out of the virtual to video, which represent the
"plot" of the performance with a great deal of creative license.  These
are then distributed on the various viral media nets (YouTube, Google,

And lastly, from Jeremy Owen Turner's practice as Avatar/performance
blogger, the Second Front blog (http://www.slfront.blogspot.com/)
partially explicates the group's activities and partially creates a
pseudo-narrative for the group, following Turner's work of
blog-as-performance.   Within the blog, the videos are embedded, giving
a full circle to the practice.

In addition, artists within the group are using derivative media for
gallery practices, but what I think is important for contemporary
artists working within SL in contrast with artists using SL as the
central channel for their entire practice is the multiple levels of
representing the work for different cultural milieus.

Thank you for listening, and I apologize for putting so much text out at
one time.  Some of the text here will be  in an upcoming Leonardo
article, and this is a good place to work some of the ideas out in real

In gratitude,

Patrick Lichty
- Interactive Arts & Media
  Columbia College, Chicago
- Editor-In-Chief
  Intelligent Agent Magazine
225 288 5813
"It is better to die on your feet 
than to live on your knees." 

This archive was generated by a fusion of Pipermail 0.09 (Mailman edition) and MHonArc 2.6.8.