03 July 2015

Fest'Avi in FrancoGrid: A Visit to an OpenSim

A friend invited me to go into FrancoGrid (an OpenSim grid) to see a performance called Fest'Avi, created largely by Cherry Manga, who is well known for her surrealistic and often dark installations in Second Life. (She built a piece at Split Screen, part of which is still there now.) Until then the only grid outside SL that I'd been to was InWorldz. OpenSims have technological differences from SL (a bit behind in some ways, ahead of it in others) but they have more flexibility due to their local control and open-source nature, and their cost is decidedly lower. On the other hand, they're also underpopulated. As a result, they're attractive for creating many types of art, but the works can seldom garner a significant audience (Fest'Avi did overcome that). In any case, given what's going on in SL, I went to the performance with somewhat low expectations.

It's a pity that Fest'Avi was a one-time-only event, for the production was extraordinary.

Fest'Avi was fundamentally a dance piece consisting of intense, driving music and rapidly changing scenery and avatars. The sweep of settings and avatars was fascinating, ranging from tiny fairies fluttering on flowers, to mechanical insects, to cyber figures, to demons in hell, to a rumpled elderly couple dancing around the world as tourists, and much more. Both the avatars and the sets were well-designed and executed. It was a particular pleasure to see some of Cherry's work become a stage. My photos scarcely do the performance justice, partly because it was constantly in motion, and so photographing on-the-fly sometimes obscures was happening and of course makes good positioning impossible; also I didn't start photographing until perhaps ten minutes into the show. I took nearly 80 photos, so I can give only a sampling here, but I've tried to indicate how some of the transitions looked. Click the photos to enlarge.

One interesting aspect technically is that other than (I think) Cherry, the performers were not live people, but rather NPCs (nonplayer characters). These are different from bots: the latter need to be run by somebody logged in with a viewer, who must sit the avatars on animating prims and coordinate the timing, whereas NPCs are programmable and operate through the sim without anyone logged in. This is one way in which OpenSims are actually preferable to Second Life. I'm sure Jo Ellsmere, who has to run over a dozen viewers in order to run her performance piece at "Obedience," would have appreciated that alternative (especially when the power went out at her house).

Fest'Avi makes it crystal clear that anyone interested in the arts should pay attention to what happens in the OpenSim grids. Given the cost of land and uploads into Second Life, many artists have moved to the OpenSims, and I think we can expect that to continue. I hope they'll publicize their work through the Second Life arts groups so that they get the audiences they deserve. In the meantime, there is a group called Hypergrid Safari, which people may be interested in joining or at least following. (Regrettably, their expeditions are usually at a time when I'm not free.)

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