Alt Out

Wanted: Real Life drivers of virtual avatars for over dinner conversation. It was unusual for me to be reading a newspaper, far less a local one and much less still its personals; a delayed train, a weak phone battery and a discarded copy of The Record on the bench next to me, however – and no other reading material to hand – left me with few other choices. Are you local to Basingstoke? Are you active in the Metaverse? As it happened, I was both. I’m looking to create a dining club for six to eight residents, meeting monthly for good food and stimulating conversation. I liked the idea immediately. Ring Edward, it said; I made a note of the contact number on the back of my hand.

A day’s work later I noticed the fading numerals and the memory returned, as it had with each successive hand wash of the day (only then to evaporate as I stepped out of the mens’ room and let the business of the moment back into my thoughts). Two more washes and it would be gone for good. I rang the number and asked for Edward.

“Ah,” said a gruff, but sculpted voice at the other end. “You’re ringing about the advert. Very good. Now, before you say another word, there’s a very important rule that I intend all members should follow – always assuming, of course, that you choose to become one. The rule is, you must never refer to your real life name during conversation. That includes the conversation we’re having right now. Am I clear?”

He expanded on his rules at the start of our very first dinner, some three weeks later. Edward was an imposing man, tall and elderly, but with an ageless vitality. He sat at the head of the table and the six of us fell naturally into position, three to each side. Whilst the wine was being poured, he tapped his fork against an empty glass and waited with a smile for us to turn.

“My friends,” he started. “I’ve greeted each of you individually, of course. I wish to say just a few more words to mark the start of our acquaintanceship; after that, there will be no more standing to occasion, I promise.”

“He’s a bit egocentric,” the woman to my right whispered. We’d exchanged a hello of sorts when we’d sat down.

“I like egocentric people,” I murmured. “They don’t waste mental capacity worrying about what others think of them.”

“That must be nice,” she said.

The rules were established thus: Absolutely no real life information was to be shared; avatar names were to be used at all times, though it was up to individuals how much of their metaverse identity they shared (and pseudonyms could be used if they didn’t want to share anything at all); everything spoken at the table was in the strictest confidence; finally, it was recommended that none of us met up inworld to prevent the formation of cliques. These policies agreed, we next introduced ourselves. The woman to my right, Mary-Anne Middlemarch, was a fashionista blogger, as was the middle-aged man immediately opposite me, though he introduced himself in the first instance as a photographer. When pushed for a name, he winced a little and checked that everyone agreed on the confidentiality policy (we all nodded vigorously). “I appreciate the option to come under a false name,” he said, “but what on earth would be the point if I had to just make stuff up all the time? Very well. My name inworld is Jennifer Bit. I play a female avatar, and none of my virtual friends know I’m actually male.”

Edward rubbed his chin for a moment about this. Meanwhile, the man to my left who had introduced himself as Raw Concrete, furniture builder, asked Jennifer, “So what are you? Gay? Bi? Transgender?”

“None of the above,” replied Bit, a little stiffly. “You are most welcome here, Jennifer,” said Edward, before further comment could be made. “Please feel free to adopt whichever gender role you feel most comfortable with.”

That left club owner and skin designer Indigo Williams to Edward’s left, a young woman with purple hair, yellow lipstick and black fingernails (she actually did look like an avatar), and Rainy September to Jennifer’s left, who declared that she did nothing at all in the metaverse except explore new places and party. I, of course, introduced myself as a writer.

“And what,” asked Edward, “do you write about, Leonard?”

“Anything in the metaverse that takes my fancy,” I replied, hoping that sounded grandiose. In fact, I didn’t really want to go into the details because people’s eyes generally start to glaze over when a writer they’ve never heard of starts talking about their work. I consider it an important quality as a writer to recognise that.

“And what do you do, Edward?” asked Mary-Anne.

“I role play,” he answered. “Which makes me similar to Leonard, because role play involves a lot of writing. But it also makes me similar to everyone around this table, since we are all, are we not, remaining in roles we have meticulously created.”

“Right,” Jennifer said and nodded his/her agreement

“Speak for yourself,” said Rainy. “How I am inworld is no different from how I am in real life.”

“You’re an explorer in real life, then?” I asked her.

“Careful now!” said Edward sharply, pointing his index fingers at each of us. “That question leads to real life discussion. If that happens I will simply get up and leave, and it will be the last you ever see of me. Sorry to be dramatic. Rainy, my dear,” he continued, more gently, “I don’t doubt for one moment that how, for example, you treat people is no different in the metaverse than it is out here – I would hope that that’s broadly true of everyone around this table – but that’s not really what I mean by role. Perhaps… ‘identity’ would have been a better word.”

The food came and, for a moment, the conversation went quiet. Presently, Edward commented, waving theatrically as he did a forkful of roast beef in the air, “So what I want for us to do, friends, is to discuss metaverse issues; to chew the fat over its unique curiosities; to keep each other’s counsel.”

“A council of avatars?” I asked.

“A dining club,” Edward asserted, “nothing more.”

“Would that make us a fraternity?” said Indigo, speaking from the lip of her wine glass.

“It would make us a dining club,” replied Edward.

“In any case,” commented Raw, who was clearing his plate with alarming efficiency, “fraternities are men only.”

“Historically,” said Indigo. “There’s no reason I can see why a male-female organisation with similar aims couldn’t exist. Not today.”

“Maybe not,” said Raw, “but you’d have to call that something else.”

“What would you call it, Mr Concrete?” Jennifer asked.

Raw actually tore his eyes from his dinner plate for a moment to consider the question. “Framaternity? Framternity? Friternity? Biternity? I dunno.”

“Is that with an I or a Y?” Indigo asked.

“How the hell should I know?” he replied, his attention now well and truly back on the pizza he had ordered. “Ask someone who’s not dyslexic.”

“In any case,” said Edward, “it just makes us a dining club.”

Raw said, “Well, since the subject of identity came up earlier, I have a metaverse puzzler that’s been playing on my mind the last couple of days.” He flicked an olive to a gathering pile at the side of his plate and carved himself out an enormous rectangle of pizza, which he then proceeded to fold in two.

“Why did you order olives if you don’t like them?” Rainy asked him.

“By themselves they’re diabolical,” he replied, “but I like the way they make the cheese taste.”

“Share with us your problem, please,” said Edward. “Perhaps we might collectively be able to shed some light on it.”

“Well it’s not really a problem as such,” Raw said through his mouthful. “I just can’t figure it out. You see, I got outed as an alt the other day and I can’t work out what gave me away.”

“You have an alt?” asked Rainy.

Raw looked at her. “You don’t?”

“Absolutely not.” She looked down at her plate quickly and skewered a carrot.

“Well good for you. I do.”

“So who called you?” Indigo asked.

“A friend I have in both circles,” Raw replied. “But there are only four or five in that overlap. As Raw, almost all my time is spent building. My alt’s my ‘off duty’ avatar and I mostly mix with other people when I’m using it.”

“And your friend didn’t tell you what gave you away?”

“Nope.” He flicked another olive to one side. “She told me not knowing would be my punishment for not having told her who I was.”

“Good for her,” Rainy commented.

“Bad for me,” Concrete retorted, “It’s driving me nuts!”

“Why didn’t you tell her?” asked Mary-Anne, who I noticed at this point had hardly started her turkey salad.

“Why should I?” Raw demanded. “What I do in the metaverse is my own business. It’s not like I’m partnered or anything; who has the right to know?

“In any case,” he continued, “I don’t even have these people in my friends list in my alt account. They just happened to be in the places I visited as him.”

“But they were on your list in your primary account,” I said.

“Oh sure. And Lilly’s one of my oldest pals.”

“Why didn’t you just lie when she asked if it was you,” asked Indigo. “It’s what I would have done.”

“In the first place,” replied Raw, “she didn’t ask, she stated.” He paused to swallow. “In the second, not telling her and actively denying the claim are two different levels of lie. I could live with a lie by omission, but telling her she was wrong when she was right would be diabolical.”

“Even so,” said Jennifer quietly, “you still have the right to privacy.”

Indigo swirled her wine glass in the air thoughtfully for a moment. “Perhaps it was what you were wearing that gave you away. Do you shop in the same places for both your avies?”

“Yes, I was wondering the same thing,” Mary-Anne commented.

“I haven’t bought a new outfit for Raw in at least a year.” The builder carved up the remaining half of his pizza into three precisely equal slices. “What do I want clothes for?”

“And your alt?” asked Mary-Anne.

“I buy for him all over the place. I don’t ‘shop’,” he added, forming the air quotes with his temporarily foodless cutlery. “I think up what I want to look like and then I hunt the look down in web stores. I don’t care where I get it from, so long as it looks like what I want it to look like. I can’t bear all the standing around in metaverse shops just to see if there’s something I like there.”

“Typical man,” said Indigo, and got nods of approval from Mary-Anne, Rainy and Jennifer. Raw just shrugged.

“Okay, so forget about the actual clothing,” she continued, “what about your skin and shape? If you hate experimentation, did you just stick with what you knew when you created the new avatar and buy those again before you got going on creating an outfit?”

Raw thought about that for a moment, chewing whilst he did. “Now that you mention it, I think I did buy the same brand of shape and skin when I created him as what I was used to, though definitely not the same specific products. It doesn’t make any difference, though: I’ve changed both at least twice since then. I haven’t worn those for at least a couple of years.”

“Hairstyle,” said Mary-Anne. “Good quality hair in the metaverse is so much harder to find for men than it is for women. Do you use the same hair on both avatars? A woman would definitely notice that.”

“Well, you’re right about it being hard to find anything worth wearing,” Raw said. “But it’s not like it’s impossible. Raw wears blonde dreadlocks. My alt has four or five different styles he alternates between – none of which are dreadlocks.”

“Are they all the same designer, though?”

“I don’t think so,” he replied and shoveled more pizza into his mouth.

“I bet it’s your animation over-ride,” wagered Jennifer. “Guys use about three. You’re either a foot-to-foot or a jiggler or a crotch-clutcher.”

Concrete dismissed all this immediately. “In the first place, I dispute your claim: there’s loads of good AOs out there for men, though I know the sort of thing you’re talking about and the crotch one is diabolical.”

“I didn’t say there was an absence of choice,” grumbled Jennifer, “just an absence of choosing.”

“In the second place,” Raw continued, “I use completely different animation sets for my two accounts. My building avatar has to remain still whilst I work: if he moves in front of small things I’m editing it drives me mad.”

“Well then, it has to be something about the way you write chat,” I said, pleased to be owning the query concerning words, “the way you say stuff or the type of vocabulary you use.”

“Actually I did think about that,” Raw replied, waving his fork at me whilst he spoke so that a mushroom slice fell onto the table cloth next to my plate of ravioli (I generally tend to choose pasta when eating out with people I don’t know very well; it’s just the safer option). “The thing is, when I’m working as Raw I really don’t chat all that much. And when I do, I tend to talk technical stuff related to building: my building, my friends’ building, builds I’ve seen, and so on. It’s not that I never chat informally, but it just doesn’t happen all that much.

“Now in my alt, on the other hand, I’m much more sociable. Well, the whole point of creating him in the first place was to have more fun. I’d even go so far as to say I force myself to take part more in local chat. It’s a completely different interaction.”

“What about your emoting style?” Indigo asked. Chat is one thing, but emotes can reveal your style much more clearly. Unless you’re a writer-” she looked at me on this word and I could swear she was dangling almost invisible quote marks around it, “-it’s like a fingerprint.”

“Simple,” he replied. “I never emote as Raw.”

“I’m guessing you don’t voice in both accounts either,” said Mary-Anne. “That would be too obvious.”

“I don’t voice in either,” Raw said with a grimace.

I wasn’t convinced by his dismissal of my point about writing style and said so. “It has to be that,” I insisted. “It’s just something you’re not aware of.”

“Maybe you’re right,” he said, “but I’m telling you, I talk in two completely different styles in there.”

“Well I still think it’s something you were wearing,” said Indigo. “Maybe you don’t consciously shop in the same places, but you could still have ended up wearing the same label.”

“If so, then it was a complete coincidence,” Raw replied. “And in any case, what if I was? Plenty of guys must go around wearing the same designer as others. It’s too slim a connection, and she was definite.”

All the obvious ideas depleted, the conversation suddenly lulled. I looked at our host, who had been taking in the whole thing with a large, satisfied smile on his face. “What do you think, Edward?”

He leaned towards me. “What I think, my dear fellow, is that this little idea of mine has already exceeded my best expectations. We must make this a regular occurrence. We must.””

“Just a shame nobody could solve my problem,” Raw said and commenced his assault upon the final slice.

Our host put down his cutlery and dabbed at the side of his mouth with his napkin. “Well, perhaps I might be able to help you there.”

“Edward, don’t tell us you’ve gone and worked it out whilst we’ve all been making fools of ourselves,” said Indigo, smiling for the first time that evening.

“Hardly fools, my dear,” said Edward. “All very helpful lines of enquiry, I assure you. I must agree with Leonard, however, that the most likely clue would have to be something said.”

“Fine,” said Raw. “But what?”

“Something – a single word, perhaps – which you might use as the situation demanded in both social conversation and discussions about building.”

“Like I said,” protested the builder, “I can’t think of anything.”

Edward smiled. “We are so rarely aware of our own mannerisms. Did you know, my boy, that on three separate occasions this evening you’ve used the word, ‘diabolical’ to indicate your disapproval of something? One could just as easily describe a building as diabolical as a behaviour or predicament.”

Raw’s fork, with its final mouthful of pizza, stopped halfway to his mouth. “Diabolical,” he repeated. “I do like that word. Really? Do you think that could that be it?”

“Oh come on,” said Rainy. “That’s even more tenuous than the branded clothing. It’s not like he said it every other word.”

“Indeed,” said Edward, “except we’re not actually talking about a word that ever has been said in the metaverse by our friend here.” He removed a ball point pen from his jacket and handed it to Raw with an unused paper napkin. “Be a good chap and write it down for me, would you?”

Raw frowned. “Well,” he said, “I’ll have a go. You really should be asking someone who’s not dyslexic.”

“Ah,” I said, watching.

“The word itself,” said Edward to Rainy, “would indeed probably only arouse at best a mild suspicion. But if there was something else about how the person wrote that word…” He held up the napkin, on which was written, “Diabolicle”.

“That’s not how you spell it, is it?” Raw said miserably.

“I’m afraid not, my boy,” Edward replied. “But it would scarcely matter in the vast majority of contexts. And I have to agree with you completely that it is a very fine word indeed.”

Written by Huckleberry Hax

Harbor Galaxy

As with most art genres in Second Life© the category photography is not easily defined. What we have are various photography subcategories like fashion photography, portrait photography, erotic photography, fractal photography, landscape photography, the list goes on. Then there is the fine art photography by Harbor Galaxy. I stumbled upon her work by chance whilst visiting an art gallery in Second Life. Struck by the beauty of her photographs, I was left with the sense that her work belonged in a class of its own. Besides that which is obvious to a viewer’s eye, like the well thought-out compositions, the bright colors and the subtle influence of light, reflected in Galaxy’s work is a sort of blurring of virtual and non-virtual boundaries. To me, this is the hallmark of her work; the seamless integration of both virtual and non-virtual visual aspects to the point where it becomes unclear which is which.

                 -Kate Bergdorf

 

INTERVIEWER

How did you get into virtual photography?

GALAXY

I am something of a purpose driven person. I had tried building but there were so many others who were doing it so much better that didn’t seem like such a good idea. I had always had an interest in photography and just thought “Why not?”

INTERVIEWER

What inspires you, in general? And is there anything specifically that inspires you to take photographs here?

GALAXY

I love the dream like quality of Second Life and how you can infuse a sense of mystery into your vision.

INTERVIEWER

I often feel the same way here. Can you say something more about the dream like quality experience?

GALAXY

Second Life provides me with an environment in which I can look at deeper emotions that I perhaps don’t access as much in my Real Life, I was going to say waking life.

INTERVIEWER

Your photograph And the Seas Shall Rise is very dreamlike to me. It reminds me a little of the watercolor paintings by the Swedish painter and illustrator John Bauer (1882 to 1918). Where in Second Life did you take this particular photograph?

GALAXY

I took that photo at Moving Islands, which is a LEA installation curated by Eupalinos Ugajin. The build itself was done by Meilo Minotaur. I was struck by the way she had the land sinking beneath the wave and the surreal nature of the creatures and it put me in mind of the global climate change and I felt I had to try to capture a kind of Cassandra moment. Does that make sense? I was thinking of those old master pieces where there is something going on in different parts of the canvas.

INTERVIEWER

It does make sense to me. I haven’t seen that build by Minotaur, but I think it is probably still there so I will take a look. Yes, I can see the sort of split up parts in the photograph, little scenes of sorts at different places. Very cool. I also love the colors in that photograph and your sense of colors in general. You know, I was so surprised to hear that you are not an artist in Real Life. You are not in any kind of creative field in any way?

And the Seas Shall Rise
And the Seas Shall Rise. Photograph by Harbor Galaxy.

GALAXY

Thank you. Meilo and her artistic partner CapCat Ragu are some of my favorite installation artists in Second Life. No, although I grew up with a mother who was very artistic and did oil painting and I have an aunt that does wonderful portraits. I never really took it up. I did do a bit of sketching when I was very young, but never kept it up. I was a theatre major in college so I do have a flair for the dramatic, but that’s about it. I wanted to say that one of the best things about Second Life as an artistic medium is how democratic it is and how forgiving. It is a place where you can really play and discover your inner artist.

INTERVIEWER

Yes. And in some way it actually also makes sense to me that you are not an artist in Real Life. I think this virtual environment is a great place for us to discover aspects of ourselves that we otherwise would not. Do you think your photography has changed over the time you have been here?

GALAXY

Exactly. I think as we age we forget our ability to play and in this environment it feels a little safer perhaps to experiment and see where your creativity takes you. When I first started, I looked primarily at this world through the builders perspective perhaps. I took a lot of abstract shots looking at angles and such. As I became a bit more confident I started working more with the avatar, which I thought was difficult. It is hard to bring an emotional content to something that has no mode of expression. Somewhere in there I began being involved in the use of saturated color and trying to use color to help provide emotional content. It’s a work in progress, always.

INTERVIEWER

Considering what you just said, do you think taking photographs gets more difficult or easier with time?

GALAXY

I think for me it becomes more difficult. When I’m taking pictures I’m looking for a moment, a kind of aha moment. It usually has some to do with the light and color of the space I’m in and then I try to build on that moment. But because I work this way it’s easy to say the same thing over and over again. This is why I think it’s becomes more difficult for me. I’m always in awe of artist that know what they want to say from the beginning and then go about putting it together. Very few of my pieces start out like that.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about the photograph Leave Taking. I like the contrasting red and black and also the way the female figure is almost absorbed in the black. Do you remember what you were thinking when you took it? Where was it taken?

GALAXY

I was taken by the color scheme and the almost architectural structure of her dress. I thought the black, white with the red elements gave it a strong graphic quality. And I loved the avatar walking out of the frame, it seems to give a sense of movement to an otherwise static shot. It was taken at a Rose Borchovski’s LEA installation, the Russian Avant Garde. I’m a big fan of some of the LEA installations.

Leave Taking
Leave Taking. Photograph by Harbor Galaxy.

INTERVIEWER

The thing that strikes me in many of your photographs is that you somehow are able to incorporate the virtual and the non-virtual. Do you know what I mean?

GALAXY

Maybe, and this is just a thought, because the work really isn’t about Second Life per se, it’s about a moment that is emotionally based taken from my Real Life experiences.

INTERVIEWER

Yes, I agree, it is about emotion and you capture it. Another one of your works, Red Cape Against Blue Sky, is more like a watercolor painting than a photograph. It has a Georgia O’Keeffeish quality to it. There is something incredibly sensual going on there! What inspired you to create this work?

GALAXY

It’s that damn cape! I love it and have used it in quite of few pieces. I think the structure of the cape itself in very sensual, it’s curves and flair and feeling of movement built into the garment. Whenever I wear it, it kind of demands a picture of some sort. I also like the faceless quality in that piece. The body language tells the story.

Red Cape Against Blue Sky
Red Cape Against Blue Sky. Photograph by Harbor Galaxy.

INTERVIEWER

Who do you think are some of the artists who have influenced your work the most?

GALAXY

That is really so hard to say because most of the influences are subliminal. I’m a big fan of Edward Hopper and I like the strong color of Van Gogh. You know, I really have no idea. I’ve had people tell me that a picture has a particular feeling to it like a certain artist but I really couldn’t say that any one artist is a primary influence.

INTERVIEWER

There is something wonderfully archaic about Sins Coming Home to Roost. I love the fantasy aspect, that the female figure is neither a human or animal. And, again, with this work I get the sense that it could be a watercolor painting, not necessarily a photograph. First I though perhaps you had taken it at A.M. Radio’s The Far Away, but looking closer it may have been shot elsewhere. Where did you take it? And what went through your mind as your were taking this photograph?

GALAXY

I love this picture. It was taken at a little temporary sim that was constructed for the Krosmomer Project. It was a project in which avatars and poses were provided to anyone who wanted them to create pictures or videos depicting various Norwegian folktales. The artists involved in creating this project were Heidi Dahlsveen, Mimesis Monday, Frigg Ragu, CapCat Ragu, Meilo Minotaur and Merete Grimeland. The only thing from this project I used for this shot was the location. I loved the sense of space and the fields of grass. The headpiece was one that was created by Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu. I loved the hearts hanging from the branches. When I took the shot or, several shots actually, the hearts reminded me of the regrets or sins that we carry around with us. I put the birds in to create a sense of menace, a price to be paid. Everything has a price. Oh, that sounds so dark!

INTERVIEWER

Beautiful, really. What do you want people to take away from your photographs?

Sins Coming Home to Roost
Sins Coming Home to Roost.  Photograph by Harbor Galaxy.

GALAXY

I want the viewer to, for just a moment, share that aha moment I experienced when I took the shot. A recognition of a shared emotion.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any advice or suggestions for aspiring virtual world photographers?

GALAXY

Play, play, play. Experiment with form and color. Whether you use Gimp or Photoshop, press all the buttons and see what they can do. It’s how you find your voice.

INTERVIEWER

Finally, if you could choose only one of your photographs for an art photography exhibit, which one would it be and why?

GALAXY

That’s like picking your favorite child! I do love Sins Coming Home to Roost and I have some others that aren’t as popular but I love because they are different. I just finished one called Still Waters that I like a great deal. It’s different from what a normally do and I have another favorite, Borderlands.

INTERVIEWER

Thank you, Harbor, for meeting with me at such a late hour and for answering these questions. It has been such a great pleasure spending time getting to know you.

GALAXY

Thank you, Kate. This is my first time being interviewed and it was painless, who knew? It was a real pleasure.

 

 

teleport

teleport

a touch is a click
a digital request for travel
aboard the metaverse transit

imagine the sound of the teleport
like that of the speeding force of a bird
like that of a passing jet

then, for a moment
suspended transition in between
this place and the other

then, landing
hesitantly emerging out of a puffy red cloud
shaking off the color like a wet dog

Written by Kate Bergdorf

blotto Epsilon + Cutea Benelli: Petrovsky Flux

Two creative Second Life© residents, backed by a grant from an educational institution, combined one of their existing projects from 2008, Bogon flux, and the idea of a Petrovsky lacuna (by the Russian mathematician Ivan Pertovsky) and completed in 2010 the project on the sim Spencer Art Museum they named A Petrovsky Flux. The basic premise of this work are clusters of things that are constantly changing and rearranging and surrounding the visitor with a sense of the surreal or perhaps the experience of being in a dream. Together with a handful other immersive art installations like, for instance, The Far Away (AM Radio) and Immersiva (Bryn Oh), A Petrovsky Flux has certainly stood the test of time. One can safely say it has become a Second Life classic. The visionary creators of all these mentioned virtual art projects share a high standard of work reflecting a sophisticated understanding of the creative process within the virtual sphere. Visitors find themselves returning for the artistic experience and, of course, for the immersion.

Scripter and builder collaborators blotto Epsilon and Cutea Benelli are the two brain children behind Petrovsky Flux in Second Life. The project is sponsored by the Spencer Museum of Art of the University of Kansas. Rumor in Second Life has it that blotto Epsilon, who has been a resident of Second Life since 2005, is one hell of a scripter. His co-conspirator, Cutea Benelli, in Second Life since 2007, is the founder of the infamous Grim Bros stores. In a whimsical note card that is provided together with a quite dramatic helmet when one first teleports into the Spencer Museum of Art sim, the two emphasize the importance of protection while exploring the intermittently rapidly shifting parts of the sim, noting that [t]he solid remains of this aggressively fecund process are brittle and failure-prone, so we recommend (and provide) protective headgear. Legitimate reasons for ignoring this precaution include preexisting brain damage and general stupidity (however, please note that in case of the latter, the helmet will make you look smarter). Visitors are also encouraged in the same note card to click things, poke stuff and try to sit on items. When interacting with objects on the sim the participant becomes part of an immersive experience. The Petrovsky Flux project has been part of the Spencer Museum of Art’s permanent exhibits since 2010. With this initiative, the museum has pondered about art in virtual settings, posing questions like How can a work of art created and seen in a virtual environment be meaningful in a real-world museum?, How can such work be shared in a real-life museum?, How does the Museum catalog and document such a work?, and Is Second Life a viable medium for the arts? Of note is also that the University of Kansas is in fact only one of three larger educational institutions showing interest in Second Life virtual art, the other ones are the University of Texas and the University of Western Australia.

When one visits whole sim art installations in Second Life one is more often than not struck by a lack of cohesion. While the objects placed on the sim are usually inspiring and well-crafted, the sum of these parts do not necessarily make up an integrated whole, which leaves an impression of the installation being disjointed. This is not at all the case on A Petrovsky Flux, where resides one might say an organized chaos. Random made-up items, like pink upholstered furniture on large springs, sheep with small helicopter-blade attachments or steam punk inspired large and small pipes with windows, are in a constant state of moving or shifting shape. The movements and shape shifts are not at all predictable, rather completely unexpected and random, consistently taking the visitor by surprise. There are static objects around as well, like a cluster of TVs or a small garden of light bulbs. There is a lonesome wandering chicken. The foundation upon which all of this rests consists of a dark organic seeming dry clay-like ground, interspersed with pockets of water. Wandering around on the Spencer Art Museum sim on which A Petrovsky Flux is installed one can’t help but experience a sense of childlike wonder. No doubt, the tremendous artistic talent, and the immersion that comes with it, is what makes this place shine. But, ultimately, it is the infusion of humor and, yes, the two creators’  obvious love for this build itself that entices a visitor’s return.

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Written by Kate Bergdorf
Photography by Helene Lytton