[-empyre-] SL Atavism (sic) & Second Front

Patrick Lichty voyd at voyd.com
Sun Mar 30 08:38:34 EST 2008

Hello, Empyreans...

Sorry to be so silent for the last couple months (a holiday on the Net, and 
an eternity in SL), but I've been very, very active in the physical, 
presenting & publishing.

The Return to SL as Exemplar or Whipping Boy
It's interesting to read the last few posts on the emergence & critical 
issues on Second Life art.  I agree that there are so many issues relating 
to SL as a millieu for the creation of art, its use as a cultural context, 
the nature of its emergent culture, the artists who have been recognized in 
"RL" and SL's native culture, and so on.  This locus of discourse seems to 
be a marvelous space to examine our (mis)understanding of how art and 
virtuality, as well as its intersection with game culture has developed/not.
I can't address all of these issues here, so please forgive for this.
Of course, I speak from the problematic position of researcher and a leader 
of SF's only performance art _troupe_, Second Front.  In the two years that 
we have been working, only duos like the Mattes, and singular artists like 
Cao Fei, Scott Kildall, and Gazira Babeli (the last two of which are pert of 
SF), seem to have made the poke into the somatic gesture in SL, which I find 
very curious.
It's curious to see the emotional investment the New Media community has 
placed into SL as site of validation, contestation, etc.  The recent posts 
noting that SL "has been abandoned except for a loyal few" (paraphrased) is 
a bit of a misnomer, and shows New Media's obsession with the novel.  
Perhaps a better analogy is to ask the function of the different forms of 
art being explored in SL - Social, Formal, Political, promotional ;) .  I 
think that for many of Second Front, SF is analogous to a complex 
sociotechnical tool-platform, like Flash with Flesh.  I'm sure we of Second 
Front would be exploring other forms, which we do - YouTube, Blogs, and we 
are also doing work in World of Warcraft.  
We then, are a sociovirtual performance art group that is more interested in 
online interaction, somatism, cultural discourse abotu the virtual, 
Formalism, and affect than SL as the end-all, be-all of platforms, which I 
think is another grand misnomer.
I'd like to touch on two or three other points regarding SL art as 
contention node in new media discourse.  The public, private, and polis are 
all matters that have had real impact (after Sanborn) in the tangible world, 
regarding issues of banking, child pornography, and intellectual property.  
The clash of the entrepreneurial foundation of the Metaverse (where commerce 
is so tightly wound into the base of the system) and international (public) 
law versus the nature of SL as private service provider has shown the real 
problem of creating a virtual global village as overlay to the physical, and 
where their frissons lie.  From the researcher's perspective, it is merely a 
series of event-sites that show the underlying structures of the crashes 
between "worlds". However, as an artists, I have felt that these signify 
sites in which these critical issues can be explored with a lot of humor.
ANother issue I'd like to touch on is the disparate nature of Sl culture 
versus the larger physical culture.  SL has a very specific culture of 
control based in its citizenry, that tends to favor a rather conservative, 
technotopian, entrepreneurial view of art that valorizes the shiny, 
technically adept, or even the merely pretty and popular.  However, i also 
find it fortunate that there are artists that, without compromising to the 
community, have made some interesting and wonderful works, like Adam Nash 
and Annabeth Robinson. But on the other hand, after going to the Second Life 
Community Conference, I also saw that the artists who were being constantly 
mentioned were the cadre in the SLART.com group, who, while claiming to be a 
"critical Journal of SL-based art", also posts "Read about SLART® products 
and services in the Media" on their front page. This signifies the 
intrinsically entrepreneurial culture of SL, and I should write a missive on 
Another interesting part of the SL community is that of a brittle social 
conservatism.  For example, at Gazira Babeli's recent opening, the gallery 
inevitable turned into the usual avatars-standing-around-and-saying-"How do 
you do?" (or dancing stock animations).  However, then the implied 
'controlled' normative situation broke down through the use of particle 
replicators, obscuring objects or hijacking scripts, the hue and cry of 
"grief" was issued, but was allayed due to the fact that this behavior was 
fully sanctioned at this event.

The politics of grief should also be another missive.
but on the other hand, you have the artists who ride the line between the 
contemporary and the virtual; ourselves, the Mattes, Stphanie Rothenberg, 
Lynn Hershmann, and Cao Fei, with Second Front probably being the most 
"community-friendly" of the three. What I find interesting is the focus in 
the physical world and the integration in galleries that the "Contemporary" 
SL artists take, and less part of the online community itself. For these 
artists, the community of SL seems tangential to the form itself for these 
Lastly, I want to address the "shininess" of SL.  I completely agree that 
the promotional rhetoric of SL is that of escapism from the dirty, limited 
world of the physical to one of shiny futurism, eternal sexiness, fame, 
wealth - the virtual gold rush.  Second Front seems to try to break the 
spell continuously - my Avatar lives in a squat underneath a shiny, 
futuristic PR center and eats from a dumpster.  SF finds the homogenous 
shiny technotopia, actually as dystopia of diversion.  It's problematic, if 
not downright stultifying, and a lot of our work have sought to question 
this utopianism, if even to introduce a little "RL" dirt and blood.  

As Gazira might say, it injects a little humanity into the machine.
I don't hate SL, it's merely a  native context right now, and it's 
wonderfully fascinating.  I think a lot of anxiety about it is the fear of 
its ephemerality, but this is merely a shorter timespan than our other work.
After all this, it's amazing that I'm still friends with Wagner James Au...


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