31 July 2011

Selavy Oh and Kolor Fall at Split Screen

Starting today (31 July) and continuing until the end of August, Split Screen is hosting Random Walk by Selavy Oh, and Inverted Paths by Kolor Fall (Patrick Faith).

In her blog, Selavy describes Random Walk as "a continuously changing algorithmic installation belonging to a series of permutative spatiotemporal works." It is constantly transforming: occasionally I've gone to look at though it had disappeared because it had moved rather high up, and other times one practically lands inside it. You can affect the evolution of the installation by flying through it. "Sitting" on one of the elements takes your camera around the build.

I should mention, it's best to see Selavy's piece using SL's own Viewer 2.7 (and above). V2.7 has a new feature for lighting and shadows that really brings out the color in Random Walk; Phoenix, Firestorm and other TVPs don't have it yet. (This is probably the only time I've ever recommended anything V2.) Unfortunately, the lighting and shadows feature also kills antialiasing, so be prepared for jagged edges.  The colors do show in the other viewers, just not as well. I recommend playing with different windlights and day settings. (Click photos to enlarge.)

Random Walk (dawn)

Random Walk (night, using Viewer 2.7)
Inverted Paths, Kolor told me in conversation, "is about space/time differentials and path theory." His recent work "uses one geometry for positive time ... flips that geometry for negative time ... and the 'movement/life' is the tension between paths [...] between the two space/time spaces." This work too continuously changes and interacts with the visitor's very presence. As you walk through it, paths form behind you. You can "sit" on one of the cubes rolling in the air, and as you dance, curling paths form beneath you. The construction also interacts with itself, as pyramids sometimes flip in relation to the paths. As Kolor's comments hint, mathematics underlie Inverted Paths  -- it's fun, but more than that too.

Inverted Paths (noon)

Inverted Paths (sunset)
In a striking case of artistic serendipity, there are several commonalities between Random Walk and Inverted Paths -- as should be obvious from their related titles. But that similarity arose through the artists' similar ideas, not through conversation (as best as I know): Kolor built most of his installation on his own sim, placed it at Split Screen just a few days before opening, and only gave me a title a couple days later, having no idea what Selavy called her work. More than that, as you can see from my quotations from each artist, both works have a mathematical basis focused on the space-time relationship.

The serendipity doesn't stop there: Miso's Time as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones continues on display at the sky platform. Although focused on her experiences of time and space while on a meditative stroll rather than math, at play in her piece are similar issues of time, space, and the path one creates by following it.

Get to all three installations from the starting point here.

12 July 2011

In which I cave in and create a Facebook page ... and learn that I can't be your friend

Some people hassled me about not having a Facebook page. They told me it'll help promote Split Screen. Well, OK, that's pretty persuasive. Then I discovered some evil creature snagged the name "Dividni" on YouTube before me, so I decided I better get my name in FB before someone else does. So if you use FB, be nice and pretend you're a friend of mine or I'll feel very very foolish. And beware of pseudo-Dividnis!

I think this link works. Apparently, if I get enough fans there's a prize: I get to have a page without a whole bunch of squirrelly numbers. Unless I want squirrelly numbers I guess.


Now, most people sign up with FB with regular personal accounts, but as probably everyone has heard, FB occasionally trawls through and wipes out SL accounts. Poof. No warning, nothing. But they don't do that with a "page" account, which is what non-people like politicians and corporations use (shut up, Supreme Court!), and one option is to be a fictional character. After all, if you've declared to the public that you're a fiction, they can't exactly ban you for lying. So that's what I chose. (As did Botgirl Questi and various others More Famous Than Me). Hopefully this will make me a less tempting target for Viagra ads, poking, and all the other Facebook-y treats that my RL page gets (which, by the way, I check about once every two months).

The down side turns out to be that I can't "friend" with anyone and they can't "friend" me.  All they can do is "like" me. Which is OK, except for the fact that it sucks. In fact, FB removes the search bar from my page! It's lonely being a fiction.

I could've made a page for Split Screen instead, but that seemed like a poor idea since that's not the only thing I do or think about in SL (well, friends of mine may beg to differ!).

I do get notifications about who Likes me. I got a friend to like me, and then discovered that checking who likes me opens up a list of other people who might like me. The weird and worrying thing is that among the couple dozen people in SL I'd never heard of were a couple of my actual SL friends. FB figured that one out instantly. Chills up my spine.

It's starting to look like Google+ may actually be worse for SL, since apparently Google wants to limit profiles to "real people." So far it doesn't sound like they'll even offer an option for being explicitly fictional. Which raises a serious problem: if Google wipes out avatar identity profiles, and those identities maintain blogs, the blogs will be wiped out too. Including this one.

Miso Susanowa has written an excellent blog post on Google's position and its irrationality. She raises a number of points, including marketing ones, but at the very end she mentions another that deeply concerns me. She writes:
This is the Information Revolution: we move outside the established channels because they no longer serve us; we seek our own communities and establish our presence and our reputations by our words and actions; we speak amongst ourselves and we use the tools of a free press to do it, uncontrollable by gatekeepers and sluice-gate operators who seek to stem the flow of community under the guise of commerce. This is the true meaning of "information just wants to be free"; not free as in 'free beer' but free as in 'free to move between people.'
So here's the question: is there a right to use pseudonym? If so, would Google violate that right by wiping out accounts? Is being an avatar a freedom of speech issue? I think so. I think everyone in SL ought to think so too.

11 July 2011

Rod Humble interviewed by "The Mark" -- with intriguing results

"The Mark" published an interview with Rod Humble, Linden Lab's CEO. (Thanks to Kara Trapdoor for blogging this.)  It's an interesting read, especially as it raises questions about some of Linden Lab's strategies, which seem at odds with Humble's remarks. In fact he sounds like he shares more views with SL's creative community than with Linden Labs, or at least the Linden Labs of today.
Humble: Second Life is a completely user-created virtual world. It's really, at its bare bones, a creativity tool.
LL's slogan of "Your World. Your Imagination" was killed off some time ago, but Humble seems to be raising its ghost. One can only hope that he succeeds!
Humble: At Second Life, we’re really just following our customers – our creators – and seeing where they take us next.
Umm ... we wish. Get this on LL's mission statement, please!
Humble (responding to a question about "true selves"): I don’t have a clear answer on that, but I do have an opinion. There have been a series of high-profile people, from the head of Facebook to the Pope, talking about how social media should be about centering the individual – that it is all about your real life and ensuring that you don’t become a fractured person. I respectfully disagree with that.
I think that one of the healthiest things that technology can do is actually help us develop the different dimensions of ourselves that we portray in different situations. For example, the "me" at church is very different from the "me" who plays an online shooter game. The "me" talking to you now is very different from the one who will be at my parent-teacher-association meeting later tonight. We’ve always had that. I actually like the idea of enabling people to say, "In this community, I’m a completely different person, and I can hold views that aren't going to seep into this other part of my life." It’s a slightly heretical position, but that's the one I take.
Has Ron been reading Botgirl Questi, Miso Susanowa, soror Nishi, et al? Sure looks like it. Then can we please cease the absurd pressure to connect our SL identities with RL identities in Facebook (and evidently also Google+)? Yes, some people might want to do that, but the great majority of people in SL highly value the separation between SL and RL, so just sideline the idea.
Humble: I think that something big is going to happen when it comes to online associations, which are going to run headlong into conflict – probably with some totalitarian country somewhere. It's a broader thing than just Second Life.
What's going to happen when people identify with each other more in some online community than they do with their government or nation? It's hard to see how that's going to be anything other than messy.
In the past, we've seen – even with slower modes of communication – certain ideas, like Marxist ideas, spreading around the world and uniting people around ideas, rather than around their current rulers. At some point, a new idea is going to take shape, and it's going to spread far more easily through this online system that we have. Then what's going to happen?
It's an open question; I don't have an answer for you. I think it will happen, and it's probably going to be one of the major thematic stories that will govern the mid part of the century. We're due for some kind of new global idea, particularly in the field of politics – there haven't been many new ideas when it comes to politics in recent years. It's been pretty stable for a while, and you have to wonder when that stability will run out.
It's startling to read a CEO suggest that there are (or may be) political consequences to virtual worlds ... still more, that it might be a good thing. He's certainly right that our current political realm is intellectually and morally bankrupt. Although I don't remember any explicit discussions of it, I think plenty of people within SL's creative community (and hopefully elsewhere) have similar views of how virtual worlds could impact society politically. We've already seen examples of how online communication can be used for political ends, the uprising in Egypt being the most recent. But the impact derived from instrumental use of the internet. Rod is talking about more a fundamental philosophical and ideational effect. It's a visionary view (again, he seems to be following the lead of SL's creative community), and remarkably, he doesn't get all dreamy-eyed and utopian about it either.

Still, I'm starting to get impatient. When will we see these views start steering Linden Labs? Will they really steer it? LL made a lot of changes in the past couple of years that have alienated (and sometimes priced out) many of the very people most deeply involved with creating the "user-created world," and those most interested in exploring the possibilities of identity that virtual worlds offer. Will Humble turn Linden Labs around? If so ... please hurry.

06 July 2011

Miso Susanowa's "Helix" Shows at Split Screen ... and Split Screen Makes BOSL!

Split Screen Installation Space got a spread in the July issue of The Best of Second Life (BOSL)! My friend (and major Split Screen supporter) Kara Trapdoor wrote the article. Many thanks, Kara and the editors of BOSL!  You can get a copy inworld, or see it on the web (pages 214-17).

Of course, the most recent show has just closed and new artists are coming in (the next show is in August), but if people come to Split Screen after reading the BOSL article, or just on their own, they'll still find something well worth seeing. Miso Susanowa, who created one of Split Screen's opening installations, has kindly placed one of her works onto the Split Screen Sky Platform: the mesmerizing Time as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones (Composition for Kandinsky). The first version of this piece won two awards in a recent University of Western Australia competition. She developed it further for Split Screen, where its setting in the nighttime stars makes it spectacularly beautiful.

Here are some excerpts of what Miso writes about Helix:
Kandinsky saw houses and churches decorated with such shimmering colours that he said "...upon entering them I had the impression that I was moving into a painting." Music was also a critical influence on his painting and this piece has a soundtrack that plays with time.

"Time As A Helix" continues my experiments with RGB color beginning with CHROMA in December and "Prime Radiant" for Misprint Thursday's "Visualizing Theorem" show at UTSA in April. I am fascinated at the computer's ability to make infinite shadings and tonals of color combined with translucency/reflection/transparency; a plastic fantastic palette.

I decided to reference the work of Mondrian in the quasi-Mondrian Grid Generator - an homage to his "Composition 10" and "Broadway Boogie Woogie" - because Mondrian's work was an inspiration to the early "pointillist/punctualist" compositions of Stockhausen and Boulez, to me one of the main roots of modern "ambient" soundscape/music.

Kandinsky's "upward moving triangle" from Concerning the Spiritual In Art also makes an appearance in this piece. Like his work, Time attempts to transmit an emotional and subjective mood to the viewer through color and movement. The slow shifts and rotations of parts of the color-cloud provide more time variables to accompany and complement the soundscape.

The outlying cubes are the ghosts of Mondrian's rectangles and squares, the colors escaping from his 2d grid into the 3d surround of Kandinsky's "interior mood."

The title is adapted from the Samuel R Delany story, "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-precious Stones," a title which always has invoked for me a mystical, philosophic mood quite apart from the story itself; a kind-of abstract mantra guaranteed to put me in a reflective mood.
This is another work in which sound is a crucial element, so be sure to set the local sound (not music) slider to maximum, and also set the sky to midnight.  Here again is the SLURL.

"Helix" will remain on the sky platform as long as the prims aren't needed by the other artists.  Happily, Miso has created a machinima, so it will outlive whatever time it can have at Split Screen or elsewhere.