Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy 2010!

wishing you well, dear followers...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Natural History in its Aesthetic Fashion

“..stepping lightly down to bathe in the rainbow-coloured spray, would have seen the identical sights that we now saw,– the great prawns gliding like transparent launches, anthea waving in the twilight its thick white waxen tentacles, and the fronds of the duke faintly streaming on the water like huge red banners in some reverted atmosphere...” wrote Philip Gosse to his son Edmund in 1907.

Gosse is the author of Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot (published two years before Darwin’s Origin of the Species), a marine biologist and illustrator of sea creatures, anemones and corals. I was reminded of him when I stepped out of my trap with Blued Food, on a visit to VeGeTal PLaNeT, created by French artist Vroum Short. Beneath a churning sea, we moved through galleries containing natural and cybernetic forms that flared, spiked, oscillated and swirled. Short’s output is almost overwhelming. She layers animations to create unique compositions that impart a kaleidoscope of moods. Blued’s distinctive eye led us through the wild maze of panels and free standing kinetic work and settled in front of a piece called Chaos.

Abductor, 2006. Fred Tomaselli. Courtesy of the James Cohan Gallery

It reminded me of the artist Fred Tomaselli, who explores the relationship between art making and drug taking. His chosen materials include pharmaceuticals - prozac, aspirin, antacid, saccharin, ephedrine - plants and magazine clippings that he meticulously arranges onto glazed panels. The combined effect makes references to everything from a primitive 18th century folk quilt to a tripped out 3-dimensional universe that morphs in front of your eyes, requesting an audience with your spiritual side. Tomaselli writes, “I want people to get lost in the work. I want to seduce people into it and I want people to escape inside the world of the work.” Short accomplishes this too, especially with Chaos, inviting viewers to literally sit on pose balls, alongside its pulsing panels. I was seduced by its celestial and rhythmic patterns, and disappeared into my own galaxy. Short’s Neptunian botanical installations offer an aesthetic appreciation of nature in its most fantastical forms.

More photos here.

The Romance of Natural History by Philip Gosse

Thursday, November 26, 2009

knock knock

is this thing on?

Happy Thanksgiving, lovelies. And beware of late night leftovers...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Who Burgles the Burglar

I received a wrinkled envelope containing an anonymous note made from letters cut from magazines. “Pssst.” was all it said. I looked up and down my beach, flitted to and from my skybox. one there. I was intrigued. Who left it?

And then a link – literally – was sent to me - *– detailing the exploits of SL’s premier cat burglar. I’d heard about him! Velvet unicorn paintings were being ripped off from around the grid and people were getting worried. I'd heard there was no building, no security system, he couldn't breach. As I pored over his journal entries I became increasingly excited - what did he want from me?

He wanted to meet. What do you wear when meeting a prowler? Nothing sparkly. He might grab it like a magpie. I tucked a pistol under my skirt and opted for trench coat and getaway thigh highs. I arrived at our agreed meeting place, palms sweating, gripping my notepad and pen.

And then there he was, right in front of me, knitted cap pulled firmly around his face, scratching his back with a lethal looking crowbar. Did I feel threatened? Yeah! I sat still and looked about. I was in his lair, surrounded by loot. He had taken me to his hub of operations. He began to talk and I was surprised by his gentle voice. Not at all what I expected.

He started prowling only lately, out of necessity, he told me. The recession had hit him hard. “It seems really unfair that people have pixel food in their fridge...and some have none.” Ah! A sensitive burglar. A bit like the amateur cracksman A. J. Raffles who justifies his thieving thus, “We can't all be moralists, and the distribution of wealth is all wrong anyway...” Mainly, our burglar prefers lifting collections of fantasy art that won't be missed, rather than decorative arts, furniture, or other objects. However, his sensitivity soared to new heights recently, exemplified by his – er - “adoption” of a baby that he found during a prowl, left alone, in a less than seemly home environment. “I know this is going to look all Limbergh baby and sh*t…and I don’t care. In the long run, this little tiger will thank me. And if worst comes to worst, in a few years...I have an accomplice...”

This burglar works hard. I asked how long it takes to scout a prospective home. “For every 20 places I find, 1 or 2 maybe are worth telling the story...All of this not faked...these are not things I place in peoples homes. Everything you see here or in my stories is 100% authentic and found in their houses.” For each exploit, the burglar writes descriptions and shares the slurl so you can authenticate his movements if you care to (I tested out a few slurls and confirm their validity.)

I looked across at him, slumping slightly over the table, and sensed a bit of pathos about him...he seemed, to me, to be a lonely burglar. “What have you learned about people, from exploring so many homes?” I asked. “How do people express themselves?” He sighed. Through “Lots of porn. Lots of self-portraits. Lots of wolves.” I began to think it was less about the loot and more about revealing the proclivities of some of our residents. He serves as the Phantom Gourmet of SL aesthetics.

We spoke about his greatest challenge so far (the Gorean castle) and he offered a few tricks and tips for maneuvering around security systems (which he may share with us). Although the burglar works alone, he asked me to ask you for tips and comments. If you know of a place that begs exploration, drop him a line via his blog and he’ll follow up.

As for future goals? “I think a visit to a Linden's home soon is in the cards.”

*Be warned, his discoveries are NOT PG-rated.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Roof is Gone (Burning Life, pt. 2)

Above photo by Warrick Renfold

The moment you arrive at Miso Susanowa and Misprint Thursday’s building, The Roof is Gone, your eyes and ears are put on alert. The main structure, constructed of wooden planks and encased in scaffolding (“I could actually build most of this in Nevada” says Miso), stands cross-like, assuming the air of a place of worship in the middle of a disaster zone. It generates a weather system of its own and is surrounded by swirling details; photographs spiral on the wind above, videos, embedded into prims, blink like lightning, and the static beginning of the soundtrack passes back and forth between your ears like sheets of heavy rain. And then you reach the eye of the storm, calm among the chaos. The song begins to soothe, there’s a living room to rest in, and, if you look carefully, you can even disappear quietly into the building.

The piece is part political, part personal. It conjures up memories of Hurricane Katrina and other natural catastrophes. It also invokes psychological drama through childhood imagery – the house is breaking apart, little bicycles are tangled in spikes, photos of kids are bent and curled. Miso left her “digital DNA” for us to examine, in the form of a poster in hanging on a wall inside. Over 50 hours worth of work went into the build and it shows. There are so many layers to explore (teleport yourself up several meters to experience the accompanying video to full effect) expect to spend at least half an hour to begin to scratch the surface. Miso explained that one of her main goals is to make art in SL that can be translated to the outside world. I look at this piece and see a maquette, a model that might be realized again in the actual world. The artists kindly offer a lovely freebie miniature of the piece, a great souvenir of BL 2009.

Hey, can’t BL be extended for a week? There’s too much to see and do...!

This just in from White Lebed, art director Burning Life: "The events and the activities will be closed in a few days, but the art and the builds will stay for another week and the gates will be opened till Nov 1st."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Just a Mortal with the Potential of a Superman...

The Watchtower

Kalel Venkman in the Fortress of Solitude (photo courtesy of Venkman)

I read the article by Apollo Manga in the Second Life Examiner, about his role as ranger on the Playa. He writes that Burning Life Rangers are like “lubricants, reducing friction in the Burning Life community.” In a world that is self-governed, is there need for policing? The Linden Lab Terms of Service and Community Standards are in place as a set of rules for behavior – a LL book of etiquette if you will. But some folks choose to burn the book.

Have you ever been in sandbox, happily building away, when you were suddenly swamped under an obnoxious mass of particles? Le sigh. If you’re being shot at by projectiles, shoved, caged, verbally abused and worse, you’re being griefed (see one of my experiences). Who do you look to for help? Linden Lab has its own tactics we can use. For example, we can mute a fellow resident, or fill out an abuse report. But sometimes things happen that are beyond our skill set. Sometimes, we simply want help. What’s more comforting than the sight of a superhero, flying to your rescue? Yes, you can put a call out to the Justice League Unlimited. The JLU will sweep away the nonsense and leave you safe and sound. They have strategies to cope with the wide range of issues that cause grief in-world, from the obvious to the insidious, and offer assistance to everyone from sim owners to newbies.

The group began organically in 2006 as a crew of comic book fans, dressed as their favorite characters. Hanging around a sandbox one day, a couple of guys tackled a bothersome griefer using their innate tech skills, and from there, the JLU was born. It’s now made up of a 60-odd strong crew of scripters, artists, business people, authors, engineers – each contributing a particular talent to their collaborative undertakings. It functions much like a well-organized neighborhood watch. Their public service in SL has extended into the actual world; they sponsor and dedicate their services to a number of charity events, such as Project Jason.

I was invited to Justice Island for a few sessions with Kalel Venkman, who offered a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the headquarters of the JLU. Business takes place in a stately space station, the Watchtower, complete with a dispensary of sophisticated gear, meeting rooms, a library, and a place of respite, in the form of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. At the center of all is Brainiac, a tool designed by the League to monitor griefer operations throughout the grid. It’s a powerful piece of equipment, linked to all the gear League members carry about their person during patrols. Members go through a period of training and abide by a code of ethics that prevents misuse of any tool.

While some may bristle at the idea of “policing”, Venkman is adamant that the League operates as a peacekeeping and education force only, in place to help all residents enjoy the best SL experience, free from unwanted interference. The JLU gathers intelligence about griefing actions and communicate regularly with Linden Labs. Member ZenMondo Wormser invited me on patrol one evening and I watched Kohaku Owatatsumi, JB Hancroft and Wormser whip through a sim full of zombies and shooters in no time. As for advice to newbies, when confronted, don’t retaliate, says Venkman. “That does no good and just gets you into trouble yourself."

Their activities are a back breaking labor of love, like so much in SL, run on the good will of people who care that you have a good time. Although a dude or a dame in tights and a cape may not seem threatening, I assure you, they pack a punch. In a nice way. To read more about the JLU check out Krypton Radio.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Burning Life, part 1.

What terrific travels at Burning Life last see the Burning Life flickr pool for useful links and peeks at activities on the playa. It’s hard to know where to begin, so I started at Burning Life Zero Mile, hopped in a temp rez flaming vehicle and spun around randomly. It’s great to see the sims full of a variety of action - people looking and exploring, performers, like the Lamplighters, dancing off into the dusk, artists fiddling with their work, sculptures powerfully beating out heat, all against mad soundtracks from gentle breeze to speed metal. I was happy to run across wicked-blogger-on-a-break Wyatt Wellman, fitting right against the fiery backdrop wearing his charcoal persona. Blued Food was an ace companion – he’s a speedy scout. I followed him around as he shouted “Click EVERYTHING”. It’s true, the builds are full of surprises. I recommend doing one build per visit to really appreciate the work that’s gone into these sites. We found four Yip’s Fusion and I lost myself there for a good while. Yip has a way of providing comfort and romance wherever she lays her hand, and Fusion is no exception. Simple stenciled eyes blink and tear before you as you’re enveloped in a wash of pink and deep brown scrims, bending like waves. A track by I Monster (Heaven) makes you want to bow with them. The muted, dimly lit space is more mysterious than Yip’s typical palette, and suits the harmonic track. As always, she’s offering some charming freebies – soft bear noses and iridescent butterflies which follow along as you trek.

Other builds of note: Gettr II from Idialab for the Museo del Metaverso at Opal and The Roof is Gone by Miso Susanowa and Misprint Thursday at Black Rock which I’ll write about next.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pardon my silence - there's been a lot of interesting material to blog about, and I'm gathering entries for posting over the next few days. So please, stay tuned. For now, take this handy map and explore the Playa which makes up Burning Life...more soon and thank you for your patience, dear readers, x.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Unfinished Symphony of Prims

There’s something special about a work of art unfinished. The viewer is able to study the methods of the artist, and observe their hands at work. Seeing a sculpture where its hinged or the lines that lead into an idea - it’s like being a botanist regarding a leaf with a magnifying glass. Egon Schiele is an artist whose body of work includes several unfinished pieces which are some of my favorite, like this one, of old houses in Krumau.

Coordinators at Burning Life respectfully requested that observers refrain from taking photos of works before they were finished. However, as I watched builders at work today, I was enthralled by the amount of work that goes into building, which I could only appreciate by seeing each and every prim revealed. Seeing these builds in partial states made me consider the intricate planning it takes to build a structure, and, when a build is done right, it leaves the impression that it was a cinch to make.

I crept around Donpatchy Dagostino as he worked today, watching from high above to below his feet, careful not to interrupt. More than half is in a raw state, elliptical shapes awaiting textures, resembling, from above, the shell of a beetle. At this stage it made me think a little bit about artist-architects pushing the limits of wood, like Robert Harvey Oshatz. Dagostino’s intent may be better revealed once the structure is complete, but seeing it unfinished doesn’t make it any less impressive.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I joined twitter and plurk a while back but found my constant chatter to be incredibly dull. I bored myself to tears. To really take advantage of the twitter scene I'd have to spend way too much time away from rl work - so I gave it up. Until now. Today I found a clever thing. The SLtweets HUD allows you to twitter from within SL. Simply wear the HUD and post your thoughts, discoveries, and announcements in the chat bar where they'll be transported to twitterville for all your contacts to see. SLtweets also offers a tinyslurl widget so you can easily post locations. As an avid explorer, the HUD should offer a great way for me to share my explorations with you all. Away we go!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Last Night a DJ Saved My Life

One of the first things I did when I logged on to SL for the first time (once I'd figured out how to keep my hair on) was to go dancing. First I did the rounds of ballrooms and jazz bars. Realizing ballroom dancing masks itself as SL foreplay I found my way to the indie clubs - first to Popscene (now defunct) and Alt7 (going strong since March 2007). Swiftly, I was tuned in to djs from around the world and introduced to a great variety of new music. I kept a pad of paper next to me, scrawling all the wicked new tracks I was hearing.

Let's hear it for the DJ!

Generating soundtracks and backdrops against which you create your own personal dramas...these DJs are the secret workhorses of SL, engaging us using their own particular techniques; some spending hours upon hours crafting a set (yes, you Ms. Lilliehook), some "curating" music, hoping to turn you on to something you've never heard before, others space out and forget they're spinning at all but no matter - they're here to entertain us and animate our experiences.

So next time you're out and about, eager to try your new dance from Henmations, remember to tip your hat (and a few linden) to the dedicated crew that make your world more aurally exciting.

A special shout out to DJs past and present Colleen Lilliehook, Darn Darwin, Enigma Bombay, Ennui Clip, Hotjack Canning, Infinite Graves, PirateDucky Constantine, The Nachts, and Warrick Renfold, who've each created brilliant soundtracks to my slife...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nature Never Wears A Mean Appearance

I’m prepared for autumn. I collect apples and press a riot of leaves between the pages of unread books. Autumn is for Emily Dickinson, whose grave I used to sit on to make diary entries, and Ralph Waldo Emerson and his transcendentalists. Transcendentalism is linked to German romanticism and Buddhism. It believes in the soul’s intuition, inspired, in part, by poetical experience, of nature as the most awe inspiring work of art. “Indeed the river is a perpetual gala, and boasts each month a new ornament”, Emerson writes in his essay Nature, 1836. The transcendentalists experimented with a utopian community called Brook Farm, begun in 1841 by Unitarian minister George Ripley. The mission of the farm was to “insure a more natural union between intellectual and manual labor ... guarantee the highest mental freedom, by providing all with labor...” In other words, everyone, at all levels of society, could share the workload, ideally giving everyone the same opportunity to pursue leisure activities. Brook Farm failed – no one wanted to give up their leisure time to harvest the hay (Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote “Thank God, my soul is not utterly buried under a dung-heap.”) - But still, society experiments with idealist communities.

Burning Man is one such experiment. Founder Larry Harvey explains:

“If technology itself is left to dictate our ends, then I think we can look forward to an increasingly disassociated way of living. Real community can only be attained through the experience of certain primal unities in the physical world....For the past 12 years I have directed Burning Man—a project dedicated to discovering those optimal forms of community which will produce human culture in the conditions of our post-modern mass society. Within a desert wilderness we build a city, a model world composed of people who attend our event from all over the globe. This virtual community is demographically diverse. It is multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and represents a wide range of age groups. It is formed in the image of the great ecumenical world that surrounds us; a teeming population of uprooted individuals. In other words, this intentional community that we create from nothing, and that returns to nothing when we leave, has been 'liberated' from nearly every context of ordinary life.”

Sound familiar?

Autumn is also for Burning Life (beginning October 17th) which is a microcosm of the Second Life experience itself and is modeled on the RL Burning Man event. Run by a slew of volunteer builders, musicians, artists and others, a temporary city and entertainments will be created, a testament to the power of the ephemeral. Write the organizers, “Together, we will build a city, and we voluntarily accept many of the same restrictions that Nature imposes on the real thing. We do this to see how creative we can be with the same palette of materials and to revel in the beauty of simplicity.” The most remarkable thing to see at both events is to watch how a city grows out of a blank canvas, and disappears again. The abbreviated life of anything transient, such as Burning Life, adds to its remarkable allure.

Perhaps the most successful communes are those that are ephemeral. At least in SL, you may choose to avoid being mired in the dung.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Manifold Destiny

I’ve mentioned before that I feel rather like a tethered traveler. I like to be on the move, and SL often offers a feeling of adventure, of chance encounters; the imagination is stimulated. We work hard in our real lives to get to “that certain place”. That’s what we’re meant to do, yes? But it’s funny, once you get to that place, there’s a little itch that makes you want to tear it up a bit, toss aside the careful planning and see what might happen. The documentary film Alfred and Jakobine is a story about my friend’s parents, who took a chance with their lives and literally took to the a taxi. Alfred is an anthropologist, Jakobine, an artist. In 1953 they made their way to Casablanca and found themselves smitten with a nearly ruined 1953 London taxi which they used to adventure around the world. The film ought to teach us all a few lessons about getting up, getting out, staying put...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ready, Aim...

Today I thought I’d share with you a little about stone slinging. I’ve practiced slinging in rl, an ancient but still active sport in the Balearic Islands. El foners (slingshot warriors) use a sling (fona), made of cord or leather. First, you gently place a stone onto the pouch. Next, hold both ends of the cord in one hand. Finally, very carefully, begin to spin it above your head, take aim, and *snap*, release one end of the cord and set your projectile flying. It’s really satisfying to hear the crack of the cord as you release it. It’s also really painful if you tangle yourself up in it. Slinging was historically used for hunting and defense. Now it’s a sport, rather male dominated, with annual competitions held in Mallorca. I practiced shooting my rocks into the Mediterranean, over the heads of unsuspecting sunbathers in Deya, and would duck into the spiky bushes when I missed the sea.

I was in the mood to hurl some rocks today so I searched on the slexchange for a slingshot. Among the scary flossy thongs also known as slingshots (very Borat), I found a catapult styled weapon at a Gorean supply shop but can’t figure out how to use I need to go to Telnus? Would I be collared if I went? Surely I can’t go unless I know how to defend myself, so a bit of shooting practice first. I typically don’t play video games unless I’m waiting at the movie theatre (Lethal Enforcer, thank you very much), but Dangerous Geisha at Grossglockner is a great place for a gal to let off some steam without being bothered by obnoxious bling covered brutes thinking they're the Terminator. The games are free and, if you're a primitive like I am, they offer a bow and arrow to shoot with. Later, I took to the sims for some in-the-field target practice, and found a suitable spot at Aught, shooting projectiles among the ruins.

For more about slinging, look here and here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I Want My Portal of Civilization!

I read an unsettling article the other day about the Cushing Academy, a prep school for children and young adults, that is eliminating its library of 20,000 books. The headmaster, Dr. James Tracy justified his decision this way: “You know [holding up a book], if I look at this book I am struck by how limited it is. This is pretty bulky. I don’t mean to belittle or disparage it. I love books, and I love the representation of culture that they embody, but, from an information perspective, this is a very, very bulky way to reposit data by today’s standards.” A book is too bulky? Has anyone tried to snuggle into bed with a Kindle?

Instead of books Tracy will provide computers which he has named “Portals of Civilization”. I hope you understand, dear readers, that the information you seek is chosen for you - as in any analog collection. But many of your online sources are chosen by Google and other filters. And if we’re talking books, for example, they have to be copyright free. You'll need to supplement! While it may seem convenient as you sit in front of the laptop eating crackers over the keyboard, nothing beats the serendipity (there’s that word again, MM ;) ) of browsing in the stacks. Here’s an interesting study taken from student discussion groups across the country. Some of their observations about research in the digital age describe how students waste time online not knowing what to look for, yet still sift through articles trying to make them fit their needs, or try to figure out if an article is up to date, or whether something is from a credible source. This article, “Google Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars” ought to give an institution pause before hurling themselves fully into the digital zone without the infrastructure to support the idea. Google makes mistakes, the article tells us, my favorite being a misattribution of the following book, The Mosaic Navigator: The Essential Guide to the Internet Interface, which Google dates 1939 and attributes to Sigmund Freud and Katherine Jones.

In place of the stacks the Cushing Academy spent $42,000 on 3 flat screen tvs that will project data from the internet. The reference desk was removed to make way for a $12,000 cappuccino machine. When I was 13, I did not drink coffee, and the last place I wanted to hang out socially was in school. But school and city libraries were always an escape, a place to explore books in peace. They are the most comforting places in the world to me, libraries, full of possibility, imagination, offering answers to all my questions, or raising questions, which is even better. In a time when most of us are tethered to our computers and gadgets, the physical sensation of turning a well-worn page offers a form of respite that cannot be replaced. There's also plenty to admire in the physical, like the well-worn publisher's binding of something other than a mass market paperback. As a friend's shrink used to say, I think what we're looking for here is a balance. The Cushing Library states that few of their books were checked out. I think it's up to the Cushing Library to make their library truly relevant to their students.

As for online resources, I know Teen Second Life has got some wonderful projects that would put Dr. Tracy in a happy technological flutter. And, for you older folks, our Second Life libraries can be great…just visit the Alliance Library blog for access to a variety of in-world collections. I look forward to how online collections will develop. A really fine afternoon can be spent at the R.F. Burton Library in New Babbage (shown in the photo above). Click on the stacks and you’ll have immediate access to a wide of subjects (online books from credible sources!) having to do with Steampunk and Victorian history and literature, domestic science, and spiritualism. I’m particularly proud to be a member of the Caledon Libraries, who set the bar for sharing access to library collections.

There are so many different ways to uncover information and become literate, and you students of life and students of schools have to know how to find stuff in a myriad of ways. But remember, as my friend Matthew says, no one beats the book’s terms of service.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

City (Los Angeles)

I lived in London a few years back – got used to the soot and the tea breaks and the football (ah footie)! After a year, work demanded I take a short trip to the heart of America – Los Angeles - which I’d never been to. What a contrast! In LA, the sun always shone, the smiles were gleaming white, the streets were so smooth and wide. The moment I landed in LA, strangers, in line at Starbucks, at the gas station, in the middle of a crowded gig, just about everywhere, would embrace, shout “Hiya!” Call me!” and hand over a business card (often with no business described). But beneath their sunny smiles was a slight desperation. Making a living in LA was tough. Most visitors don’t see the back side of the Hollywood sign, the side left unairbrushed.

In City (Los Angeles), presented by the Brooklyn is Watching project, Miso Susanowa wants us to appreciate the real LA, its gritty, overwhelming side, the LA beyond the starry sidewalks. Susanowa recorded the sounds of the night outside her apartment window in LA at Hollywood and La Brea Avenues. Photographs of Hollywood Blvd. make up a three sided box in which Susanowa invites the viewer to sit among a moving grid of disorienting “snapshots” showing nameless, featureless faces. The chaotic sounds of the LA night is amplified all around. Viewing the installation in mouselook allows the viewer to become tangled in the grid.

As much as Susanowa wants to illustrate the dark side of her city, there is something rather beautiful about the installation whilst you’re immersed in it. The screen shots I took look like some kind of technofied marblized paper.

While the people I met in LA may have been struggling in their tiny run-down houses, they had fresh fruit to eat every day, dropping off the trees in their back gardens. Susanowa has captured LA as a city of contradictions.

Visit City here.

Pacific Theme by Broken Social Scene.