Saturday, 14 November 2009

Duet for 6 - In the Company of Strangers

This is my latest dance and video work in Wellington Railway Station with Fiona Baker (aka Fionnbhar Kohime in SL) in First Life and Todd Cochrane aka Toddles Lightworker in Second Life, representing a further development in exploring the issue of Avatar Companionship and perhaps an extension of my Departed series; the footage is set, like Departed in the Wellington Railway Station entrance doors - in my Second Life station and with Todd Cochrane`s floating body, an inference of movement that is slightly unsettling - a departing soul? However, the study is an extension of Duet for Four, mainly for its investigation of movement in and out of screens/surfaces in and out of Second Life.

The title 'Duet' suggests a dance form usually identified with two people, yet with the composite layering of Real and Second Life, a movement dialogue exists here for Six; relational engagement between humans and avatars as well as that discrete conversation occurring between human to human and avatar to avatar. I intentionally selected Todd`s 'male' avatar to embed ambiguity in the shape and character of the personna present, rather than have an equal and predictable male/female avatar echo. This shift reflects the potential for exercising the unpredictable nature of gender selection in Second Life. The male avatar could easily belong to my wife, Fiona. Unless you know the person behind the avatar, there is no way of knowing their Real Life identity.

I have attempted to represent both, aspects of companionship in Second Life through intimacy of engagement in movement, while also further exploring the notion of embodying surfaces through avatar interaction - this video primarily seeks to explore the possibilities of our becoming embedded in our life-surfaces.

The work concentrates on avatar presence (itself, an inscription) sliding across and through, emerging and sinking into and being contained by the screens of which the space is comprised. In First Life this occurs constantly - we, as mobile volumes become alternately subsumed and rejected by our backgrounds and the spaces which hold us, yet, although we may be prepared to acknowledge that our spaces may shape our time and the ways in which we function in those spaces, we do not usually perceive our presence as actually co-habiting with the elements within our spaces. Here the dancers are defined by the spatial laws which support their digital existence and can penetrate and become an extension of the fabric of those surfaces which are phantom and ambiguous in nature.

We are not quite so fluent in this in First Life although there are moments where we can blend unobtrusively into our backgrounds and even embody/become our backgrounds, (football crowds, demonstrations, commuter crowds, where the spatial field is made up predominantly by human bodies). Once again, departure is experienced in both locations. The difference between these locations is that I orchestrated Toddles Lightworker`s process of departure, unlike the leaving in the duet in the First Life station, which was improvised. So avatars represent that potential constant (if so desired) for us in extra-terrestrial or telepresent companionship, which suggests that (allowing for the vagueries of the Internet) empathy, alignment, connection and even discord can be tailored in a mixed-reality environment, where we never have to be 'alone' for long.

I am indebted to Todd aka Toddles Lightworker, Clare aka Arwenna Stardust and Warren aka Ciderjack Applemore, for their assistance and support with servers and experimental dancing (using an animation devised by Isabel Valverde) in this work.