Saturday, May 31, 2008

Prim Victory!

Remember that idea I had about creating media screens for my property? Tonight I did something about it. Here's the story in pictures ...

Jazz let me know she had set the parcel media to permit me to edit it. So I re-watched the video tutorial on how to set up streaming YouTube videos on parcel media, and made myself a nice big prim ...

... a nice big nonfunctioning prim, as it were. I couldn't figure out why. I was doing everything right. The parcel was detecting the movie. The default media texture was being used on both the parcel media setting and the prim setting. The movie was playing, apparently, somewhere. But the screen stayed blank and gray.

I experimented with still images, and with my web site. Duh! The screen "saw" those things and presented them. but whenever I went back to the movie, regardless of whether I tried streaming it from YouTube or from my own streaming web server ...

... I once again got only the gray screen. This was most disconcerting. I found it necessary to take a break and do some seriously deep thinking.

I had no revelations during my seriously deep thinking (although I did achieve dramatic improvement in my tan). So I decided to do what all geeks do when faced with this sort of problem. Namely, I rebooted and started over.

This time, I decided to build in my bedroom rather than annoy the neighbor with a huge noisy (potentially) prim next to her house. I followed the same steps, and constructed the same, although significantly smaller, media screen. I repeated the steps for getting the video URL from YouTube, and pasted that setting into the parcel media controls. The same, exact procedure only this time ...

... I got a different result. Now that's interesting. Not precisely what I was after, but much better than the unseeing gray screen. A few tweaks here and there on the prim settings and

Voila! This was even closer to what I was after. A couple of clicks around (I really don't quite remember what I did, to tell you the truth), and suddenly ...

Could it be? There were telltale sounds coming out of the speakers, something different was happening ...

Houston! We have lift-off! Woot!

Of course, all this success--disregarding the fact that I'm not 100% sure how I managed to obtain it--made me wildly confident and greedy for more. Completely disregarding my earlier concern for the neighbor, I decided to make Mr. Media Screen very fat and push him through the wall, so that the video would play both inside the house and outside it.

Voila, again. In the early phases of the video, it looks just like another window with the privacy blinds on. But, give it a few minutes and ...

Oh, now that's nifty.

Flush with success, I pose with my creation. Now what?

First of all, I shut the movie player off and made the screen transparent, so the neighbor won't be besieiged with video and noise until the night I finally have my party ... and hopefully she'll be AT the party and won't care at that point. Additionally, I won't be besieiged with ugliness in my own bedroom--I wound up using a particularly hideous wallpaper texture for the media texture, just in case there was something else somewhere on my parcel that was dutifully playing my video entirely by accident. So this first little foray into the intersection of RL/SL art feels pretty comfy. But if I plan the party right, it will be quite an event and may even be worthy of a little machinima. Oh yeah.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Big Ideas

My alter ego came up with some questions for me the other night, and since my level of experience with her subject matter is not so great, I did not have any answers. However, I think this might turn out to be an interesting collaborative project for the two of us.

She was nattering on in her blog, Art Life Now, about how hard it is to get people to sign up for her project on perception and experience around relationships. And then she started wondering about people who are "married" in Second Life, and what that experience is like for them, and whether expectations in the Metaverse are easier to fulfill than they are in RL.

Well, that's an interesting thought. She's into the whole art-as-sociology thing, and I admit I'm curious. I'm not really interested in dating or mating in SL, but I did think meeting people and making friends was going to be easier and that I would have at least a few more folks on my friends list by now, and that the friends I do have would be a bit more, er, engaged. (I did meet a vampire yesterday; he was very polite and asked if he could bite me. He was pretty handsome, too, so I said "yes." But don't worry, I didn't elect to become undead, so your blood supplies are all safe.)

OK, back on topic. Maybe we're looking at a project, she and I, in which I interview and document SL couples, and she does the same with RL couples, and then we find a way to make this all into the RL/SL art show we've been thinking about for awhile now.

Makes sense. I just have to figure out how to orchestrate it. I think I just need to have a big old party, whether video screens and artwork are part of it or not.

Oh! I built something else--a really ugly curved outdoor bar. I personally believe that it's somewhat less ugly than my first effort, although it's still not anything complicated or delicate in nature. And I changed the texture and pattern on my meditation chair, so that's not nearly as ugly as it used to be, and I'm finding it quite serviceable! It has the texture of reasonably stiff foam rubber, and that seems to work just right for meditation.

And that's the latest from me. My RL cohort will be updating her web site soon to include our SL "couples" effort, which for the moment she has given the working name of "Virtually Married." Cheesy, maybe, but not altogether inappropriate or uninteresting. Anyway, when you have time, you can check it out.

Until later!


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Nerdalicious, Baby!

Well. I finally did it.

No, not THAT it, you smutty-minded moron. I'm talking about the other "it": namely, I built something.

Actually, I built two somethings. The first was purely practical; I was unhappy with the low level of light in my living room at night, so instead of going out shopping (again!), I blew a prim instead of a Linden $ and made myself a glowball. As you can see, there is really nothing fancy or elaborate to it, I was just taken with the idea that you can make any form you want emit light, and I needed some light, and voila! I made a glowball and stuck it up on my ceiling. And now I have more light, and I can take it down when it's daytime or put it up in another room or carry it out onto the beach. Dandy. Tons of uses. And probably some artistic implications also, but I haven't put too much thought into that.

My second building project was really more of an experiment to see what I was capable of doing, but it also was in response to a practical issue. This time, the issue is one of aesthetic taste: I don't much like my furniture. It's not my furniture per se, it's my landlady's furniture and it came with the house when I rented it. It's all black and red and has this goth kind of feel that really isn't what I'm about. I went out furniture shopping and discovered that in SL, a really nice sofa design can cost you as much as a sofa in RL! And of course, Miss Champagne Taste here, everything I liked was extremely expensive. So I began wondering if I could make my own furniture.

This is another of those moments that makes Second Life so special. In RL, I know I don't have anything even remotely resembling the skills to make furniture. But, in SL, it's a little different process and one that I found enough learning materials and tutorials on to be comfortable with. It's just a little more nerdaliciousness coming to fore, and as we know, I am nothing if not passionately into the nerdalicious.

So I sat down in my study one night and started sticking prims together, and I made myself a meditation chair. It's really basic and crude and ugly, and why I made it that godawful shade of green I have no idea. But I was able to demonstrate to myself that this is something I actually have enough skills to do, and now I'm interested in acquiring more.

I think, though, that I need to take it to the next level and start making sculpted prim furniture and objects. "Sculpties" require some kind of 3D modeling software, and fortunately for us, SL resident Cel Edman, also a RL artist, has given us Sculptypaint, a "low polygon 3D creation tool original written for creating sculpts; 3D low polygon models for SecondLife." It's a devilishly cool little piece of software, and made my nerdgirl heart sing, so if you're even remotely interested in 3D modeling, do check out Cel's PixelLab, and if you like the program join his paid Secondlife group or otherwise SEND THE MAN SOME CASH. (He's an artist, for god's sake, he needs the money!)

I also learned that thanks to my continuing affiliation with a major four-year university (BOO-yah!), I can go through Creation Engine and obtain a 14-month license of Autodesk's Maya Unlimited Superpack or 3dS Max for less than $200. Just to give you some perspective on that, the MSRP on the Maya Unlimited Superpack for the rest of the world is $6995. You'd have to line up a lot of 14-month licenses to overrun that magical retail moment, and 14 months should be long enough for me to figure out if I really do want to get into this is such a major way.

Meanwhile, I've hit a little bit of a snag in my intention to create lots of little media screens and have them all over my property: namely, I don't have permission to control the media stream, since I'm just a renter. I don't know if that can be altered by my landlords or not; I'll have to catch them online and ask. If it can't be, I may have to buy a place. This is sad, because I love my weird little round rental house and my private beach, it just screams ME, and I've already stuck a lot of trashy flowers and beachy things all around it. I like being so close to the Jazz Club, even though it seems like there's never anybody around when I'm there. I might be able to buy some media players, but again, I'd rather make my own, just because.

So these are the things that vex me right now as an artist in SL. It's safe to say I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do, and at the moment building seems to have captured my attention. I don't know how that will manage to spill over into RL, but that's where I'm at right now.

I'll keep you posted on my progress.


p.s. Edited to add: just looking at this, I'm struck by the fact that I'm still, ALWAYS, thinking like a photographer. Just for my own ego gratification, here are a few more, ALL COPYRIGHT BY ME, PLEASE. Thanks!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Boundary-Busting Part 1: Ideas

I've been thinking with some consternation about my place in SL, and I've discovered that this is not an uncommon phenomenon at all. Turns out there is a whole discussion thread on the SL Forums about "how do you fit?" that demonstrates many people seem to struggle with this notion. It also revealed some cynicism and a little bit of aggravation with those who "have arrived and know everything" (I'm paraphrasing here, of course), and I admit that felt familiar to me too. Some of the discussants said they had found mentors to help them achieve what they wanted to achieve, others said they gave up doing with they thought they were "supposed" to do and finally went with what seemed enjoyable and learned to be happy with just being happy.

Not a bad approach for SL or RL, for that matter.

I spent some time thinking about what makes me happy. It's cool that in SL I have money and lots of great outfits and a great funky house on the beach, but tooling around shopping is getting tiresome and sunbathing by yourself is just boring no matter which Life you're in. I'm not much of a party animal, I'm more a "low-key hang out with friends" kind of girl. My artwork very much reflects that. I don't think, right now at any rate, that I want to build enormous complex interactive prim sculptures or make jewelry or design and build clothing, although at some point I will probably try all of those things. (As my friend Jazz noted, the very best thing about Second Life is that no matter what it is you think you might want to do, the barriers to entry are very low.) I think right now I really want to focus on my original premise, and tackle some of those SL boundaries.

So this is my current plan: as my first "blur the boundary" moment, I want to show some of my RL-shot video work in SL. I'm going to try this on my own property first--build a couple of display screens and place them around my groovy little rental house, and run a couple of my favorite video pieces through them. Maybe they'll be tiny "surprise" screens in unexpected places, or maybe they'll be large, like yard sculptures that play video. I haven't decided yet. But I'm anxious to get on it and try. Maybe this weekend. And if it works, maybe I'll have a little party and invite everyone who lives on my sim, and some other folks as well.

I have to say this is the first time I've been excited about art in SL and specifically my own art in SL. We'll see how it works out.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Not My Tribe

I went to the "Kiss the Sky" opening at the New Media Consortium on Saturday, as I had planned to do. I had hoped that I would have some questions answered, some new doors opened, and a few new friends as a result. But instead I found myself dramatically conflicted over the idea of participating in this kind of artwork, with more questions than ever about how I as an artist can fit into and express myself in SL, with a stronger commitment to my interest in blurring and breaking through boundaries rather than setting up new ones, and with some degree of disappointment about the unfortunate similarities between the SL art world and the RL art world.

Let's start with the work in "Kiss the Sky." It's impressive. The attention to details of color and movement and sound and form, the audacity of it in terms of scale and maleability, and the interactive nature of many of the pieces was really extraordinary. The entire presentation was thrilling, from the free added boost in flying power (make sure you take advantage of that if you go, you will need it) to the "art tour chairs" that automatically carried visitors from one work to the next. This truly is work that is possible ONLY in SL, both in terms of the work and the presentation of it. And while I don't really have any quibbles with that, I don't think it is for me.

The opening reception itself, however, was a painful reminder of the RL art world. The artists were definitely all there, I could see their little name tags floating over their heads. And there was a lot of chatting going on, as well as dancing and DJ'ing. But there were so many "in jokes" flying around that I didn't feel comfortable trying to jump into a conversation with anyone there, and the folks in the crowd didn't seem inspired to chat up anyone hanging around the edges of their "party." So I left the reception having spoken to no artists, nor anyone else, although I later picked up an IM and made a friend of someone who had also been there and was feeling similarly shut out.

I took the pictures included here to give you a little taste of what was on display, with the final two being of my personal favorite piece. The presentation sim itself is a work of art and very specifically structured to support the artwork, so certain things like your camera and movement controls may not work as you expect them to. If you don't avail yourself of the free flying boost and try to get around that way, you may spend a lot of time falling instead of flying--I did, but the good news is I fall rather well and generally found something to land on. DO use the automatic chairs, and DO take all of the notes offered on the work, as much of that information is not posted near the works themselves. And do take risks, touch things, fly through things, interact, play, and do all the things you generally would be encouraged not to do in a RL art gallery. By the way, the last picture in the series shows the kind of scale we're talking about; that tiny dot on the platform at the lower right is me.

In summary, although I enjoyed the show and want to go back for another look soon, I am not convinced that these people or this work is from my tribe, if you know what I mean. The friend I made there, who freely says he is NOT an artist (although he does own a box of Crayola 64), seems closer to my tribe than the artists who are part of "Kiss the Sky," but then on the other hand I don't know for sure, since I didn't get a chance to talk to any of them. If you want to read a very thorough Art Forum style review of the show, check out SLArt Magazine. Some of you will no doubt find it intellectually stimulating, others of you may hear the nagging sound of Charlie Brown's teacher honking somewhere in the background.

If you want to check out "Kiss the Sky," you should be able to use this link to teleport to the NMC Arts Lab (43, 135, 706).

Still looking for my tribe.

Until later,


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Walk the Walk

So I've spent the last few weeks trying to get my feet underneath myself in terms of what's really going on in the SL art world and how I fit into that world. It's pretty complicated, and I admit I'm a long way from completely comprehending it. But what seems to be emerging is the idea that Second Life really has two very distinct artistic functions. One is as a stage, a venue, for work that could only be developed in and shown in Second Life. I think the "Kiss the Sky" show, which opens May 17 at the New Media Consortium, is going to be a solid example of this. The show includes 35 pieces by 14 different artists, and judging from early reviews, will be an interesting exploration of art theory unique to SL. I'm looking forward to seeing it; I'm very interested in this kind of artwork that is so much more than a regurgitation of RL artwork in digital form.

I have no idea if it's the kind of work I'd like to do here; although I'm extremely interested in building (I have a nerd RL background), it feels a little intimidating. But, that being said, I'd like to give it a try, so I'm sure at some point I'll get around to it. Whether the results will be "art" or not ... well, that remains unclear.

The second artistic function is closer to my own practice, and more what I was thinking about when I initially set off on my SL quest. That is the use of Second Life as an adjunct to--or a way to expand or blur the boundaries between--Second Life and Real Life. This happens in a couple of different ways. Some artists use Second Life as a tool, a way to distribute information or show work that is connected to or sometimes wholly contained within RL. Videographers and filmmakers are "showing" their work on SL screens in addition to RL screens. It goes both ways; some SL videographers are making work entirely within SL and importing it to YouTube. (Look up China Tracy there if you want to see some highly compelling work.)

My own interests right now are in blurring the boundaries as much as possible between SL and RL art. My project "Stroll" is accepting submissions from both RL and SL participants, and the rules are the same for each. I'd like to expand "Une Femme d'un Certain Age" koffe klatches into SL as well, to maybe reach a broader audience. But I'm still not sure what this does to the theoretical underpinnings of one's work, especially in the realm of social practice, and how to characterize the collaboration between RL and SL participants. I'll have to give that some more thought.

And in the meantime, I hope I'll see you at the "Kiss the Sky" opening. Should be a good chance to meet and talk to some very interesting folk. Make sure to say "hi" if you see me there!


Thursday, May 8, 2008

My Blog and Welcome to It!

Hey, welcome to my blog! I may be an unreal girl, but the issues of moving through the art world on Second Life and the challenges of being an emerging artist there are NOT virtual, they're 100% real. I'll be looking at those issues, as well as reporting on art activities and personalities in SL. I'll also spend some time with my co-host here, talking about RL/SL crossover and describing what it's like to work in that zone. Also, I know for sure I'd like to start some discussion on what art means in Second Life ... is it really just about prims and Linden bucks? Or is there more to it?

So there are a few things to look forward to. But for now, I'll just say hello and welcome, and open the floor to any suggestions you might have.