Thursday, 28 January 2010

Second Life - Permission to Land general Linden

The benefits of a shared environment are obvious. The world needs commutative space where ideas and interests can be bounced around, developed and refined by a collective of individuals with very different social backgrounds. Its the diversity in community that harbours the talent to see things is so many different ways.

You would naturally think that servers such as 'Second Life' (SL - second life official) would embrace the potential for the freedoms it could create for artists. What better then a virtual environment that has the ability to create digital art, share it with a wide diverse community and in turn see the art work developed by that community. Is an artist to precious of their works to allow other people to manipulate it and intervene? Thats a different question, and one which should be carefully considered, for as interactive as some internet art seems, the freedoms offered by the artists often are much more illusionary then what they first appear.

The purposes and everyday goings on of Second Life are of no immediate concern for this post, however I do want to address its ownership and authoritative nature. Second Life, like the Internet, exhibits a kind of dematerialised authority. No-one really owns the internet, its meant to be communicative, however because of the way browsers and hierarchies are structured its hard to see the web as a contributive space. Old information is generally discarded favouring newer material, work is lost, links are broken etc. The commercial side of the internet, is of course its biggest asset. The ideal of a large expansive network of information very quickly degrades into commerce as soon as its potential is realised. This seems to have happened to SL.

Real Time
Internet art ideally attracts the types of audience that wish to build upon artistic contemplation. Principally such people may want to interact with or manipulate works and seek artists that create artwork for such a purpose. These artists need technology to deliver and this is where Second Life could step up to the plate, as although a little tedious, SL hosts 3D modelling, and some video/sound media capability. So whats the problem?

As an artist, particularly i think a Fine artist, you are inherently trained to produce work that is a reflection of you. Your work is therefore very personal and more importantly is generally considered as complete. If you are to work in a new media environment you have desires to express yourself through ideas and principles, but wish to expand the work through community participation and skill sharing. Second life makes this very difficult for an artist due to its emphasis on security and ownership. Firstly if an artist wishes to become part of the community and contribute in an artistic way they have to find somewhere to create their work. Apart from temporary sandboxes there are no places to create work without the permission of the 'land owner'. The other option is land rental, which is expensive and promotes a ridiculous notion of paying for virtual space. Secondly SL defaults every single item you build with 'no copy/no modify' permissions. In reality this means an artist has to change these settings every single time they create a new object, use a new sound etc, this is not only tedious but such housekeeping distracts them from their vision and interjects their creative flow. Finally, I refer to the way SL treats media. 1. Steamed media and uploaded video is restricted to a single partition of land. 2. Sound uploads are capped at 10 seconds. I'm sure such restrictions are designed to stop their servers from saturating but such strict restraints are excessive and only act to regulate the type of experiences artists can produce in the space.

A Reaction
The following work was created as part of a EP:VV project called 'Changing Rooms'. The project allowed a number of people to access a representation of the gallery in Second Life and produce work within that space. Each artists session lasted for a week where they were encouraged to use a finite of 'primitives' (simple objects to be manipulated) to build their piece.
The project put an empathises on skill sharing, where a hand-over day allowed the new artist to gain essential skills from the previous artist.

During my experiences in the week i found my feelings about SL were simply augmented. Again, due to the way Second Life works, every item needed it permissions setting in order for the curator to document the work properly. In addition, there were various scripting issues that highlighted permission issues. However, i did find the hand-over sessions promoted new media conversation and prompted communication between artists that would otherwise not work together in such a way. Salon sessions at the gallery also encouraged people to talk about their work as a small group and of course to interact with each others pieces. In my eyes the projects main success hailed from group discussion and differing opinion about how we see the direction new media will take in a virtual world.