Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Blending Realities

On wednesday, 22 october 08 I carried out my second public presentation of my Second Life,Wellington Railway Station. My aims for this presentation were several:

First, I wanted to create a public forum for my work. I see this as being necessary from the point of view of the performer in the description of myself as artist. Initially I considered carrying out a series of live, improvised sketches during the presentation but I abandoned this idea after realising the challenge of resolving the dual roles required. I could not adequately verblise with both audiences and move my avatar - but I am still considering this problem for future events. Although seated behind a computer, I see myself in this situation as a performer/guide, establishing a link together with my Second Life self, for the assembled audience between Real Life and Second Life. However, my stance was not one of linking the real and the virtual. My task for this presentation was to suggest to the audience that in fact we were faced with the ingredients of a blended reality. I maintained that Second Life and my station was simply another facet of the real. That virtual perception/moments occur for us on a regular basis on any given day and that this encounter with the ether-made-visible was no exception.

Second, I wanted to expose an audience to my station simulacrum with streaming RL videos. I had just succeeded in obtaining the necessary permissions on the land for this to take place and I wanted to obtain feedback on the presence of the projected Real Life videos in the Station. Was there a more even balance existing now between the two states of RL and SL, with the addition of the videos? I have been building the Station with the deliberate intention of bringing in my RL videos for the last four months. So to some extent, the Station environment now containing these videos becomes (and became on the day) a proving ground for my concepts and dance practice in the RL public eye. The Station has been viewed extensively by some people in SL over the past few months and has recieved enthusiastic responses. But until the presentation no-one had seen the videos in the Station. Ultimately, the presentation of Second Life is still so new to most people, (it is significant that those people I know locally who are in SL for any length of time become very quickly, fully immersed in the SL terrain and perceive it as a real space/time place) that the chasm between the RL video footage and the perception of the SL space as a naturally-occurring environment may be too great for an audience to bridge on the first viewing. To get back to my videos in the Station - I am very interested in their addition to the SL Station space. Energetically they have introduced a quite different kind of presence in the space. I have as yet, to decide what I want from them in the space. The mere fact of their existence in the Station is interesting but I think I am pursuing something more - I want something more from them. Whether this is a symbiotic relationship with the cutouts crowds or a contrasting relationship where the videos play an interventionist role (like we as dancers have done in the RL Station) in the space I am not yet sure.

Despite the fact that the videos are being played on two-dimensional screens, I have noticed that being based in the realm of the 'Real' with seamless three-dimensional movement at the heart of their visual construct, because they have retained this movement, this essential quality separates them significantly from the SL cutouts and screens, which although essentially similar in their original visual signature (movement-based) they have assumed a more static state energetically, based on two dimensional visual constructs. I am not sure at this stage whether I want to bring the two closer together or change their essential qualities. The videos may remain as videos projected onto screens and the cutouts may remain - as cutouts. A possibility does exist to animate the cutouts, but judging by the other animated cutouts I have seen this will create only - animated two-dimensional cutouts.

At this stage I have not manipulated the video screens very much but I do intend to explore ways in which the RL movement can be blended with the static forms/screens/cutouts in the station to create a mixed visual panorama of feeling. For me there is more evidence of 'conversations' taking place here in the juxtaposed combinations of the RL and SL compositions. There may also be 'missed conversations' in evidence. At this stage it is still quite new and I will need time to reflect upon what I am constructing. Initially I was only able to bring in one video at a time into the Station, but I have just divided the Station concourse into three areas. This means that instead of uploading just one video into the station I can upload three different videos. When any avatar walks into that particular area and activates 'media' the video uploaded into that area will begin to play for them. The video then plays on all the screens with the designated texture/image (image of myself and Fiona with her hand over my eye). The avatar can stay in that area and watch any/all of the screens by using the camera controls. As soon as the avatar walks away from that area into another area, the video selected for that area will play. I have only just put this in place so will work with it for a while and then I may change the designated areas.

Third, I wanted to explore the possibility of a dialogue occurring between the RL audience around me and the SL crowd of avatars in the Station. Both crowds had recieved the same poster advertising the event in both RL and SL. Developing a dialogue between the SL Station crowd and the RL audience. The novelty value of Second Life for those seeing it for the first time is profound, so many questions from a public audience address general SL issues and this can become a distraction from specific aspects. During my presentation a wide variety of questions came up and were discussed, eg: the benefits and inherent dangers of intensive and longterm immersion in online world/games like SL and general internet/computing for children and adults. The subject of online education modes, efest, virtual learning and its effectiveness compared to learning in established RL norms of institutionalized (and non) learning modes and other issues. We spent some time debating the question of 'reality' after I asked 'What is Real?'. This reached a serious/humorous point when the avatars in the Station accused the RL audience around me of being the ones who were 'virtual'. Of course from the point of view of the avatars/people in the Station who were sitting at computers in Portugal, Montana, Wellington, Auckland, the UK and Holland, the people surrounding me were virtual. 'Where you stand determines what you see', but also how you percieve what you see - seeing and understanding - subjective solutions to negotiating our respective realities.

Fourth, I want to investigate with this current work, the extent to which I may be able to extend the parameters of technological/media communication within the context of space/time presentation. Virtual space and time I believe, is a facet of real space and time. I wanted the two descriptions RL and SL - as one blended reality - to extend our perceptions of space and time, in front of the public and to recieve responses related to this issue.

Fifth, I have been interested (hence my internet blog) in presenting my research/practice as a developmental process to the public since I began this programme of study. I am interested in promoting discussion and critical discourse on all aspects of my work in a public arena and I saw this event as an opportunity to engage with this process. The setting for this presentation was a small gallery, Momentum, built into 'Equilibrium, Advanced Chiropractic Centre' in Church St, Nelson, NZ Aotearoa. I gratefully accepted the invitation to 'exhibit' here, there being a broadband connection and it also meant that I could move in for the day; in fact, my presentation lasted from 10am - 4pm. I data-projected the Second Life screen straight from our laptop (Mac Powerbook) onto one of the central walls. Seating for the audience/public was to either side with the addition of mats on the floor in the front. During the day I anticipated that I would have time to continue working in the Station, in between visitors. At 10am I received the first visitors and I had a constant turnover without a break until 4pm.
I had no time to record my process or the event in either RL or SL. I spent this time intensively endeavouring to balance this mixed or blended reality with questions and discussion occurring unrelentingly in both RL and SL until the last person left at 4pm. I am very grateful to Graeme Burton of the Independent Theatre in Nelson (the premises next door) for coming in and videoing the event on two occasions through the day. I will be editing the footage for this blog soon.

No comments: