Monday, April 16, 2012

Creative Worlds

Important note: click on the images to view full-size. Worth it, I promise.

If you're one of the 3.3 (woot!) regular readers of this blog, you'll know that I'm an active participant in and booster of art in 3D virtual worlds; to date I've curated a couple of mixed-reality experiences and have several unrealized projects on the boards. In Second Life in particular, I count as my friends a number of wonderful artists whose work I enjoy and admire. My own particular bent when it comes to this artistic medium is one of integration and interrelation, blurring the boundaries between the "real" and the "digital/virtual," even though (or perhaps because) this distinction feels largely false to me. "Digital" is not, after all, the opposite of "real;" it's merely a label we apply to experiences in a particular environment to distinguish them from one another, just like "sparkling wine" is not the opposite of "champagne." It's the same thing, really; it just happens in a different place.

Me at home in Avination. In 3D
virtual worlds, it seems that
everyone lives on the beach.

I'm really excited about my latest ideas for a large-scale installation in a virtual world setting, complete with real-world integration. I missed the deadline for application for Linden Endowment for Art support, sadly, so now I'm trying to decide what to do. Art support organizations are still around Second Life, but like the rest of us they are largely cash-strapped, and most have restricted or eliminated programs that supplied full sims (that's like giving an artist a private island, for you non-virtual-world readers) as Linden Labs  has dramatically raised its sim rates for nonprofits and educational institutions. And like those organizations, I would have a hard time affording a full sim on my own, even for just a few months.

Weird thing with another
weird thing inside it.
The good news is that Second Life is no longer the only game in town. A handful of competing 3D virtual worlds have made a lot of headway in stabilizing their platform and creating enhancements that put them nearly on par with Second Life (which admittedly remains the Big MacDaddy of 3D Virtual Worlds). Right now I have an avatar floating around in four of them: Blue Mars, InWorldz, OSGrid and Avination. Although OSGrid seems to be populated by old developer friends from SL's early days, I find myself feeling pretty comfortable in Avination. For one thing, this was the world that made it easiest for me to look like myself (the self I am in Second Life, that is). For another, the platform seems very stable and is under active development, and many of the features I like the most from SL are present in Avination as well--they've done a good job of building on SL's open source code base.

One last good thing ... Avination is cheap. Free to join, a slightly better currency exchange rate for the US dollar than SL, and full sims are actually affordable and don't carry ludicrous set-up fees.

Another beautiful weird thing
The cons ... there are a few things I'd like to do that aren't supported in Avination yet, although I hear they're on the way. And there are significantly fewer regular users of Avination than of SL; this may be a hidden plus, and may, if I get my way, not be too difficult to work around in the end. Additionally, setting up the project in Avination could be a good "proof of concept" for something I might do later on in Second Life, giving me the opportunity to tweak and polish it before turning it loose on a larger, higher-visibility audience.

You're probably wondering what this mysterious mixed-reality project is about. As with all my projects, I could give you a long description of what I think it's about, but by the time it's finished it might not be about that at all. I can tell you my goals are forming around including both worlds in each world in a much more tangible way that I've seen done before, and focused on enabling interaction across the worlds that isn't about performance or "re-creation" or mere representation or scripted scenarios. I can tell you that I'm being inspired by a convergence of repeated references ... to William Gibson's "Idoru," to Jill Bolte Taylor's Ted Talk, to steampunk and strange shapes and things that repeat and repeat and repeat. Movement, light, mystery, poetry. Sound. Quantum physics. Music. Asparagus.

Two more weird things that move.
How they move is still secret :)
I'm building and scripting this install myself; if I can't figure out how to do it, then it must not want to be done. I've started making strange and beautiful things in Avination that really have no definition, I can't really tell you what they are. But they move and glow and turn slowly and change color and tell you secrets, fly and bounce, rotate and change, all unbidden, all in the spirit of self-direction.

Eventually, they will hold as many secrets as they tell. Eventually they will offer whole stories, that I hope the viewer will assemble in whatever way is most meaningful to them. Because at the end of the day, art is really a collaborative effort between the artist and the viewer, and I want to offer as many people as I can a window between these two wonderful mystical worlds that we could all inhabit, each with its own sorrows and illusions, each with its own amazing points of wonder.
Good night from Avination.


Holly Nielsen said...

It'll be interesting to see if the asparagus stays in. :-)

E. Marie said...

I put in all this thought and effort and that's the best comment you can come up with? Sheesh. Makes it all start to seem hardly worth the time!