Call + Response: Collaborative Art in Virtual 3D Worlds

Burning Life

Burning Life, 2009. Photo by Poid Mahovlich, 2009. © All rights reserved.

Collaborative art as joint production by two or more artists is a typical style among sound, video, and performance artists.  Many artists are changing the concept of art into something that can be engaged in by more than individual artists alone.  Last week, I wrote about how Web 2.0 has come to play an integral part in the expansion of new art forms because it increasingly enables artists from all across the globe to work collaboratively, communicate ideas, and connect with others who share similar interests.  Art production in virtual 3D worlds brings together people with different knowledge and skills.  A few examples are highlighted here.


Burning Life, a festival of community, art, and fire in Second Life exemplifies collaborative art in virtual 3D worlds. It was first held in 2003 and is inspired by the real-life Burning Man festival that takes place in the Nevada desert.  Second Life’s Burning Life 2009 remained true to the spirit of the Burning Man. A cooperatively built space, it arose from a virtual 3D desert to serve as a shining example of creativity and community.  When it ended, every scrap was removed, leaving only a bare desert floor.  The Ten Principles of both Burning Man and Burning Life underline the spirit guiding the virtual art that once was:

  • Radical Inclusion: Anyone may be a part of Burning Man/Life.
  • Gifting: Burning Man/Life is devoted to acts of gift giving.
  • Radical Self-Reliance: Burning Man/Life encourages the individual to discover, exercise, and rely on his or her inner resources.
  • Communal Effort: Creative cooperation and collaboration.
  • Leaving No Trace: Leave nothing behind.

Many of the artists featured in my series of posts for Art21 have participated in previous Burning Life festivals and their current work embodies these principles to varying degrees.  Although the Burning Life 2009 work exists no mor,e you can find several galleries on photo sharing and video sharing sites.

The Arts in Second Life playlist on YouTube includes work from artists who have joined the Caerleon sims art collective. From Through the Virtual Looking Glass:

Eight friends from five different countries founded Caerleon Isle on February 12, 2008 as an artists’ colony and an experiment in utopian community. The project has grown since then to include four Caerleon sims (short for simulators) in the virtual world Second Life and five in ReactionGrid, a region within the virtual world OpenSim.

Artists who reside at the Caerleon sims have been conducting focused experiments into the nature of several aesthetic-technological dimensions, more specifically networked collaboration. Georg Janick AKA Gary Zabel writes,

Because virtual worlds reside on servers connected to the Internet, they offer unprecedented opportunities for networked collaboration among artists as well as between artists and audiences.

Field of Voices

Sowa Mai, "Field of Voices." Photo by Sowa Mai, 2009. © All rights reserved.

Sowa Mai AKA Stephen Beveridge is a Scottish-born artist living and working in New York City.  He is part of Aequitas, a group creating virtual art as networked collaboration. Sowa contributed information about his virtual art experiments, including a link to his recent blog entry on networked collaboration.  He writes,

The kind of virtual art which results from this process-oriented, common-goal driven work is no less than transcendent. It is always greater than the sum of its parts because it is imbued with the spirit of cooperation and understanding. Simply because of the willingness to shift perspective, to being open to seeing things as the collaborators see them, the work has the power to shift perspectives in the audience. It can remain a powerful expression of one idea, while also serving another without loss of intensity or focus.

The collaborative aspect in the creation of the work fosters a collaborative nature in the work itself. The essence of collaborative projects lure the audience into interaction and participation, as that is the very nature of its being. A core belief in the respect for the perspectives of others allows the finished piece to grant access from a myriad of angles and welcomes the participant without coddling or patronizing.


Aequitas, Selavy Oh, Misprint Thursday, and others collaborated to create a “field of voices” to demonstrate the shift of perception from the real world to perceptually immersive 3D space in Second Life.  This SL installation is on view as part of Through the Virtual Looking Glass.  Several semi-transparent, white 3D columns populate this open expanse of virtual land.  My avatar walked through these columns also referred to as flex prims (flexible 3D objects).  Flex prims are not solid, so an avatar is able to pass through them like cellular diffusion while both avatar and object remain intact.  Avatar teleportation and flight, flexible, and reflexive/reactive objects are all part of virtual 3D world physics.  These physics make virtual art impossible in real life and help to construct immersive experiences. Sowa writes,

The visitor is presented with a beautiful expanse of white columns not unlike a circuit board or a graveyard. Jumping down into the field, we are treated to the voices of a diverse group of real people belaying the sterile perception of Second Life and social media in general by reminding us there are people behind the virtual avatar on the screen. The effect is quite touching and before you know it, the visitor falls through the floor and is treated to a soothing light show as he/she walks through the amusing, touching, and clever proximity-activated voices in the poles.

My avy in Voices

Nettrice Beattie at Your Voices as Art! Photo by the author, 2010. © Some rights reserved.

For Your Voice As Art! visitors receive simple instructions for submitting their voices, which are either recorded in-world or sent via email. Your Voice As Art! inspired my foundation-level Visual Language class at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.  My students recorded their voices for submission to Sowa Mai.  While I demonstrated how the project worked, Sowa paid us an impromptu in-world visit and provided a brief history of the project as networked collaboration.  When you visit Your Voice As Art! as part of the Through the Virtual Looking Glass exhibition, you can hear the students’ voices among several others from all over the world.


Misprint Thursday AKA Karina is a real-life and SL artist who actively explores the meaning of “joint production” through her art.  Misprint writes,

My work is usually site-specific interactive installation.  These works explore signs and symbols in communication.  The art I create manifests in many forms including sound, machinima, sculpture, drawing, painting, photography and performance.  A curious interest is developing with the dichotomy of rural and urban, since I live in a rural area and take on some very urban ideas.  My overall core interests include visual and behavioral patterns; visual conceptions of modes of communication; modern and historic iconography; and relationships to natural and built environments.

V-TV Verbal Television, another Caerleon Networked Collaborative project, is a text-activated particle sculpture.  The sculpture responds in particle effects to the text it receives by chat, e-mail, and Twitter.  Misprint Thursday collaborated with Oberon Onmura and Cinco Pizzicato, who contributed their scripting expertise for this project.  V-TV examines the beauty in both the visual translation of text and the limitations of text communications in these forms.


Misprint Thursday, V-TV. Photo by Misprint Thursday, 2010. © All rights reserved.

Misprint Thursday’s artistic process is rich in emotive artistic sensibility.  Her intention is not to pigeonhole observers to a specific narrative but to leave room for interpretation and exploration.  Some of her collaborations have been more formal while others exemplify the type of playful teamwork she prefers.  One example of collaborative art as play is her work with Oberon Onmura and Arrow Inglewood, for a site specific installation called White Line that exhibited at Pirats Art Network.  It was based on an original music composition Misprint wrote and transformed into a virtual 3D sculpture.  I had an opportunity to meet Misprint/Karina in real life at the April 7th UMB Harbor Gallery opening of Through the Virtual Looking Glass.  We also chatted in Second Life about her thoughts on networked collaboration.  Here’s a portion of the chat transcript:

Nettrice Gaskins: What kind of collaboration do you prefer?

Misprint Thursday: The kind that is based in play and the spirit of the game atmosphere.  As I mentioned, it sort of develops from the idea of curation, performance, and collaboration – it all sort of meshes together.  I had a big collaboration at Burning Life with Miso Susanowa called The Roof is Gone.  It started with a vocal recording that I sent to her to play with and she turned it into an amazing composition.  It was very moving and haunting.

NG: Please say more about The Roof is Gone as art collaboration.  I’m intrigued.

MT: So, from the song, we developed a proposal for Burning Life, curated by White Lebed.  Then Miso and I collaborated on a highly interactive build and I made a machinima with the song that was like a moving painting that was applied to the surfaces.  There is something synergistic and community-based that happens.  The idea is that not one person can know it all.  I think that the key to a strong collaboration is determining who is doing what, not in a rigid sense but in the idea of building and evolving off each others work to see what happens next.  That is the exciting part.  It’s like Christmas. You don’t know what you are going to get.

NG: I love that analogy!


Misprint Tuesday and Selavy Oh, "Wedding Performance." Photo by the author, 2009. © Some rights reserved.

Misprint Thursday has worked/is working on several collaborative art projects. 01.10.10 A Wedding Performance was a virtual wedding between Misprint and Selavy Oh, who was recently featured in Responsive Art & Evolving Artificiality.  Several artists were invited to create and share virtual 3D art as signs and symbols associated with the wedding tradition.  This live event included a special augmented reality performance of Technesexual by Azdel Slade and Echolalia Azalee, who were featured in Performative Interventions last year.  Misprint stated that this “performance within a performance” is reflective of the layers of experience in the development of collaborative art in virtual worlds. Check out these blog photos.

Recently Misprint was invited to be an artist-in-residence by IBM to create RUN 909 in Reaction Grid, another virtual 3D world. Ultimately this work will be interconnected between Reaction Grid and Second Life.  The project is a team effort between Misprint and Solo Mornington, based on a shared history of collaboration and artistic sensibility and Solo’s in-depth knowledge of scripting.  You can hear the “soundscape” here:  Networked collaboration is a big part of Misprint Thursday’s work, in that is often involves the community aspect of creating and exploring art in virtual worlds.


TTVLG Gallery Menu. Photo by the author, 2010. © Some rights reserved.

This month, I have spent a fair amount of time exploring the art of the artists featured in Through the Virtual Looking Glass and in other immersive art spaces.  I am struck by the variety and aesthetic quality of the work.  Also, I am impressed by the varying degrees of collaboration artists are engaged in to make these mixed, or perceptually immersive 3D and 4D visions a reality.  These artists are compelled to collaborate in virtual 3D worlds and communicate through online social networks for the same reasons as everyone else.  There is still time to experience Through the Virtual Looking Glass.  Instructions are included on the official exhibition website.  I hope to see you there!


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  2. Sowa Mai says:

    The virtual world gives everyone a chance to play the role of artist.  Exhibiting, selling, blogging about art all give the lonely housewife a chance to fulfill her dream as an artist. Much of the same issues can be explored such as venue conflicts landlord misunderstandings, nervous chit chat and learning to talk about and listen to others talk about the work.

    We had an incident take place after building a 4 week long installation piece the landlord perceived it as a scripting hazard and sent it all back.  The equivalent in real life of demolishing the art the day before the show. In Second Life you can keep a copy of the art in your inventory so this would not be much a of a problem but you have to remember to do that.  How many folk actually back up everything on their computer.  Its a hard lesson. Still the metaverse is rife with stories of lost inventory, disappearing textures, and software changes that break scripts.  It seems that Second Life is what we pioneers of the cyber era like to call “unstable”.  That begs the question What is stable?  The BBC reported $100m in art losses as a result of the 9/11 attacks. The Momart warehouse fire in London 2004 destroyed hundreds of works of art and paid out £60m in insurance money.    Personally I remember the day I vowed never again to use buckwheat to add texture to a painting when mice ate the painting. 

    Taking part in group exhibitions has given us opportunities to hone the artist statement and along with that reenforce our mission statement.  In a recent exhibition I was able to curate the real life exhibition by setting up a Second Life model of it and moving things about.  I imagine Gagosian Galleries could have used that for their recent Picasso exhibition instead of setting up cardboard rooms and printouts of the paintings. Once the show was set I could invite the artists, from different countries, to walk through the space and make comments and suggestions.  
    Its hard to tell who is a professional artist and who is playing one in Second Life.  Not that it matters as we worked with and  have witnessed some very fine art from avatars who claim to be non artists.  I would go so far as to say they are often easier to get along with than their some of their ego driven meatworld counterparts.

    BTW Dekka Raymaker, Penumbra Carter were the others who created the Field of Voices, and Special guest artist Oberon Onmura, provided the Ghost columns.

    I hope we can keep the discussion of Virtual Art going and hear some perspectives of those who aren’t involved. The network can isolate or irrigate its up to us to decide. Where do we apply ourselves?

    Thanks for opening the discussion Nettrice 🙂

    Thanks for opening the discussion Nettrice 🙂

    Thanks for opening the discussion Nettrice 🙂

  3. Nettrice says:

    Yay Sowa and you’re welcome! I was waiting for you to post a comment. You’ve been viewing and supporting these posts from the beginning. 🙂

    I wonder if there is a way to use other social networking tools to encourage more discussion. Maybe I’ll have some of my students chime in.

  4. Selavy Oh says:

    using virtual worlds for collaborative projects feels like painting on the same canvas together with someone whose work you liked for a long time, but who lives at the other end of the world. AM Radio’s graffiti project, mentioned in one of Nettrice’s previous blogs (Responsive Art & Evolving Artificiality in Virtual Worlds), is a pretty good metaphor for that kind of collaboration, since it also captures the instability mentioned by Sowa. you don’t do graffiti for eternity.

    and while i’m at it, i should mention that my part in both the voice project and the wedding performance was really minor, all credits go to misprint for the wedding and sowa/aequitas for the voice project! thanks to both!

  5. ‘Field of Voices’ is a great example of a successful collaborative art-project. What makes it work so well is that anyone can participate, even those new to virtual worlds can easily grasp the concept and contribute in a matter of seconds. It’s simple but very effective.

    Anyway, this is another in a series of excellent articles here, and it is most welcome, particularly as intelligent and unbiased critique on the SL art scene has been somewhat lacking as of late.

  6. Hi Nettrice! I’m late but I’m there 😀

    “The Roof Is Gone” was a truly amazing experience. Misprint had a sculpture where she used one sung phrase, “The roof is gone; sense of direction scattered on the lawn.” This sculpture was made so that soundwave was put in a 3D block of cubes, which caused slight reverberation and echo effects.

    Because my own work in sound (inside and outside SL), I was interested in the effects (dopplering, phasing and delay) and sat with that sculpture for many hours, just listening to it. In that listening, I started to hear a phantom orchestra… I begged Misprint to send me the raw acapella vocal clip and she did.

    I spent the next 8 days at full (8+) working hours trying to get the sense of the strings I had heard. It also became something more for me; an echo of the devastation I had felt after the earthquakes I had experienced in California. I also worked with Misprint’s voice; splitting and harmonizing it around this one phrase, like a tone poem.

    That sense of loss was also running through the entire country at the time because of several destructive hurricanes and the news was flooded with images and videos of survivors. All of this influenced the string and orchestral tracks that I composed.

    Then I sent several clips into SL and the full version to Misprint… she was floored… and we got together to discuss an idea for a machinima, of a destroyed house with the wind swirling pieces of our lives around like so many lost memories or dreams. We had just talked a few things out, and made some initial props, when White Lebed heard the sample I had brought inworld in a moment unconnected to our project and asked about a machinima…

    … which Misprint then did, matching the sense of being ripped away from everything in your world… which White then saw and asked about an installation… which, when we realized what we wanted to do with it and which might be too big for Angelgate Gallery, was the basis of our proposal for an Art Plot at Burning Life 2009… which further expanded the building and metaphor of the piece…

    So this was a true collaboration; not two artists with two visions cramming them side by side or intertwined. Misprint’s sculpture gave me the voice, which gave me the music, which gave her the machinima, which gave us the build. It was like a roller coaster or a fire building – very electric and exhilarating.

  7. Nettrice says:

    Hi Miso! Better late than never, as they say. Thank you for sharing your perspective and further explaining your collaboration with Misprint… in virtual 3D space!

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