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"... but the output to RL is very tiny"

This is quoted from an email conversation with a colleague where we were discussing Second Life artistic endeavors.

And it is an understatement if ever there was one - when you consider it solely from the vantage point of "objects", that is. You cannot export objects out of Second Life at the moment. Well, yes, there may be complex, esoteric means of doing so. But the results fall far short of expectations. And what is more, you also cannot import objects into SL. Yes yes, sculpties, I know. But come on people, let's face it: That is a half measure at best! And not even... Which would be the reason why professional architects tend to avoid the place like the plague - outside of a handful of visionary pioneers who (correctly) regard it as a testing ground for architectural concepts. I mean why waste time on building stuff that you cannot send to a 3D printer to create a physical architectural model to show to your clients? Surely AutoCad works better for that?

When it comes to art however, you have an equally big, if not even bigger, problem. SL-Art will not get you RL shows. Other virtual art work will. Create something in OpenGL or VRML and the world is your oyster. Every art & technology oriented venue, biennial, curated international art event, juried show, museum, gallery - you name it, it is yours for the taking. Do the same exact work in SL - no one wants to know. I know this from personal experience: I have tried. It won't work. On one occasion I even had the reviewer own up to their prejudice: Kicked off the rejection paragraph with "who would have thought that work like this could come out of Second Life!", continuing to tell me in something like 300 words how they loved what I had submitted, only to end the paragraph with "sadly, the work has been created in Second Life and as such is not suitable for this event". The work in question was Anatomia. And no, I am not going to tell you the event that I had applied for (I may yet do so again one day, after all... ;-), but it was one of the biggest art and technology exhibitions globe-wide.

So, as my colleague says, the output to RL is very tiny. A host of aspiring individuals, who have rezzed just one phosphorescent glow object too many, have seen to it that the place has acquired an unbelievably bad name for "serious" art. So, unless you are Cao Fei, you suffer for the misdemeanors of others. It is unjustified, I know. There is good art in SL. Few and far between, it's true. But it is there. And what is "good art" you may ask? Well, I talked that one into the ground a few months ago and in case you missed it, here's the link.

For me at least, art in SL has absolutely nothing to do with the creation of objects. It has to do with the construction of identities for which "objects" may or may not be utilized. I am going to dare and take this one step further even: I would dare to suggest that the creation/investigation of identity (as opposed to the creation of objects) is one of the very few routes left to explore for "serious art" in the year of 2010. Where there is a big question left unanswered. The quest for which involves wandering down the abyss of who you are and coming face to face with the complexity of "you". And bringing that quagmire of "you" back to the surface of your consciousness. And sure, this may involve the creation of objects. Objects as signifiers of identity.

It could be argued that when it comes to the creation of objects human ingenuity is endless and what is wrong with wishing to create even more of them? For me, what is wrong with the practice is that unless you contextualize what you rezz (SL or RL, I am using the word rezz in a broader context here) within some deeper quest, you will inevitably end up with silliness on your hands. And the silliness may even look good! Not at all the point - how good it looks! It will still be vapid, a pretty soap bubble which cannot sustain its own existence. Anyway, we have always contextualized our creations within deeper quests, up until the last 30 years or so. What happened here, of late?
What happened (I believe) is that we hit a wall. As a species. Not where science and technology are concerned, mind you. There we flourished. Or design. Again, we went from strength to strength. But in art we floundered on the same rock of materialism that aided creative progress in those fields. Quests that dared to address unanswerable questions became very "uncool" in the modernistic/post-modernistic world of materialism... And so all art was left with was a bunch of PC clap-trap, social awareness, bla bla bla bla...

And of course, objects. Just that. Objects.

You cannot take objects out of SL. What you can take out is a mindset. A mindset wandering down the path of the self, or of novel perceptions of the self. One that is constantly testing the borders of consciousness and metamorphosing them into art. Art, very likely, created outside of Second Life - art that feeds on the mindset of the synthetic world from whence it arose, however. Just to give one tiny example: I reviewed a paper written by Gregory Garvey for a special edition of the Journal of Consciousness Studies the other day. Garvey points at a number of strong analogies between the Second Life experience and clinical dissociative identity disorders; particularly focusing on the default "over the shoulder" POV of most virtual worlds and similar perceptual shifts in clinical DID patients. Fascinating subject, fascinating paper. Artwork based on a query of this "over the shoulder" POV and how it affects identity and consciousness would, in my mind, not be a "tiny output to RL".
There is an "artistic" migration to RL from SL in progress, even as I write. And quite inevitably so, I fear. However, as Castranova describes very beautifully in his book, unlike a discrete, one way migration (as is the case with population shifts in the physical world), this migration may (hopefully!) be of a continuous nature, with migrants switching back and forth between the physical and the synthetic world. The mindset in one world, the output in another.

Curioser and curioser... As Alice once said...

(Note: The image at the start of this post is from a build of my long time buddy Eupalinos Ugajin.)

The definition of happiness

Bob Dorough. Again. For me, this is the exact definition. Exact! Verbatim. Every syllable of every word! And then the way he sings it... 
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SL Xeniversity

I am probably one of SL's worst travelers. Stay at home, mind my own business - pretty much. Not that I am alone in this, I imagine: All hardcore builders are probably more or less the same way, in the end. Stay put, get on with your rezzing - till the cows come home...

So anyway, I had been seeing this background image on the Emerald viewer for the past few weeks and from the first time that I did so, it aroused my curiosity. And yesterday, on a total whim, I clicked the "visit this location" link and found myself in one of the most remarkable sims I have ever been at in Second Life to date: Xeniversity, the home sim of a Mr. Xenius Revere, who apparently uses the place to teach people Maya and SL lighting techniques and who also sells furniture, sculpty packs as well as a very nifty range of goggles. So, essentially this is a learning and commercial sim. But, important as function and usage may be to the design process, Xeniversity is a location which has surpassed it's design brief and has evolved into something quite beyond that. Something downright awe inspiring, I would say.

This is the sort of visuality, construction, design system, architecture, art - call it by whatever name you will, that makes my heart skip. And one that I hardly ever see in Second Life - or First, for that matter... Sure, I see similar efforts that somehow never manage to deliver quite what Xeniversity does with such impact: Not only is it a complex, intricate and yet liquidly harmonious design system which Mr. Revere seems to have rezzed through the usage of hundreds of cubes; but it is also incredibly, beautifully, finely, masterfully crafted. And, for me, it is this attention to detail and craftsmanship which makes Xeniversity work where so many other "minimalistic" efforts  seem to be failing so miserably.

Glorious textures! Just glorious! Really I cannot think of a lesser word here so I am going to stick to it at the expense of sounding totally bombastic - they are that stunning! So, what's so special about texturing a whole bunch of cubes with an almost solid fill, you may ask? Ah... But you see it is not just a solid fill! Mr. Revere has added very delicate, soft shadows behind every cube he has rezzed! Either these are part of the actual cube textures, in which case he would have had to place each and every cube in exact proximity to its shadow, or these are separate alpha enabled png or tga files, which have been mapped onto very thin prims and then placed behind the cubes. I did not do a ctrl+alt+T to see if this was in fact the case while there. Never even occurred to me even. I was much too engrossed in admiring my surroundings to have all my speculative faculties engaged. But, whatever the technique involved has been, what matters is the result: Depth! Light! Softness! The breaking down of the rigidity of the construct (it is all cubes - all of it!) into something which creates it's own "flow". Becomes "nature" even, I would say: Cubes that metamorphose themselves into a remarkably powerful topography and (in one instance, at least for me) also flora.

Only 2 colors are placed within a tonal range which travels from white to black, incorporating a series of gradations of gray. The first of these colors is a brilliant blue which is emitted from light sources which colorize their surroundings and then, secondly, there is a vitriolic green. And this green could have ended up being such a god awful blunder had it been in the hands of just about anyone but Mr. Revere's? As it is, it stands apart on its own little islet, manifesting in a tonal range which is mapped onto a rectangular variation of the cube system of the main island. Which seems to cling to a huge tree almost like some strange minimalistic novel plant form. A cubic vine?

I could continue on and on and on here, but I am not going to. Instead I would very much like everyone who stumbles upon this post (and who hasn't been there yet, obviously) to go and visit Xeniversity for themselves. This place is a must see for all people who cherish design and architecture, virtual or otherwise:

My hat goes off to Mr. Xenius Revere!

Two little additions: One is that I could not help but think of Moshe Safdie's Habitat project as I was gazing at Mr. Revere's construct. Not that this matters all that much at all by the way. Things do not have to always remind us of other things and we should not be groping for these associations to validate output. In fact, if anything, it is an odious little habit to always be doing so. However, in this case, Xeniversity really does remind me of Habitat and the association is strong enough that I feel that I should probably say it.

Second: I would like to create a "Xeniversity" avatar as part of my output for alpha.tribe. The place has really inspired me and I am now obsessed with inner images of how I could translate the architecture there to create unique avatar apparel, which may or may not be thought of in conjunction with Xeniversity. I have to first consult with Mr. Revere to do this, of course. And I had not even heard of him or Xeniversity until yesterday. So, I really do not know this person and I have no idea what his reaction would be - possibly not favorable at all, is my guess... But, I think I will pluck up my courage and contact him and ask for his permission anyway. And maybe he might say "yes, go ahead". Who knows?

Oh and also! Very important this last one: These have been photographed with a custom sky preset, Mescaline Tammas' London 2050, to be specific. However, I should probably also have added an image captured with the default SL sky into this series. This is the only case which I think I have ever seen in SL where an entire sim's architecture actually (almost!) works even under a midday SL sky! That is how good the building/texturing of it is!