Giving Second Life a third chance

Do you remember Second Life? Not only is it still around, but it’s having something of a comeback, thanks to you-know-what.

Huck’s absolute beginner’s guide to Second Life for the coronavirus curiousWhat the Huck?
Registrations are up. People are rediscovering Second Life. Which makes sense, because one of the first things you realise after a couple of days of self-isolation/working from home is just how much we all need contact with other human beings. It’s so important that we stay at home right now, but that doesn’t mean to say we have to stop socialising, and SL offers that possibility.

A message from our CEO: Coronavirus and Second Life operationsSecond Life Community
We are seeing an increase in new registrations and returning residents during this outbreak. Please be kind and welcoming to those who may just need a friendly conversation to escape from this crazy world for a moment or more. If you have a friend or colleague who is looking for a safe place to socialize online during these tough times, we encourage you to help them discover how Second Life can enable them to feel less isolated by connecting them to your favorite communities or experiences.

I had an account with Second Life for a while back in the late-naughties, and remember very little. The only link I have on here about it is this one from 2010, about a university’s virtual version of itself falling foul of Second Life’s codes of conduct. The Chronicle’s news story I was linking to isn’t there anymore, but I found this one from the same time.

California College loses Second Life for a second timeUS News
It was a pretty big deal, then, when Woodbury University, a small school in Burbank, Calif., got booted off Second Life for the second time in four years on Tuesday, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Woodbury was kicked out the first time in 2007. Linden Labs, which owns and oversees Second Life, didn’t give a specific reason for the ban, but the Chronicle story suggests that it had to do with accusations of vandalism and Woodbury’s ongoing dispute with another group on Second Life.

Here’s another write-up of that from 2010, going in to more detail.

Woodbury University banned from Second Life (again)Krypton Radio
The real life Woodbury University has been barred from having any official representation in Second Life since July of 2007, when the original Woodbury University region was first trashed by IntLibber Brautigan employee Maldavius Figtree and then completely destroyed less than a week later by Linden Lab itself. Linden Lab deleted the region and most of its users due to its use as a headquarters for planning and executing grid raids by the now inactive griefing group known as the Patriotic Nigras.

The ten year anniversary of all that was noted last year on the Second Life forums, so it must have been quite significant at the time.

I was surprised that this story was the only one on Second Life that I had shared here on this blog. As I explain on my About page, all these links are first gathered up on my Pinboard site, so I went back there to see if I had anything else from around that time. They were all from 2016, the first time I peeked back inside this curiously old-fashioned futuristic land.

Why is ‘Second Life’ still a thing?Vice
“As the VR market continues to grow, new experiences are introduced, and new hardware is released, we’re seeing many experiences and behaviors that reflect what Second Life users have been doing for years,” Altberg said. Indeed, the most surprising thing about Second Life is not that it’s still a thing, but that 13 years after its inception, it is still way ahead of its time.

The digital ruins of a forgotten futureThe Atlantic
Second Life was supposed to be the future of the internet, but then Facebook came along. Yet many people still spend hours each day inhabiting this virtual realm. Their stories—and the world they’ve built—illuminate the promise and limitations of online life.

Whatever happened to Second Life?Alphr
Three years on, and Second Life seems no closer to finding a respectable reason for being than it did in 2006. It might try and shuffle sex into a corner, and pretend that it’s a melting pot of creativity, business and academia, but it ultimately serves no purpose. It’s like the nouvelle cuisine of the 1980s: pretty, fascinating but ultimately unfulfilling. “What’s the point of Second Life?” I asked one of the “greeters” on the Second Life Help Island, desperate to find something that could make this vast, billion-dollar empire seem worthwhile.

Well I quite like the place, third time round, though I’m still none the wiser about it all. Thankfully, help is still around.

Unreal art around town

At a time when indoor art galleries and museums are closed because of you know what, it’s good to see some alternative initiatives. Here, an augmented reality app allowed you to explore 36 digital sculptures from artists around the world, arranged as a riverside walking tour.

How an augmented reality app transformed London into an immersive art galleryAeon Videos
If you ever hopped on the Pokémon GO craze, you’ll have an inkling of how digital technology is increasingly capable of adding rich new slices to everyday life. The public exhibition ‘Unreal City’, which ran from 8 December 2020 to 5 January 2021 on the River Thames in London – and is, until 9 February 2021, available for at-home viewing – similarly superimposed digital layers on to reality, but with an aim to transform the city into an immersive augmented reality (AR) art gallery.

Have a go at curating your own exhibition at home.

Unreal City at HomeAcute Art
Acute Art and Dazed Media are excited to announce that Unreal City, London’s biggest public festival of AR art will now be available to view and interact with from inside your home for one-month only. Responding to new lockdown measures and the popularity of the exhibition in London and across the United Kingdom, Acute Art and Dazed Media will make these site-specific artworks available for audiences all around the world to discover from the safety of their homes via the free Acute Art app.

Introducing Rex Specs

First cows, now dogs?

US Army trials augmented reality goggles for dogsBBC News
In current combat deployments, soldiers usually direct their animals with hand signals or laser pointers – both of which require the handler to be close by. But that need not be the case if the prototype AR goggles are widely adopted, the army said.

The US Army is testing augmented reality goggles for dogsThe Verge
The AR goggles themselves are adapted from an established piece of kit for military canines: protective goggles known as Rex Specs. Each pair of goggles has to be customized for its wearer, with 3D scans used to ascertain where exactly to place the HUD for optimal viewing angles. The familiarity of the Rex Specs, though, makes the goggles easy to adapt to, says Peper.

Virtual promenades

What would Mussorgsky have made of these virtual promenades around pictures at exhibitions, I wonder.

Google virtual tour The National Gallery
In 2016, Google created this 360° tour of Rooms 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15 and Central Hall. Immerse yourself in Renaissance masterpieces from Northern Italy, the Netherlands and Germany, including works by Titian, Veronese, and Holbein.

How to explore the British Museum from homeThe British Museum Blog
Did you know that the Museum is the world’s largest indoor space on Google Street View? You can go on a virtual visit to more than 60 galleries – perfect for creating your own bespoke tour around your favourites. See highlights like the Rosetta Stone in the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery or discover gems like the beautiful textiles in the Sainsbury African Galleries.

It’s not the same, though, is it?

The rise of the virtual gallery tour: what works and what doesn’t (yet)Frame
Received wisdom, and newspaper columnists, would have you believe that we’re currently experiencing a revolution in the way we consume art and artefacts online. The British Museum, frequently the institution at the top of the global visitor-number leaderboard, has seen a corresponding surge in its digital audience since it closed its doors. Meanwhile Art Basel has rushed through the development of its digital viewing rooms (which had over €248 million of art on display for its Hong Kong inauguration) and Hauser and Wirth is hosting its first digital-only exhibition, a collection of drawings by Louise Bourgeois.

But for gallery-goers who are yet to log on, visiting these aforementioned virtual venues is likely to result in disappointment.

I found myself nodding along vigorously to this part further down.

Perhaps the answer lies in the more creative use of an established medium. It’s interesting to note that, as lockdown was looming, and perhaps in a nod to the insufficiency of the above interfaces, The Van Gogh Museum launched an alternative form of the gallery tour. A series of seven carefully choreographed 4K films, available on their YouTube channel, walk the user through the museum’s various rooms to an accompanying sound track. It’s clearly a more prescribed way of experiencing both the art and the space, but one that also feels more natural. The camera movement doesn’t equate to a true point-of-view walkthrough; the stabilized image glides through the rooms in a rather disembodied way. But the manner in which it glances across paintings, occasionally stopping and approaching a particularly affecting portrait before pulling back, does a far better job of transmitting the pleasure of being in the presence of the artefacts than staccato jumping and zooming.

That’s certainly been my experience. I’ve been randomly clicking around the National Gallery for a while now, feeling like that Anish Kapoor fan unable to find his way out.

virtual-exhibition-1

So I think I’ll head over to the Van Gogh Museum’s YouTube channel, after I’ve been guided round the Tate’s Warhol exhibition.

Andy Warhol exhibition guideTate
This major retrospective is the first Warhol exhibition at Tate Modern for almost 20 years. As well as his iconic pop images of Marilyn Monroe, Coca-Cola and Campbell’s soup cans, it includes works never seen before in the UK. […] Join curators Gregor Muir and Fiontán Moran as they discuss Warhol through the lens of the immigrant story, his LGBTQI identity and concerns with death and religion.

There are other ways of approaching this.

 You can download thousands of coloring book pages from museum collectionsMy Modern Met
This year alone touts 117 PDFs from various cultural institutions that can be downloaded and printed right at home, and colored in. You can jump into the past through local advertisements from the West Virginia and Regional History Center Coloring Book or take a ride on a vintage motorcycle with the Harley-Davidson Archive’s digital collection. Visit these exhibits through pages detailing the beloved fairy tale Cinderella, to fascinating diagrams of medical equipment from a bygone era. Simply, there are coloring pages made for every kind of interest a person may have, and the ones available through the #ColorOurCollections website will help you refine your coloring skills at the same time.

Manchester Museum in Quarantine
We believe connection and inspiration is needed during challenging times like this one. We have uploaded our digital content onto this mobile site so you can explore and enjoy Manchester Museum in your own home. We hope it helps entertain, educate and sparks joy and wonder until we re-open.

An augmented reality tool to sell art during the pandemicDesign Milk
ALL World is a self-publishing platform that allows artists to digitally exhibit and sell their work via augmented reality. Artists and designers can upload images of their work, create AR exhibitions, and then share it with users, allowing them to visualize the work within their own space. By being able to see the work at scale in context, the guesswork of whether or not it will work dissolves which could potentially create more sales. While it’s a great tool for established artists and designers, imagine what it could do for those just starting out and struggling to get eyes on their work.

Perhaps some normality (kind of) is slowly returning.

German galleries will reopen next week with strict precautionsArtsy
Galleries in Germany are carefully preparing to reopen their doors over the next few weeks as the government begins to lift business restrictions in the wake of COVID-19. These reopenings will come with strict precautions including a visitor limit and facemasks.

‘Bring your own mask’: German art galleries prepare to reopen in a new reality, giving US dealers a preview of things to comeArtNet
“I am more than thrilled to be opening again. Galleries cannot exist in an online-only world,” dealer André Schlechtriem tells Artnet News. “My gallery is a personal social space where every visitor is greeted personally by myself or my staff. We are always happy to answer questions and talk about the art we present. That’s what we live for.”

Meanwhile.

‘We are all Edward Hopper paintings now’: is he the artist of the coronavirus age?The Guardian
Who can fail to have been moved by all the images of people on their doorsteps clapping for the NHS last night? They filled TV screens and news websites, presenting a warming picture of solidarity in enforced solitude – all alone yet all together. But there are some far less reassuring images circulating on social media. Some people are saying we now all exist inside an Edward Hopper painting. It doesn’t seem to matter which one.

Cyberspace for cattle?

Yesterday I shared an example of how technology can be used to help us, but I had to check the date when I saw this article — we’ve not jumped to the 1st of April, have we?

Cows wearing VR headsets might produce better milkEngadget
It’s not just humans who can benefit from VR. Moscow-area farmers strapped modified VR headsets to cows to see if it improved their mood — and, of course, their milk production. The project subjected cattle to a simulated summer field with colors tuned for the animals’ eyes, giving them a decidedly more pleasing landscape than a plain, confining farm.

What a time to be alive.

The research begs a few questions. Why not just put the cows in fields more often? How do you deal with battery life? And is there a risk of disturbing cows when you take their headsets off and show them dreary reality?

cyberspace-for-cattle-1

And how would they eat? And what will they see when they look at each other? What a stupid idea.

Flying with Dalí and Laurie

More from that Dalí museum in Florida. This time, an interactive 360° video that you can click-and-drag your way around, as you fly through one of his paintings.

Silence your lobster phone and melt into a Dalí-inspired dreamscape
Salvador Dalí’s painting Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s Angelus (1935) is a surreal reimagining of Jean-François Millet’s painting The Angelus (1859). Dalí’s work recasts the peasant couple of the original as towering stone figures, with the woman looming over the man in a show of female sexual dominance. Created as part of a virtual reality exhibition at the Dalí Museum in St Petersburg in Florida, this video allows viewers to step inside the work’s dreamy, uncanny landscape, as they fly through a tour of a world inspired by the painting – one that’s rife with additional Dalí Easter eggs. Beyond a simply entrancing immersive experience, Dreams of Dalí hints at even more sophisticated VR art experimentation to come in the near future.

Dreams of Dali: 360º Video

Here’s some more artistic VR, this time of a more literary nature.

Laurie Anderson introduces her virtual reality installation that lets you fly magically through stories
The piece allows viewers the opportunity to travel not only into the space of imagination a story creates, but into the very architecture of story itself—to walk, or rather float, through its passageways as words and letters drift by like tufts of dandelion, stars, or, as Anderson puts it, like snow. “They’re there to define the space and to show you a little bit about what it is,” says the artist in the interview above, “But they’re actually fractured languages, so it’s kind of exploded things.” She explains the “chalkroom” concept as resisting the “perfect, slick and shiny” aesthetic that characterizes most computer-generated images. “It has a certain tactility and made-by-hand kind of thing… this is gritty and drippy and filled with dust and dirt.”

Laurie Anderson interview: a virtual reality of stories
In this exclusive video, Laurie Anderson presents her prizewinning virtual reality work from 2017: “I wanted to see what it would be like to travel through stories, to make the viewer feel free,” the legendary multimedia artist says.

A history of urban futures

How about this for an unsettling glimpse into the future?

Hyper-reality
Hyper-Reality presents a provocative and kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical and virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media.

It serves as the introduction to this fantastic overview of augmented reality in urban environments.

City Skins: Scenes from an augmented urban reality
In one scene, the film’s protagonist-user (“Juliana”), becomes confused, even anxious, by a technical glitch which forces a reboot of her device while shopping for food, showing the viewer a brief glimpse of a un-augmented and totally featureless supermarket, clearly designed for the express purpose of accommodating a digital overlay. Matsuda’s film ultimately suggests that augmented reality may become so commonplace as to be essential to making sense of the world.

However futuristic it may seem, location-based augmented reality (virtual reality’s more successful but less hyped cousin) has been around for a while.

Growing interest in location-based AR projects, beginning in the late 1990s, can be in part attributed to the confluence of art and networking technologies which emerged out of the gradual popularization of the Internet and the influence of “net art.” Net art, according to critic Josephine Bosma, has often concerned itself with “the public domain as a virtual, mediated space consisting of both material and immaterial matter,” indicating a conceptual and ethical foundation for augmented reality’s radical leap from the space of the screen to a “hybrid space” mixing real and virtual elements.

Near the tail end of the 20th century, pseudonymous author and technologist Ben Russell released The Headmap Manifesto — a utopian vision of augmented reality referencing Australian aboriginal songlines and occult tomes, while pulling heavily from cybernetic theory and the Temporary Autonomous Zones of Hakim Bey. At turns both wildly hypothetical and eerily prescient, Headmap explores in-depth the implications of “location-aware” augmented reality as a kind of “parasitic architecture” affording ordinary people the chance to annotate and re-interpret their environment.

That might sound too abstract and theoretical, but here’s an example of a very real-world, poignant use of AR.

Following the release of the first iPhone and advancements in mobile phone cameras and processing power, AR began to move toward the more visually-dominant experiences we are familiar with today — in the process also opening up possibilities for more explicitly political projects. The group 4 Gentlemen, for instance, embraced AR as a tool for criticizing oppressive government policies in China. A collective of exiled Chinese artists and one American artist, 4 Gentlemen (taking their name from a group of intellectual dissidents central to the Tiananmen Student Protest in 1989) developed a series of works that digitally recreated in situ both the famous “Tank Man” image and the “Goddess of Democracy” statue — two symbols of the Tiananmen protest which have defined the struggle for democracy and human rights in China since.

urban-futures