Micheál O’Connell Performance in SL and at the Lighthouse

March 3rd, 2008

Our resident Micheál O’Connell has been working at a breakneck pace preparing for the performance on Thursday March 6 at 11:15 am (or so) SLT.

I am including his original proposal here with the hopes that we will be able to add to the documentation as time passes including video and other excerpts form the performance.

Concepts relating to simulation, gaming and performance formed a significant part of my focus during the completion of a Masters Degree in Fine Art last year. I run a course in Games Development and teach post-graduate Digital Media Art students also. In addition I have been actively developing my own artistic practice, exhibiting work and acting upon ideas.

I am interested in the play between real and virtual and in an old-fashioned idea: the pursuit of truth. Susan Sontag’s criticisms of Baudrillard and Debord when she wrote for example that “to speak of reality becoming a spectacle is a breathtaking provincialism. It universalises the viewing habits of a small, educated population living in the rich part of the world, where news has been converted into entertainment” deserve attention. Is all truth relative? Individuals appear happy to theorise that we know nothing about what is separate from us while acting as if those perceptions do represent a real world which can be understood. It is curious for example that despite years of accepting post-modern relativism, the suggestion that the end of history has been reached and that we should not make assumptions about what other’s perceive that governments, religious and political groups still find it necessary to engage in very real conflict.

In recent years I have worked with a professional clown, directed him as he participated in (usually repetitious) invented processes (for example at the Whitechapel Gallery in London: http://www.mocksim.org/wormhole.htm). These scenarios are often acted out in proximity to some virtual representation: a video of the same clown, a simulation or 3D animation. Historically the clown plays a role which includes moving between audience and stage, breaking the fourth wall of theatre, undermining illusion and trickery while participating in it. At a recent seminar with a group of post-graduate Digital Media Arts students on Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation I invited the same clown (having not informed the students in advance) to participate in the session. The awkward situation and lack of clarity regarding his role provoked an interesting debate about what was real, whether his character was real for instance and what that question meant, whether the clown was upset, happy or neutral in the environment.

My proposal is to create a performance in Second Life based on one of these directed pieces I have developed in the past, modelling the clown character into Second Life in order to achieve this. The performance would take place while (for periods) the real clown either looks on or acts simultaneously or controls the character representing him while being directed by me. In turn that piece might be videoed and the video also projected in Second Life creating new arguably real or virtual layers. Feedback from the virtual performance to the real clown would also be a factor. Part of the objective here would be to undermine illusion. Part of the objective might be to accept or surrender to it. The development ought to explore questions and invent new ones around the theme. “Sticks and Stones will Break My Bones” is a preliminary title.

You’ll find examples of my work, a biog and imagery from events and exhibitions at a deliberately low-tech site: www.mocksim.org.

AVAIR Update… again

January 26th, 2008

I feel I owe a brief explanation of what is happening with AVAIR. Our previous resident was not able to complete the work and had to pull out before the exhibit, for which we are very sad. There are no ill feelings here and we hope that the situation clears up soon as the project is certainly a worthwhile one.

In response to that I have closed the blog-posts relating to that project in order to not be a distraction to the program. If you were using the information for some purpose please feel free to contact me directly at gallery at arsvirtua dot com.

AVAIR Update

January 24th, 2008


From the Desk of Rubaiyat Shatner, Director Ars Virtua


Let me first say that is has been a genuine pleasure working with our first Artist in Residence. Brad Kligerman is a formidable artist and thinker and his work will profoundly effect the medium for quite some time.

In the process of dealing with this attempt to create a new “native” form of art in Second Life we have come to realize just how conservative the art audience is. I suppose this should come as no surprise, especially given the proclivity to vocalization on the internet even when no understanding is held nor attempted. As a gallery director I was however taken aback by several responses to the work.

This has not dissuaded me from the concerted effort to create, recruit, mentor and commission new works that engage theory and the 3D environment. Ars Virtua is after all a New Media Center and Gallery and is committed to these new forms.

Amy Wilson, Jay Van Buran and myself have found the process enlightening, and are encouraged by the quality of the work being proposed to AVAIR. After deliberation we have chosen our second resident Micheál O’Connell.
We are excited to be working with Micheál, and are exceedingly grateful to Turbulence, the Jerome Foundation and Jo-Anne Green for making this all possible.

Installation hyper-spaces

April 7th, 2007


Installation hyper-spaces> with Jamil Mehdaoui + Claire Gasteuil

Installation Concept> ANTONELLO da Messina: St Jerome in his Study, 1460

Future Exhibition: Ars Virtua New Media Center II

March 28th, 2007

[part I: WHAT? & WHY?]
part II:

HOW? « What can’t be seen, must be Shown »

Artists developing machines & spaces
–the representational devices capable of instilling desire–
engaging in-world creation to an emergent universal grammar, composing a unique material construct for these virtual territories.

Exhibition flow: The exhibition attempts to engage visiting avatars as project participants. By interacting with the installation infrastructure, they will actualize its content. The project proceeds in five steps :

  1. Teleports send visiting avatars to distant Second Life sims that contain functioning project infrastructure, the spaces and machines designed to extract in-world data. Three land-types are used in the project, each possessing unique characteristics to ensure a multiplicity of data, image and spatial types:pockets: small, dense, interstitial; scapes: landscapes, e-scapes, scape-lands, capable of producing social-spatial imagery; and, territories: from a boundless space into an oriented, sustainable Place.
  2. Avatars use HUDs to capture and send project data back to the gallery. The HUDs are provided throughout the gallery and worn by participating avatars. When visiting a distant project sim, the HUD facilitates data extraction by creating screenshots, then automatically sending the image data back to the Ars Virtua gallery. The HUDs are programmed to extract project data that is embedded in the captured image.The participating avatar uses the HUD to compose, frame and capture a point-of-view. Each POV contains unique data, meta-data and images, composing a unique representation of the project. The HUD employs data analysis algorithms to separate in-world data concerning the deep structure of distant sims, captured by the image, from the graphic information.
  3. Captured information and images are sent back to the gallery. Ornament is created from this data that serves as the spatial support for its content. The form and proportion of these objects are generated by an analysis of the captured data. Prims are auto-rezzed in the gallery space upon reception of the information sent by the avatar’s HUD. Ornament is composed by the subsequent images and data being mapped to these forms, which are then placed into the exhibition infrastructure –size, placement and shape of these objects are determined from the data being sent back to the gallery. A correspondence is made between where the data was taken and what it tells us about the distant territory and its placement in the gallery space.
  4. The avatar is provided with a return teleport to rejoin the exhibition space. In her brief absence, the exhibition has been transformed by this interaction; her choice of composition, POV and image determines the way in which this transformation has been carried out.
  5. Visitors moving through the gallery space, over, under and within its formal-textural construct, make critical connections between in-world conditions and deep structures of disparate SL environments that are represented.The spatial and informational content of the exhibit is composed by a synthesis of texture and form, space and text. Avatars trace a path through the exhibition space, composing content in their wake.

Creating a feedback loop involving avatars is a reflection of the necessity to create meaningful space through presence and participation. Foist into the role of the exhibit’s connective tissue, its agent, avatars relay subjective points-of-view from distant SL territories, assuming their role as an in-world medium, a conduit of information.

The tool employed by the avatar, that which ties together the diverse content of the exhibition media, is the Image.

continue reading about the exhibition’s GOALS, OBJECTS & REFERENCES Read the rest of this entry »

Future Exhibition @ Ars Virtua New Media Center

March 26th, 2007
Part - 1


This exhibition concerns the experimental research and subsequent project carried out in the synthetic world Second Life.
It proposes to briefly transform the Ars Virtua New Media Center, ensconced within this virtual world, into a highly accelerated cultural engine capable of generating places, images and ideas that can radicalize our thinking about time & space, while identifying strategies of artistic production implicit to these environments:

A project that construes its physical, material context
–the local and global qualities inherent to a synthetic space–
as both content and form, expressive media and meaning.


This approach stands in direct contrast to in-world projects of another kind –those using virtual worlds as simply another node in a communication strategy for the diffusion of targeted information; or, –objects and architectures that base their expressive material vocabulary on a chain of references to real world environments.

In either case, the work that is produced in this manner was conceived by and for another media, another time, place & space –call it the 1st generation builders syndrome. Ostensibly unconcerned with maintaining a connection to its incipient creative, constructive substance, it represents an approach where the work becomes disconnected from its essential expressive force –its terroir.
This project attempts to find another creative and productive scenario: by interrogating the physical and material extents of specific synthetic territories, measuring them with machines made by and for this purpose, then technically and intuitively coming to an understanding of their findings, we are fabricating a dense, expressive, synthetic representation, and establishing the material basis of a new spatial order.

This project recognizes synthetic space not for its faculties of communication, but rather for its potential as a representational, sensational medium.

As an interactive model of the artistic process, the exhibition functions on two levels:

  1. constructing a built environment within the virtual exhibition space to effectuate a synthesis of the project’s texts & spaces, images & ideas, representing the project’s broad range of interests; and,
  2. engaging Ars Virtua visitors to become participants in the project’s gallery manifestation, becoming an integral part of the dynamic creative process.

This dual scenario attempts to create a viable cultural context, a feedback loop with avatars as an integral link in the on-going process of information exchange, layering a meaningful exhibition scenario onto an appropriately organized material space.

Tomorrow: HOW?
The exhibition attempts to engage visiting avatars as project participants. By interacting with the installation infrastructure, they will actualize its content. The project proceeds in five steps : Teleporation, Image HUDs, Ornamentation, Transformation, Synthesizers
Read the rest of this entry »

Instruments of precision, pt. 2

March 5th, 2007

In the 18th century India, the Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II built astronomical observatories called Jantar Mantars, which in Sanskrit translates to « The Formula of Instruments ».
The motivation for building these structures was to correct discrepancies of time for the planning of religious events and military operations. The Jantar Mantar structures were radical departures from traditional construction, –temples cloaked with abundant sculptural texture. Also, they are programmatically detached from the mosques, temples, palaces and tombs that encompassed the Indian built environment. In fact, the idea of building a city of astronomical observation is in and of itself as departure. The tendency of technical progress is towards miniaturization and portability. In the sciences, tools for measuring the cosmos, even in the 18th century, were hand-held instruments like an astrolab. In the arts, we can trace representational techniques that progressed from using nature, a cave or the human body, as image support, to marble and granite, tiled mosaics and plastered walls of Roman , textiles, wood boards for medieval painting, bronze plates (etchings), framed canvas painting beginning in the 14th century, to the video projections of the 20th… always a tendency towards portability and a detachment from the natural or built environments.
Why construct these measuring sticks at the scale of a city park, when the fabrication of a simple astrolab could have sufficed?

Part of the answer is revealed through looking at his intellectual and political ambitions, and the means he engaged to realize them. Jai Singh was responsible for the design of the city of Jaipur. Constructed on the grid system with nine rectangular zones corresponding to the nine divisions of the universe, the city had different zones allotted to different professions, boasted 36 meter wide main streets that were perpendicularly intersected by 18 m. wide auxiliary streets, which were further divided by 9 m. wide lanes and 5 m. wide alleys.

Thus, he fabricated an essential and functional link between city and observatory, citizen and science, cosmology and control. Both the city’s functionality and its fundamental symbolic vocabulary were orchestrated to converge through the movement of people through the space and time of the public forum. It was a question of control and expression of the ceremonial and political activities orchestrated through « a common body of tropes » and allegory. The convergence of polis, science and Hindu cosmology projected its creator as a « master of time » in which the city of Jaipur engaged as its device.

Despite the sites’ formal innovation, the instrument’s information design was largely based on existing astronomical tables « derived almost exclusively from the work of Ptolemy and Islamic works directly indebted to it, which was already in disrepute in Europe ». It was unclear, and perhaps besides the point, whether Jai Singh was aware of Europe’s ongoing scientific revolution at the time the observatories were being built.

Thus, the interpretation of these instruments that calculate temporal data by precisely measuring astronomical flux, is secondary to their means of expression and diffusion of this information –through the media of architectural form and urban space. Their form, the relationship between shape, material, solid & void, scale & proportion is determined more by the exigence of representing scientific precision, and not necessarily the representation of that precision. The city is placed in dynamic tension by these objects, expanding and contracting around these structures through the passage of the time of generations, mutating and regenerating, to constantly redefine the relationship between science and religon, politics and the people, control and freedom, architecture and the city…

The static form within a dynamic context of Jantar Mantar is reversed in the virtual environment of Second Life: the inherently dynamic nature of virtual world materials, the prims and textures with which that world is constructed, permits the constant mutation of form within the context of its relatively stable surroundings.

See> Instruments of precision, pt. 1

All quotes are from an article from The Cornell Journal of Architecture, « Jantar Mantar » by Bonnie G. MacDougall.

Dense & intense - 3: The machines

March 3rd, 2007

Project statement: fabricate, within the operational MMPORG Second Life, three machines, experimental devices capable of extracting in-world data pertinent to the quantification and qualification of that world’s physical-material environment. The goal is to discover rules of materiality inherent to this world, and represent them through the network of form and space that has unfolded within, around and because of these machines.

Each machine has two potential states…

  1. edifice: the formal structures needed to extract and define this information; and, as an…
  2. artifact: the material forms and spaces emerging from this experimental procedure, capable of representing that which is revealed.

Project scope: position 3-dimensional virtual environments as platforms capable of functioning as highly accelerated cultural engines for the development of knowledge about space, time and materiality.

Discovering the rules in a virtual world, not those published by the world’s creators, but those that are the result of spontaneous, simultaneous in-world action/reaction, requires measurement and analysis. The inherent capacities and limits of the techniques used to quantify, describe or give meaning to a particular phenomenon, be it in the domain of particle physics or the physics of a virtual world, impose the modalities of defining and analyzing that which is measured.

Measurements are not the same as the attribute being measured. A system of correspondence or analogy is needed to determine the relationship between an thing’s attribute and the system used to measure it. The characteristic of the object, phenomenon or event (length, mass, duration, intensity…) that is under scrutiny, must be measured by the appropriately calibrated instrument.

The extraction of quantitative information entails an exchange of energy between the subject, that which is being measured, and the object, the device used to take the measurement. This procedure is capable of transforming the material states of both entities. The energy exchange, the material transformation engaged, is the formative material process of this project.

The action-event between the observed and the observing is a reciprocity that interlocks them in a process of mutual transformation, where entropic energy is both a by-product and a feature of the project’s resonant materiality. This energy is harnessed as the project’s engine of material transformation, of spatial mutation and of in-world representation.

Three machines for in-world experimentation :

  1. The Calibration Machine : for reading, a device that not only measures, but also contains the logic necessary to determine the units, scale and proportions appropriate for the given situation;
  2. The Analogy Machine : for learning, it could also be called the « uncertainty machine », it establishes a relationship between a measurement and the attribute being measured. Accounts for both the accuracy and relevance of the accumulated data, but also for potential factors of interpretation, connotation and representation. Determines the threshold of continuity, discontinuity or coherence connecting data and object ;
  3. The Mutation Machine : for writing, a tool that possesses the mechanics and intelligence necessary to physically transform the materials that compose in-world space and form, as well as a platform for letting emerge the vocabulary of symbology and representation unique to virtual worlds.

Neither simple nor abstract, the machines of this project can be thought of as machine-tools that take an energy source and transmit it to an instrument designed to produce a specific transformation; atmospheric-machines that use ambient environmental energy to make visible the forces inherent in a specific context; image-machines…

Machines that cannot be understood in terms of a linear formula proceeding from input to output, closer to dataflow than to a black box, they present an open environment for defining data structures and describing their association with a material representation, where form, color, movement, noise… can be attached to a signal. Though they are devices that « transmit and modify energy », a classic definition of machine, they do so to produce material from raw, in-world materiality. To imbue the spaces, objects and edifices built from these materials with a sense of place, an embodiment of the qualities and effects that the local environment can have on that which emerges from it.

These machines neither precede nor succeed the theoretical foundation necessary to transform data into shared intelligence, but are the inspiration, the structure and result of this creative reciprocality. They can be thought of as points along the lines of tension between that which is tangible –possessing shape, texture, color– and the patterns of space and structure capable of emerging from this context. The essential organization of this multiplicity of color and form, movement and discontinuity, constitutes the principles of composition and actualization of this world, and conversely, they determine the structure capable of revealing these conditions.


  1. Unfolding as an ongoing process that « rewrites itself and whose use dictates its content ». [from Unfolding object, a project by artist John Simon]
  2. Virtual worlds are constructed upon a computational infrastructure that offer persistence and coherence from a consistent set of physical laws, representational techniques and communication protocols. The world’s conventions –social, ethical, metaphysical, psychological– emanate from these rules. Learning them is paramount to being in control of one’s in-world experience. Although the specificities of this code can be more or less ascertained from what (little) information is freely available, their actual deployment as an operational, dynamic and complex system, transcends linear cumulative aggregation of their sequential incitation, while remaining immanently within their bounds.
  3. Virtual environments, in the case of Second Life, are produced by simultaneous calculations of multiple but simple physical algorithms that determine its physical, atmospheric and qualitative-material states. These states, in order to be operational, must be represented, and will necessitate the development of tools that are both sensitive to these forces and capable of producing analytical models of them. The world, taken as an immersive experience, is held together by the fact that there is a clear set of global physical laws. Gravity, material resistance, climatic simulations, light, geography permit the simulation of coherent physical states. The fact that these laws are consistent for the entire world give it cohesion, a global, metaphysical glue, that determines how we perceive it. At the same time, local variations are made possible by the gradual mutation of these states over a specific distance. Those two factors, coherent physical laws and their transformation over varying distances, determine the sum of the world’s external factors and give that world its texture
  4. In classic physics it was believed that if one knew the initial state of a system with infinite precision, one could predict the behavior of the system infinitely far into the future. But according to quantum mechanics, however, there is a fundamental limit on the ability to make such predictions, because of the inability to collect the initial data with unlimited precision. Until the discovery of quantum physics, it was thought that the only source of uncertainty in a measurement was the limited precision of the measuring tool. It is now understood that measurements are only as accurate as the probability distribution specified for it.
  5. Uncertainty is the characterization of the relative narrowness or broadness of the distribution function of a particular measurement and is sometimes referred to as the error in the measurement. The uncertainty principle (developed in an essay published by Werner Heisenberg in 1927) provides a quantitative relationship between the uncertainties of the hypothetical infinitely precise measurements. A fundamental consequence of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is that physical phenomenon can be described as neither a particle nor a wave, but rather by the microphysical situation best described in terms of wave-particle duality. Thus, the definition of the material substance of mechanical physics, where neither wave nor particle were exclusively appropriate descriptions, depended on the innovation of an essential duality.
  6. Measurement theory is a branch of applied mathematics that is useful in measurement and data analysis. The fundamental idea of measurement theory is that measurements are not the same as the attribute being measured. Hence, if you want to draw conclusions about the attribute you must take into account the nature of the correspondence between the attribute and the measurements. Measurement theory helps us to avoid making meaningless statements.
  7. That correspondence concerns not only the calibration of measuring devices, but also the statistical methods used in determining the relevance, precision and uncertainty of the measurement given the specific local conditions under which it is being taken.
  8. The relationship between a pre-existing milieu and built space is a symbiotic one. An edifice has the role of finishing or completing the site upon which it is placed, in order to determine its atmosphere as its undeniable, unique, singular characteristic. The first role for any intervention of a MMO territory is to render its local environment singular, permitting the atmosphere of its local context to emerge as material, and allowing the expression of the symboisis of space and site by molding this material into coherent form that has a tangible scale, proportion, distribution and limits.
  9. A simple machine employs applied force resulting in movement over a set distance, such as a lever, wheel, inclined plane…)
  10. An abstract machine is a theoretical model of a complex system, such as a Turing Machine…
  11. Dataflow as a model of information generation based « conceptually if not physically, as a directed graph of the data flowing between operations » [see wikipedia]. The reference is inspired by my work with Pure Data and by Mathieu Bouchard, of the Pure Data community, whose tag-line is « The Diagram is the Program ». The apparent ambiguity between structure (the diagram) and object (the program) is the door through which this project will pass.
  12. a black box is a device or system or object when it is viewed primarily in terms of its input and output characteristics. Almost anything might occasionally be referred to as a black box: a transistor, an algorithm, the Internet… [see Wikipedia]
  13. see terroir

Dense, intense, persistence - pt. 2

February 23rd, 2007

Spatial Organization: color & movement, flow & force

Dense, intense, persistence - Part.1

February 22nd, 2007