Ars Virtua is Burning

Tonight (March 21, 2010) we burned the first Ars Virtua gallery to the ground. This is the end of an era, but not the end of Ars Virtua. The land will be used for performance for a few weeks, and then be sold off. We are abandoning “land ownership” in favor of working in community spaces. To that end we have a curatorial coming up at the end of April.

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The event was casual and social, there were to be no speeches or tears. It was cool to see Servo again, he built the first gallery and curated the second show. Humbert has been around for a long time as has J0E.

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I forgot what it was like to invite everyone you know who is online to the party. And blissfully forgot how much work it is to host an actual event in SL, let alone the daunting task of documenting it. (please read as I have video but not edited yet)

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John Bruneau took most of these images, he is a damn fine SLtographer.

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The missiles were like roman columns, stately and demanded our attention.

Second Front came to the party and brought their own ICBM’s. Man Michinaga, lizsolo Mathilde, and Bibbe Oh then proceeded to set everything on fire, break up all the objects and collapse the gallery.

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It was really wonderful playing along, I eventually spotted Vroom online to, and he came by. I had to turn on damage at one point, and then the hail of bullets commenced.

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Cleanup was quick, and left us with only a few pieces of Servo’s original build… and of course the Panther house.

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I just replied to a Facebook comment which said “sad” in its entirety:

Okay, please understand this was not a sad occasion. It was a huge amount of fun, gathering around a space that had meaning for us in the past. As we move along and grow in our understanding of the way SL works we need to evolve. Part of that is the understanding that islands, even metaphorical islands in the mainland do not work for organizations, but for communities. The whole principle of “selling land” is horribly flawed. Most of AV’s properties sat empty for most of the time that we owned them. When I originally bought this land, it was under a traffic model that would eventually allow me to pay tier for it from the traffic. Linden changed that.

I still maintained the same mindset, and continued to buy land until I owned nearly half a sim and paid $125 per month. Now mind you I was supporting other artist projects like Second Home, but again there was little traffic.

My strategy, which may well be flawed, at this time is to go into thriving communities, places that have traffic, and bring the understanding that we have of art. I want to see our work reach a larger audience.

As I say, not sad, but an opportunity. Furthermore, this is a lot kinder on my budget.

I think this expresses my reasoning pretty well. When we started Ars Virtua it was to bring our understanding and aesthetics to the SL. It was a reaction to the assumption that art was pretty pictures on virtual walls, and it was an attempt to find, expose, and encourage “native media.” To those ends we have succeeded even though we have frequently flown under the radar.

Our evening ended in a most pleasant way, with those remaining sitting around a table and chatting.

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DC made some nice comments in the Facebook thread:

The model of bringing art to the viewer works. Traffic only happens when community hits a critical mass and this is hard to achieve without some kind of media hype. However there are TONS of communities in SL that might benefit from insightful art. Great idea!

I agree about the dynamism of the virtual world not being a sad thing. It just is. Things come and go. I can’t tell you how many galleries I have outlived in the material space. Ars Virtua’s contribution is part of art history now and it is my opinion that Ars Virtua changed the face of the grid for the better.

Another point is that in the virtual world, location is a vector as it has evolved in material installation. The new location is “LIVE”

to which I add:

It seems odd to try to own your own space when distance is deprecated. That is to say, that teleportation prevents us from walking along the road or having a happenstance encounter along our journey. We click and we are there.

For us this means that SL is a … See Moreseries of destinations, and very little else. We have done several projects where we encouraged people to walk around and explore (one of which was with Julia). I honestly feel that this is now much more a form of archaeology than an experience in the landscape.

Finally when I think of the mainstream media articles that are written about SL now, so many of them miss the point because they come into SL alone and never look for a community. They don’t even benefit from a community of outcasts and so they see emptiness, loneliness, and a lack of imposed goals or “things to do.” SL is in the communities and regardless of what Linden does to kill SL through their ignorance of their own strength, the community is what makes it outlast There.com, metaplace and so many others that have fallen.

for more documentation see http://kidneutrino.blogspot.com/2010/03/ars-virtua-burns-to-ground-amongst-hail.html and john bruneau’s photo stream http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=4951246&id=630559358 (you may need to log in to fb to see it and I have linked to an image that picked up some good comments).

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Thar be Unicorns

On Friday we had a party where I made rainbows.  Unicorns showed up, and although there was no recorded death, at the end of the evening we were left with a unicorn graveyard…

Harassment Training

I was selected to take “online harassment prevention training offered by Workplace Answers” today. I always feel put off by these things because even though they say that incorrect answers do not matter, I am sure there is a record somewhere. In addition to that it was 128 slides and they expected it to take over an hour! Yikes, what a commitment. Additionally, I don’t work on the clock so I realize I am not being paid to do this.

I always have problems with this sort of test. I cannot seem to separate the real world from the situations that are listed. I suspect that if the conditions are exactly as stated in the question that the “correct” answers are the only answers. However, the real world is never that concise. For example:

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I took the cautious approach and said YES. How can we possibly know that this is welcome? Are we assuming that the sexual preferences of everyone in the department are common knowledge? If the rest of the department is flirtatious and I am not interested, would I feel pressure to “play along?” Does that sound like something you could never really know? Here the real world interrupts the conditions of the question. This situation could NEVER REALLY EXIST, and therefore the question is bad. Further I think the flaw is believing that this could exist. It is more reasonable to say: In Claudia’s department, sexual joking, flirting and comments seem to be welcome and even encouraged by her coworkers. No one has complained about this creating a hostile environment. Claudia fully participates in the tantalizing teasing.

Reality check, some flirtation will inevitably take place, and it is nearly impossible to get people to candidly talk about their comfort zone. The key thought in my rephrasing is that no one has complained (yet). If it were me, I do not think I would participate, and if I were the manager or the instructor I would point out that the behavior was in a grey area at best.

Another example, but about popular culture:

Here the discussion is about a fictional movie called “Homeland Hill” which is a widely known lesbian love story.
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The problem I have here is that the people are talking about a movie and not lesbian love. Granted when they say “I totally agree. It’s disgusting.” there is a strong implication that they are talking about the nature of the relationship, but frankly that is an assumption and the fault lies with the language, reasonably “it” refers to the movie. A film is not a protected category. If the film is disgusting that is one thing, if the reference is to the love affair then that is another. The first is a comment on film, the second is about a protected category. When I first read this it did not occur to me that they needs must be talking about the subject of the film.

Here the situation is unclear, and the context could be carried in tone. From the subsequent questions it becomes clear that Anton and Wade WERE referring to the protected category which does make the comments inappropriate. This is not clear though based on the situation.

Well, you say, the intent of the comment is not relevant with respect to the appropriateness of the comment. Hmm, this sounds like the sitcom “Three’s Company” though, where part of a conversation is overheard and a whole episode goes spinning off. It certainly may have been insensitive for the two to have this conversation, particularly in front of a colleague who is openly gay.

Finally my last comment deals with language and accent.
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When second language students speak they do not always choose the perfect phrasing, and often implications are drawn from their word choices. The key phrase here is that the student “finds Jorge hard to understand” and asks for an advisor with an “American accent.” Now putting aside the threat (which is irrelevant, though it does speak to the attitude of the student), I am not sure the answer is correct.

If the question were: “Should the head of the department accommodate the students request solely based on Jorge’s accent?” I would say, no. But in the explanation the key phrase “Assuming that Jorge’s accent does not prohibit him from performing his job duties” which belongs in the situation, because that is key here. However I believe the student is saying that they cannot understand Jorge and that between the student and Jorge that the student is not able to receive proper advising. If the student had said, “I am sorry, but I am having difficulty understanding his advice, it may have something to do with the way I learned english, and this really needs to be clear to me. What can I do?”

What is the purpose here? Will Jorge’s career suffer from transferring one student? Is Jorge able to perform his job duties?

It seems mean to say, “I am sorry you cannot understand your advisor, but I won’t give you a new one.” Is Jorge’s national origin the ONLY factor here?

So I hate these tests, especially one this long.  They always leave me feeling unsatisfied because like most tests of this nature the test giver really doesn’t want feedback. They were hired by HR who is just making sausage. This is production, show that Rube actually completed this and it looks like we are trying. Well in fact they are trying, and this is better than nothing. I am a big fan of respect and communication. I know that it is possible to stumble into casual harassment, but by being vigilant, sensitive and communicating with those around me I am prepared to respond if I make a misstep.

art games at GDC

On Friday I had the pleasure of attending the artgames session at GDC. This post is based on my notes, and I am happy to correct any errors or inconsistencies.

John Sharp (Professor, Savannah College of Art and Design-Atlanta) introduced the panel and made some poignant references to what the panel was not going to be including just about amazing art in games or art made from video games like Cory Arcangels Super Mario Clouds, or even art made in conversation with video games like Eddo Sterns Tekken Torture Tournament.

He went on to assert that the main feature of video games that were to be connected with art was the idea of interactivity.

I found the format to be quite interesting in that four presenters were chosen to talk about other peoples games.  From this standpoint we were faced with acknowledged experts providing critical observations of work in the field.  From this standpoint there was a very “fair” appeal to the whole proceeding.

Jason Rohrer presents on Judith by Terry Cavanagh and Stephen Lavelle.

Jason made a compelling case for Judith as a work of art talking extensively about choice and the craft of making a video game. The work uses the mechanics of the game and the narrowing of control to convey it’s meaning. Set in two times, the player initially has a certain amount of control in both. The designers however use programmed sequences to wrest control and create narrative sequences within the game engine. This is more than using storytelling in cutscenes (cinema). His contention is that this is the craft of game design and that it is a form of expression, with a focus on the interactivity and the flow through the game to its inevitable end.

The contention is that there is frequently superficial choice to be made by the player but that only certain actions advance the game, and the story hence the choice is not relevant. The keystone to interpretation of this work is that it is a game about control.

The second presenter was Wesley Erdelack who talked about Jonathan Blow’s Braid.

Erdelack is working on a PhD in Moral Philosophy and there are times that his academic training overcome his critique of the work. He makes the assertion that playing a video game is like doing science, that one tests, fails retests and “solves” the system. The rules of the game are not necessarily disclosed up front and that oftentimes the play is the exploration of and exploitation of these rules. Learning the rules allows you to beat the game, to anticipate the way the world behaves

He comments that when we think of others as a manipulable object we are prone to a certain type of alienation. And that frequently games make us treat others (the princess for example) as objects that follow simple rules. He asserts that we know the product of rules and we know they are manipulable.

In the end he discusses the great depth of the metaphor within the story of Braid. He says that the story is about ethics and lays out a deep interpretation.

His closing advice to us is to treat the player as a human, art is more than wistfulness, say something with a game about what it means to be a person.

Anthony Burch makes a case for Far Cry 2. His discussion focuses around the pragmatism of evil and he talks about several features of the game that come off as a lazy way around programming (see ZeroPunctuation). The fact that you start out with crappy weapons and have to actually kill people face to face but that you find better weapons that let you kill from clear across the map is somehow mollified by everyone being hostile to you. In fact they will all take the first shot relieving the player of any moral obligation and supporting his role as a “good guy.”

The hostile harrowing environment situation to end a war morally justifying your death-dealing. Further the civilians that represent the good guys cannot be killed. So as Burch puts it, no one will complain when you kill a guy in self defense.

The interesting part comes at the end of the game when your former buddies decide to kill you. Burch says that of the eight mercenaries that start with you, all of which will jump in front of a bullet up until the end two to five will remain and attack you in the end. You are left with the choice of seeing them killed off during play to improve your chances of survival at the end. The moral dilemma is that three of these characters are totally loyal to you and you must kill three before you can start to reduce the number of people attacking you at the end.

This is the pragmatism of evil. You have no real choice, you can justify this by being the hero and perhaps succeeding in the last mission, but you cannot leave the three innocents alive unless you want to make this extremely difficult.

The one thing Burch fails to mention is that by intentionally killing the innocent companions you have essentially taken on the same role as the traitorous killers that will assault you.

The final presenter, Frank Lantz, talked about the games of Mark Essen also known as messhoff.

Lantz talked about Flywrench and The Thrill of Combat. His assertion was that these games are art because they are represented in galleries. Certainly this is true, and it was refreshing to hear this said out loud. He goes on to say that art is a mode of operation, a particular cultural context, a protocol, and that Flywrench and The Thrill of Combat are games, not an appropriation, deconstruction or reference to games.

Lantz continues by discussing the formal qualities of the games and the sense of style that the artist has in creating them. Lantz then provides a basic demonstration in style in the music industry by contrasting the Monkeys version of Stepping Stone with that of the Sex Pistols.

“The important thing about art is style” as reflected in it’s tone of voice. Lantz’ final plea is that we need new styles of games, that it is not just about the expression of big ideas or content.

After the session I heard someone comment that they disagreed with Lantz right up until he played the two songs, and then it all came in to focus.

Overall I think the session was a success, it is nice to see game developers dealing with the issue of fine art in the same way that artists have for decades (centuries?). After the session I had a chance to sit down and talk with Anna Anthropy too, and it is from her that I pose my final thoughts. One of the fundamental qualities of the contemporary art world is that art is held up to critique. Whether this be in the academy or in the art press, independant voices form theory and what is eventually a consensus about artworks and bodies for work from artists.  If the idea of artgame can bring more critique to videogames or if artgames can elevate or broaden the scope of video games like art cinema does for cinema then it is unquestionably good. The difficulty comes from the assumption that there is intrinsic value in something being art. There is not, but there is meaning, dialog, and process. It was refreshing listening to the presenters consider and critique the games presented.

As a storytelling medium, games will without a doubt become the most compelling. With infinite patience, and metaphoric mechanics there is a lot to be said.

Finally and as an aside, I learned my lesson a long time ago about saying that something is not art. But I do have to say that I just don’t undersand Far Cry 2 as art unless it is in the same sense that Transformers 2 is art cinema.

What does Laser mean to you?

For my first laser painting on a stretched canvas I asked a laser scientist who I have been co-teaching a workshop with at SJSU to describe what comes to mind when he thinks of lasers and laser paintings and he came up with some great answers.

He said that he thought about how lasers have really become part of our everyday lives from cd to blu ray to supermarket scanners, to laser pointers and so on, but when they were first being researched and built they were conceived as weapons and that there was a great deal of public fear about them.

I think back and the 50’s and 60’s sci-fi that I love so much does paint them as massive weapons of destruction. So my next painting will focus on this idea, I am going to do a “laser pistol” and see how that plays out on my first canvas which is 11×14.

I was considering leaving more of my process visible too, but that just has not happened, I cannot seem to leave part of the front of the canvas unpainted. Anyhow, I also got some larger 14×18 canvas boards and will probably be more open to that with them as they are so big I really cannot even carry them on my bike (easily : )

I am documenting the coating of this canvas, which will likely turn into another post, I shall also append my image to this one when it gets done, but I am sooo far behind.

Laser time 4pm Friday. Yikes.

New Software and New Projects

In an attempt to become more organized I have recently downloaded some software. So here are a few comments in no particular order:

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cocoalicious – I have struggled with delicious for a long time, it has become a bit of a golden hole for me. That sounds odd and perhaps a little dirty too. But I realized that I put a lot of great links into it, but every time, almost without fail, when I went to find something that I knew was there I could not. Worse than that I could not figure out how it was searching and how I kept coming up with suggestions of other peoples links instead of mine. I have literally five and a half years worth of bookmarks and though I do realize I have probably hit the expiration date on many of them, this app does one which is pretty awesome. It allows spotlight to find the individual bookmarks as well. Huzzah! I actually found an old book mark looking for something on my computer. This free app that uses the delicious api has connected me to the other end of delicious and I am finding those things I stored away so long ago.

http://www.scifihifi.com/cocoalicious/

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MacJournal – writing is always a struggle and distraction and eye strain from staring at a light bulb for hours on end has not helped at all. Ali had turned me on to something that was sort of cool but the 30 day trial ran out before I got back to it. This all makes me wonder why didn’t they do a certain number of uses? No matter, MacHeist Nano or Pedo or whatever to the rescue. I grabbed MacJournal because of the outrageous claims that it made and frankly I am pretty damn impressed. I am struggling to dial in the connection to Open Office and Google docs but it is really pretty darn comfortable to work in (and I am now blogging in : – )

Oh and it will post to my blog automagically, so I am in business.

http://www.macheist.com/

http://www.marinersoftware.com/sitepage.php?page=85

Free Software – I found the first piece of software on http://www.opensourcemac.org/ though I do not recall what it was that I was looking for originally, I am totally impressed with the list and will be picking through it in more detail shortly. What I need now is a good budgeting and financial tracking system.

Google Forms – I have managed to do some good work in the cloud with surveys and google forms, but it always felt like it was missing something. I plan to do expense tracking that I can then manipulate a bit here. I have a couple of checking in forms that seem to work at least as well as foursquare is working for me on the web.