"… 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…

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