25 July 2019

Thoughts for the People Hoping to Save LEA

To those hoping to rescue LEA:

As you may know, I was the curator of the Split Screen Installation Space (2010-2017), which hosted many of SL's best-known 3D artists and achieved a good reputation during its time. (Often the installations made the SL Destination Guide Editor's Picks, and I was asked to join the LEA Committee, twice I think.) So given my experience with the SL art scene, I thought I should share my own thoughts about whether LEA should be rescued and if so, how it might best serve the SL arts community.

The question needs to be put into some context. Nearly all the major installation spaces SL has ever had are gone or now only display old art, including (in no particular order) PiRats, New Caerleon, the New Media Consortium, IDIA Laboratories, the University of Western Australia, the University of Texas--San Antonio, Odyssey, Art Screamer, IBM's Exhibition Spaces, both the first and the second Nordan Art Galleries, MetaLES, Split Screen, and others. I think that at one point most of these spaces existed at the same time. So there has been a massive loss of opportunities to build large works.

And yet, LEA has had trouble getting quality applications. One reason is that many of the creators of large installations have left SL, or stayed but quit making art. Some people left because of the cost of land, and moved to places like Inworldz and the OpenSims. Others left or stopped for personal reasons. Most importantly, few new artists interested in large installations have taken their place.

These should be big red flags: the problems LEA has faced during the past few years go far beyond LEA, and concern what the SL arts community itself is doing, or rather, not doing. It's not doing large installations.

If the SL art scene has changed so radically, people should think long and hard about whether LEA has any way to serve it. To be honest, I have doubts.

Nevertheless, I can suggest two options. One is to have merely two or three sims (and the sandbox) to support the few artists doing the sort of work that needs that amount of space. If more artists start requesting it, LEA can always ask Linden Lab to add another sim or two.

The other option is to give LEA a specific mission -- in effect, serving a curatorial function. This would make some people mad and raise the usual hackles, but some people get mad no matter what, because they have nothing better to do. It's practically an SL custom. So despite complaints, having a more specific mission might be the right thing to do anyway.

In my view, the mission LEA might best pursue is to programmatically encourage artists to make the kind of work that can exist only in a virtual world, or in any case would be extremely hard to do in the material world. Zero two-dimensional, "texture on a prim" art. Zero re-creations of RL or could-be-RL locations. Challenge artists to exploit SL's many resources, even if they need to get someone to help them (or they could learn how to do it themselves). Think about it: why is Bryn On one of the few people nowadays playing with windlights, projections, physics, raycasting, etc? She wants to squeeze everything she can out of SL, and she gets help for the complex scripts she needs. And then there's anims, media, scripting as art, terraforming, animesh.... Yes, there are certainly some artists who have large visions even if what they do is completely possible in real life (Eliza Wierwight comes to mind), and that's fine, they should have that opportunity if they can make a convincing case. And there are certainly some people trying out features of SL, with or without large spaces. I don't mean to cast aspersions on everyone -- I can see things kicking around on the sandbox. But on the whole, SL art is in a rut. LEA might be able to do something about that. Though clearly with fewer sims -- no more than half, probably no more than a quarter, at least for now -- and slice them into parcels for a while.

If LEA adopts a specific mission (what I suggest or something else), it would be smart not to have any artists on the committee: draw from the curators and maybe a blogger or two. (Not me, I'm working on a major project in RL.) Using curators reduces or eliminates conflicts of interest (real or imagined) and creates more of a network into the SL arts community.

Everything else -- the duration of grants, etc -- is just deck chairs on the Titanic, if you ignore the root of the problem.

Oh, and for pete's sake, get a publicist! LEA's advertising has always been terrible!

Best of luck,

Dividni Shostakovich

PS: In case you don't know what I mean by "exploiting SL's resources," here are some videos that should give an idea of the things people have done, some of them even without high tech (though not all of them are large installations):

Bogon Flux by blotto Epsilon and Cutea Benelli: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tK8Aa-6loJU

Transition Zone by Oberon Onmura: https://vimeo.com/11780611

Forest of Water by Glyph Graves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5rkSbgKRtE

Bagging Area 51 by Maya Paris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xj2uE7e29ws

Paranormal Frottage by Misprint Thursday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68FxhfKa5P0

The Mask: a synchronicity by Pyewacket Kazyanenko, Jo Ellsmere, and Kai Steamer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tz-yTln9BkY

(There are several works I hoped to include but I wasn't able to find a satisfactory video.)


  1. It's significant that the machinima you post as examples come from 2010/11. I agree it's been a long time since there was an active arts scene in SL. Maybe that's because many have moved on to new technologies and opportunities, but there's also a few historic moments that have a bearing, such as he decision to not subsidise educational institutions - which led most to leave SL (well done UWA for staying so long!). LEA has served a purpose and up until recently has been one of the few places one could visit to see large installation work. I agree a proportion of that work was very mundane, but sometimes it shone. I think the biggest issues with the LEA model are some you've mentioned - curated by a group of artists, the submissions process, and leaving it to individual artists to take on their own publicity.
    How can LEA serve the arts community? I agree with you that there's a need to encourage work that is truly art, not just technical expertise or recreations. Perhaps a way to do this is not to call for submissions from artists, but to call for EOI's from experienced curators such as yourself and grant them each a sim or two for 12 months on the understanding they will have a minimum of 9 different exhibitions in that year. I don't know who should decide on which curators................
    For my part I'd like to have a larger sandbox. It's one of the best places to visit in SL and artists should be encouraged to use it.

    1. Hi Juanita! Yes, Linden Lab's decision to end the discount for educational institutions and not-for profit organizations was one of the stupidest in its history. And in recent years LEA has definitely hosted some inventive installations; but because it had too many sims, there was also a lot of dreck. Your suggestion about having curators apply for sims is one good way to make LEA more pro-active; or maybe a mix of curators on the LEA committee plus invited curators, etc.; or to start with, just the LEA committee. To me the most important thing is to encourage SL artists (and curators) to do what can only be done in SL, rather than imitate museums and galleries in RL. As for the choice of curators ... right now, I'd say whoever can committee to a new mission.

      (I'm adding a couple more videos attending to works that display how great SL art can use its technology without demanding high tech. Plus people forget what wonderful work people have done with prims -- these days it seems all about mesh.)

    2. Pfftt ... that's "commit," not "committee"!

  2. And yes.....mesh somehow seemed to take all the life and movement out of SL artworks.

  3. Very good thoughts about the changing face of Art in SL and suggestions for the future, Dividni!

  4. Good article Dividni,

    I am not an expert, not a curator and not an artist. I only observe, consume and sometimes blog and create. My experience with SL art is too short and incomplete to have an overall view from start till now, but I think art in SL also has been pushed aside by people / users/ residents itself and not only by bad management. The focus has shifted from projects and places in Second Life to avatars as a project. Body and beauty have, like in RL, become very important and also the focus on making pictures of that makes people less interested in something they cannot do themselves, like an art project/installation. Everyone can make a picture and somehow also everyone likes to call those pictures art, not afraid to fill endless galleries with them. Self promoting with that kind of 'art' has become the new way of feeling important, being successful and wanted, being hot, being an artist and being visible. And when there still are good installations many do not come for what's to be seen there so much but for showing off their new look with the installation as nice backdrop to look sophisticated and artistic :)

    This kind of consuming, with a big I AM THE CENTER of Second Life makes it also quite impossible to feel Second Life as a fertile place for art. Ofc there always will be people who always will visit for the right reason and who do not care about this self-promoting culture with pictures, but it stays a minority.

    A minority is not a reason to stop trying, but I just think SL has lost its attraction as art scene for a great part due to other things having taken over people's time/interest and preferences. People are free to choose and do as they like ofc, but the consequences of choices can be big and not always fruitful or positive.

    But I agree with your advice and who knows magic happens :)

    1. Hi Yoon! Yes, I've noticed how often locations in SL seem to become merely backdrops for "selfies." One reason I like reactive art (such as Glyph's in the video, and now long gone, Feathers Boa) is that one discovers that the art or environment changes when you move around. Hard to take a photo of that!

      I personally think one reason SL doesn't seem as fertile for art is that mesh had unintended consequence. Only a few people can learn how to create new mesh objects, whereas anyone can learn how to create prims -- and when they did, many soon started to play with prims and create new things. But now most people just purchase what they want. That includes artists. So if a revived LEA wants to support innovative SL art, it will face many difficulties and needs a very concrete, focused plan.