Friday, 31 October 2008

A Facet of the Real?

I will need, once again, to defer my discussion of the Stranger within the context of ‘Leaving’ as catalyst. I have a number of video clips to show both in and out of the Second Life Station before I move on to that topic, which I see as central to this project as a whole.

On Wednesday, 22 october 08 I carried out my second public presentation of the Second Life, Wellington Railway Station. The images included here are stills in the Station from the presentation day. The first image is a copy of the poster I made to advertise the event in both Real and Second Life. It is a composite of RL and SL images included here as a visual fractal of my stance toward the notion of blended realities. (*Please click on the images to enlarge).

The Location

The setting for this presentation was a small gallery, Momentum, a part of '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. The gallery was often filled to capacity with more people standing by the door. I had no time to record my process or the event in either RL or SL. I spent this time intensively balancing this mixed or blended reality, with questions and discussion occurring unrelentingly in both RL and SL spaces. I wanted the two descriptions of RL and SL - as one blended reality - to extend our perceptions of space and time in a public venue and to recieve responses related to this aspect. I have been intent on (hence my internet blog) 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 ideal opportunity for this to take place, concurrent with the Nelson Arts Festival 2008. I am very grateful to Graeme Burton, Director 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.

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 extent of the challenge required in resolving the dual roles. I could not adequately dance, carry out a meaningful dialogue 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 simply a more formal manifestation of this occurrence. Through discussion/presentation with the audience on this aspect there was general agreement that this interpretation of the perception of the Real could be accurate. Most people tended to skim over their barely witnessed virtual moments so it was a new experience to be faced with a captured, sustained virtual/real experience. Although agreement was reached, (discourse on this subject, not agreement, was my objective) conclusions about this aspect were not definitive.

Second, I wanted to expose an audience to my station simulacrum with streaming RL videos.

This aspect is related and an integral part of the aspect discussed above. 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? Did this more effectively imply a state of blended reality than a dual layering of the real and the virtual?

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. The Station has been viewed extensively by some people in SL over the past few months and has received enthusiastic responses. But until the presentation no-one had seen the videos in the Station. Ultimately, the experiencing 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 experience 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. I consider what I am doing is to introduce the first glimpse of a process of immersive experience which itself, is as compelling and equal to that of any other experience in Real Life, but that this could be a sequentially-integrated perceptually-based encounter.

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 cutout crowd 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.

At this stage I have not manipulated the video screens very much but I 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.

Despite the fact that the videos are being played on two-dimensional screens, I observe that although they are now removed from Real space/time (through video/edit) their essential characteristics defined by seamless three-dimensional movement which lies at the heart of their visual construct, they have retained these movement-based qualities which we associate with Real Life. These essential qualities separate them significantly from the SL cutouts and screens, which although essentially similar in their original visual signature (movement-based), have assumed a more static state energetically, based on passive two dimensional visual constructs. I am not sure at this stage whether I want to bring the two closer together or keep them apart.

During the course of the coming weeks I will be examining both compositional scenarios:

I am currenly investigating the visual effects of a) keeping the RL screens separated from the SL crowd, b) embedding the RL screens more subtly in the SL crowds and c) implanting the SL crowd cutouts with the RL texture which allows the RL video clips to play on that object/surface. This way I hope to erode, break up the RL video by scattering the projection through the components of the crowd. *(See the image immediately above). The advent of bringing my RL video footage into the Station now allows me to explore more specifically my ideas using the SL Station as a strategic perceptual and compositional device. This stage is significant because it directly affects my physical management of my concepts referring to the subliminal nature of witnessed moments in a Real Life crowd and how we are interpreting this through our dance. Do I want the dance separated away from the crowd, in a corner? Do I want the dance realised as a moving mote within the crowd stream? I will continue to explore both avenues.

Although they are both based on three-dimensional illusion, 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 still only create a moving, shaped two-dimensional screen.

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 received the same poster, advertising the event in RL and SL. 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 came up; 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. In relation to this aspect, in my next public presentation I will make a point of focussing upon issues related to my work in SL and if there is time, I may open this up to general questions and topics.

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 want(ed) the two descriptions of RL and SL - as one blended reality - to extend our perceptions of space and time in a public venue and to receive responses related to this aspect. As I mentioned above, the people behind the avatars in the SL Station were scattered around the globe, which immediately brings up the interesting notion of a (albeit limited) world-audience. *(The image immediately above has captured myself and Sioux Scribe, my AUT Masters supervisor, in the Station looking at the videos) I am interested in developing an RL/SL real-time blend here though, (allowing for the fact that with any video/edit there has already been a removal from Real Life real-time ) with a strategic presence of one in the other, otherwise I am concerned that it could become akin to passively watching a television broadcast rather than an active encounter in real space/time.

Finally, I will be examining all of the above and prioritising my activities so that I am not endeavouring to take on too many questions and investigative directions!


nomads.hat said...

I have tried to present my image capture of developments in the Station in a reasonably sequential manner. For instance, initially, I provided image and video edit of the crowd screens in the main concourse area. These progressed into crowd cutouts of RL people. I then invited SL avatars to be photographed by me, walking away, so that they could also be made into cutouts and added to the RL crowd. In this post, I have added people-sized screens which are playing the video footage to the crowd in an effort to explore and observe the effects of integrating the static with the active imagery. In the fourth image down the level of light contrast between highlight on the left and a murky dankness on the right is working well for me. The contrast between B/W amidst the colour is also creating a certain dynamic tension between the SL and RL activity. RL footage using colour may be more successful in integrating/blending the two reality 'layers' but would miss, I think, the contrast which currently exists.

gryphon said...

Just wanted to say that I enjoyed your presentation of your SL station. Particularly when the SL people were discussing what and who was real vs virtual. It was very humorous and yet at the same time stayed with me to add to my own exploration of the virtual in the real and vice versa.