Art 2.1: Creating on the Social Web

Beyond Boundaries: Art Exhibition & Virtual 3D Worlds

Harbor and Pirats

"Through the Virtual Looking Glass," UMB Harbor Gallery USA and Pirats Art Gallery in Second Life.

I like using the word ‘totality’ as in the ‘totality of one’s surroundings.’  Self provides the essentials of our internal existence  and environment is the external display of all that.  The environment presents our existence as individuals to others.  Through Web 2.0, the conceptual platform that facilitates creativity, information sharing, and, most important, collaboration, we have been able to extend the material or real environment.  Art in virtual 3D worlds implement new possibilities for environments that are perceived and accessible from a unique set of dimensions.  Each aesthetic-technological dimension has been used as a basis for artistic experimentation here except for one.  Georg Janick AKA Dr. Gary Zabel writes,

Environment fluidity is to the external virtual world what the protean character of identity is to the internal sphere. In Second Life, for example, the environment is constructed from graphical primitives and scripts that can be altered very rapidly. Constancy of environment is the exception rather than the norm. It is in the virtual world that Marx’s famous observation about capitalist modernity first reaches fruition: All that is solid melts into air.


When I began writing my first post last week I knew that, eventually, I would return to the topic of participation in virtual art that originates in both real and artificial environments. Central to the exhibition of virtual art is the integral involvement of 3D avatars (and the humans driving them), the traditional elements of visual and time-based art, new aesthetic-technological dimensions, and the ephemeral qualities of art produced in immersive 3D space.  This requires a distinctly different way of solving problems, thinking about new issues, and communicating ideas to a broad, evolving audience.

As an example of environmental fluidity, check out Through the Virtual Looking Glass, a mixed reality virtual art project currently being exhibited in real life and Second Life by a network of international art collectives, including the Caerleon sims/Virtual Art Initiative and the Pirats Art Network.  I interviewed the founders to close my current Art21 blogging stint but first here is a recap of the main themes explored in my previous posts.


Art in virtual 3D space transcends physical constraints and traditional concepts of time and space.  Art production in virtual 3D worlds brings digitally mediated art within a frame of contemporary, conceptual work.  Artists are actively involved in this new media context, which is characterized by lower barriers of entry to artistic expression, production, and engagement.  Web 2.0 has come to play an integral part in the expansion of new art forms because it increasingly enables artists to work collaboratively; generate and disseminate information, ideas, and creative works; and connect with people who share similar goals and interests.


Realities, other than the material world we live in, have existed for centuries. In essence, what defines human consciousness is the ability to imagine other “realities,” starting with the nuances such as sound, inflection, pauses, gestures, and other subtle signs.  Art in virtual 3D worlds can activate real emotions.  Immersive 3D artworks often simulate the real life experience of being in material space.  You lose your critical distance to the experience and get emotionally involved.  You feel as if the art is very real but know it is not.


Artists are employing software agents act for users as part of their art in virtual worlds. Agents have flexible behaviors that are reactive, responsive, and social.  Using scripts, artists can transform objects into virtual robots inhabited by software agents that work behind the scenes while human-driven avatars interact or become immersed in the art.  Additionally, the use of interactive HUDs (heads up displays) attached to avatars as gallery guides, HTML on a prim to apply external web content as textures on 3D objects, and bringing in online social media, such as Twitter, to engage visitors and foster real life and virtual connections.

Suspended Hang-Ups

Misprint Thursday, "Suspended Hang-Ups." Photo by Misprint Thursday, 2009. © All rights reserved.

Misprint Thursday sent me a notecard for Suspended Hang-Ups, her contribution as part of Selavy Oh’s contribution for the Best of Brooklyn Is Watching exhibition at Jack the Pelican Presents in Brooklyn, NY.  It reads,

Suspended Hang-Ups is an installation which explores concepts of psychological, emotional and cultural “hang-ups.” The driving emotive factors in this work stem from ideas about communication, persona, persona as performance, and a myriad of layered metaphors for the user to discover.

When the user wears the HUD (Heads Up Display), their avatar screen view is transformed into a surreal stage.  The viewer then has the creative user interface at their hands to click on parts of the HUD (the stage and objects) to create what becomes a combined experience of an art installation and performance.  The work is user driven. The cause/effect element in the work leads the viewer in a curious experience.

The piece is portable, and can be both passive by only wearing the HUD as part of a user experience to frame the view or active by clicking the HUDs parts and creating/rezzing the installation/performance.

Selavy Oh had invited fellow artists to show their work within the show.  Selavy provided the virtual gallery space, a multiplied and distorted labyrinth of Jack the Pelican Presents replicas connected to each other and providing a separate gallery for each of them.  Misprint was one of the artists experimenting with interactivity as part of their installations, which give visitors more to do than just navigate their avatars through the virtual art on view. The overarching goal was to immerse visitors in an environment that engenders very different perceptual experiences and creates wide variations in the conditions of their observations.  Additionally virtual 3D worlds encourage artists who may be collaborating on similar themes to push past the boundaries of what is possible in real life.


For doppelgänger, SL artist Mab Macmoragh collaborated with several artists, some who have previous been featured on Art:21:

  • Cao Fei (China Tracy)- iMirror, 2007 (China)
  • Patrick Lichty (Man Michinaga)- CodePortraits, 2009 (USA)
  • Gazira Babeli- iGods, 2009 (Italy)
  • Adam Nash (Adam Ramona), Christopher Dodds (Christo Kayo), Justin Clemens (Jack Shoreland)- Autoscopia, 2009 (Australia)
  • Andrew Burrell (Nonnatus Korhonen)- temporary self-portrait in preparation for the singularity, 2009 (Australia)

Regarding doppelgänger Mab writes,

This 21st century doppelgänger is an abbreviated look at the virtual exhibition held by the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, on Portrait Island in Second Life® from 23 October 2009 to 23 April 2010. There are lots of texts in it that go by quickly, so the viewer is urged to pause the video as needed to read the various signs, notecards, web pages, and words incorporated into the artwork.


Museaav exhibition. Nice, France. April 12, 2010.

I was holding a spot to interview Jean-Marc Larroque AKA Newbab Zsigmond and Nathalie Gobé AKA Merlina Rokocoko, founders of Pirats Art Network but the US/French time difference proved problematic.  I met Newbab at the Museaav opening, as part of Through the Virtual Looking Glass on April 4.  Since then I’ve visited two other Pirats’ exhibitions and witnessed how active the group has been in Second Life.  If possible, I will include other information from them in the comments section.  The Netherlands also joined in with their own real life/SL exhibition on Sunday, April 18.  This show includes work from Aristide Desprez AKA Philippe Moreaux who I interviewed for Art & the Avatar: Ambiguity of Identity in Virtual 3D Worlds.


Dr. Gary Zabel AKA Georg Janick helped coordinate Through the Virtual Looking Glass, including the Harbor Gallery exhibition at UMass Boston.  He notes multiple methods of allowing visitors to cross from the real world to the virtual world and back again.  The real-life exhibition consists of slide shows in digital frames, machinimas displayed on a digital cinema screen, large scale digital projection of SL and RG, the use of a specialized RL device (a sculptural beehive) for interaction with Mellifera by Nonnatus Korhonen and Neurone Schism, and real paintings and sculptures inspired by SL art. Dr. Zabel sees this exhibition as a starting point for exploring further modes of real-world/virtual world synergies.

Dr. Gary Zabel in SL writes,

Environmental fluidity is suggested in the exhibition through the use of slide shows in digital frames, and multiple looping machinimas on a cinematic computer monitor. In both cases the viewer witnesses a reality that is in the process of continual transformation. The “real” 3d works – the paintings, sculptures, and so on – anchor the gallery audience in a stable environment, but the new media work introduces them to a world that has no final stability, a world in which our relationship to people and things must be constantly renegotiated. Globalization, urbanization, and the development of a media-saturated society have plunged us into a relentlessly fluid environment whether we like it or not. One contribution that virtual artists might make is assisting us in mastering these some exhilarating, and often unsettling conditions of contemporary experience.

I developed my “Theses on the Art of Virtual Worlds” in order to guide the concrete collaborative work of the Caerleon Sims and the Virtual Art Initiative. We are currently in the midst of a project to explore the six “dimensions” of virtual art I discuss in my Theses through six collaborative projects. We have already completed the collaborations on immersion, interaction, and networked collaboration, and are currently engaged in a project on artificial agency. All six collaborations ought to be concluded by the end of August. Based on the results of the collaborations as well as other research, we intend to write a book on the art of virtual worlds that explores in some detail what makes that art a genuinely new aesthetic adventure.

I hope that my recent contributions to this blog and the Art 2.1 column have been interesting, informative, and insightful.  I had a lot of fun documenting virtual art, interviewing artists from around the world, and researching art practice and theory concerning virtual art in immersive 3D spaces like Second Life and Reaction Grid.  I look forward to continuing a discourse via Facebook, Twitter, or face-to-face, in a classroom or gallery in the very near future.  I encourage Art21 blog readers to ask questions, post comments, or offer their feedback.


  1. Artist says:

    What an interesting idea of real and virtual art. Why shouldn’t art be also possible in virtual world.

  2. Nettrice Gaskins says:

    Oh it is. Is is definitely possible! We’re often the ones who put limits on what art is or isn’t. 🙂 One of the positive characteristics of virtual art in immersive 3D space is the low barrier to entry, meaning that anyone with an inclination can create (or learn how to create) art in virtual 3D worlds. Many who are not artists in real life start out inspired by previous work and this serves as a basis for new ideas.

  3. Thank you for this thoughtful series of essays on Second Life® and its fertile art environs. I hope the art:21 blog will carry on the exploration of the wealth, diversity, and significance of art and art dialog that will continue to evolve in the virtual context.

    1. I want to point out that the Afterburn video you chose to use of the amazing AM Radio is of a masterclass he taught on a subject that was cutting edge at the time, but now nearly obsolete as more and more Second Life® users switch to the new official Viewer 2.x enabling web-sharing without the complex coding AM had to craft to achieve the painstaking process he used to great effect at Burning Life 2009- which allowed the viewer to participate in shaping the look of AM’s art by spraypainting graffiti with the older first generation Viewer.

    2. The AM Radio Afterburn masterclass was part of an outstanding series of workshops in the past 12 months that were carefully conceived, shaped, and organized by White Lebed. White Lebed in many ways deserves to share much of the credit for the state of the arts in Second Life® as it stands today.

    3. When I made this personal video of AM Radio and the Afterburn workshop, it was to piece together snapshots to learn something quickly about the new screen-recording software I had just unwrapped. I never intended for it to be used as a demonstration of anything other than my first attempt at machinima.

    As of 30 April 2010, under the new Terms of Service that all Second Life® users must agree to or otherwise abstain, every recognizable participant must give consent to appear in machinima (but not in snapshots, which is confusing). As this particular machinima consists solely of snapshots an argument could be made that it’s one or the other. Nevertheless, I would feel more comfortable to be asked first if my documentation efforts are to be used in such a way due to the potential for liability.

    4. ‘Suspended Hang-Ups’ by Misprint Thursday was a part of Selavy Oh’s installation for the FINAL FIVE (caps used for differentiation) of the Best of Brooklyn is Watching Year One Festival. I know it’s confusing (it confused me for a long time) but the 30 Best of Brooklyn is Watching Year One was a massive separate exhibition of 30 works on Impermanence Island (simulator or SIM) hosted by Stacey Fox and the Kansas University Department of Visual Art. Simultaneously (for the most part) with the FINAL FIVE work, Selavy Oh also had two completely different artworks installed at Best of Brooklyn is Watching. One was called ‘Attractive Art’, about which you can read on Smarthistory:

    The standalone FINAL FIVE exhibition was held on Odyssey SIM, hosted by Helfe Ihnen. The 5 artists shown were Selavy Oh, Nebulosus Severine, Dancoyote Antonelli, Bryn Oh, and Glyph Graves. More information on this art-historical Second Life® Real Life event can be found here:

    Artist and critic Kristen Galvin (MonCherrie Afterthought in Second Life®, who was also curator of the associated SLon des Refuses with 31 other artists nominated from the first year of Brooklyn is Watching) writes clearly and thoughtfully about the implications and layered effect of Selavy’s subversive conceptual collaborative piece, ‘The Final Show’ in the FINAL FIVE (in which Misprint’s work ‘Suspended Hang-Ups’ appeared), here:

    5. The doppelgänger machinima was made to illustrate a blog post I am currently working on for the Soup blog to do with the Art and Connectivity panel forum held recently on Portrait Island SIM with Gillian Raymond, Christiane Paul, Melinda Rackham, Michael Desmond, Andrew Burrell, and Patrick Lichty. The doppelgänger exhibition is hosted on the Portrait Island SIM by the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, and does indeed involve collaboration of many types and on many levels, but I acted entirely alone in making this documentary work of the artists shown there. Here is the correct URL to reach the website for the National Portrait Gallery’s Second Life® doppelgänger exhibition:

    Gillian Raymond (Portrait Watanabe in Second Life®) is the online manager. She is responsible for the vitality and success of the exhibition, along with architect/SIM designer Greg More. They are an incredibly valuable asset to the artworld microcosm in Second Life® which, as you know by now, is cross-pollinated to a staggering degree.

    6. Although I know you mean well in calling me a Second Life® artist, the truth is that in the virtual world I am an arts-lover, not an artist.

    Again (and speaking only for myself) thank you for helping to shine a light on the many varieties and concepts of virtual art, its performances, processes, and questionings, and the personal connections that continue to be made and redefined in Second Life®.

  4. Nettrice Gaskins says:

    Mab, thanks for the clarification and additional resources. It’s important to note that the purpose of my posts is to let Art:21 viewers who are reading the blog know about past and present activity in Second Life and other virtual 3D worlds…to give a snapshot of what had been happening. If you’d like my to remove any of the content let me know. No problem!

  5. Misprint Thursday says:

    Hi Nettrice,

    Thank you for mentioning my work in this post. I want to talk about one line you state that I think is a topic for further discussion. In your post you write:

    “You feel as if the art is very real but know it is not.”

    I think this statement is very important to discuss. What I would like to clarify is digital art/netwoked art/media art is all REAL art. The objects and environments may be virtual but the art is real. I know what you mean however when you spend time with virtual art your senses somehow learn to fill in the blanks with suspended disbelief regarding the physicality of the work. I like the definition for suspended disbelief as it applies to richly to one’s experience in virtual worlds:

    “a willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment”

    So while the art is real it is one’s decision to enter the suspended disbelief to have the kind of reaction you describe. Some virtual art has nothing to do with this combination of experiences but for the most part it is a core principle of one’s experience in virtual worlds.

  6. Nettrice Gaskins says:

    Good point Misprint. Real as in material/physical vs. real as in ephemeral/virtual. There are 4 senses of tangible that exist differently in immersive 3D space (ex. touchable vs. clickable). The illusion of touch, simulation can still be felt in the mind even if the object is virtual. In my post real means physically real, not perceptibly real but I agree re: a deeper discussion (and consideration).

  7. Maya Paris says:

    “If what we see and touch are real, what we breathe and feel are virtual”

    Cao Fei- from her installation at the Deutsche Guggenheim as part of the “Utopia Matters” exhibition in Berlin 2010

  8. Nettrice Gaskins says:

    The culminating Mixed Reality event for Through the Virtual Looking Glass is a free jazz performance @ Harbor Gallery, UMass Boston on April 30, 12 PM. If you’re local it’s “Free and Open to the Public” and also in Second Life.

  9. Great post, many thanks. I like both physical and virtual art, as so I do consider virtual art as art. Both disciplines take a lot of time and practice, and the results are both great in my opinion.

  10. Nettrice says:

    You’re very welcome, Harry. Now I know from personal experience re: creating an art exhibition in immersive 3D space. I’m creating for IBM’s art exhibition space in Second Life and it’s a multi-disciplinary effort that requires re-imaging space & what is possible in the virtual that may be impossible in the real. I am able to do things virtually that I cannot feasibly do in material space such as sensorily represent a color-less world. It requires scripting as well as the 2D/3D/4D visual elements.

  11. Good initiative!!
    i’m writing my thesis about art in virtual worlds and their aesthetics…
    MUVEs of SL are virtual hyperterritories for art creation that have many qualities such as in RL

  12. i wanted to ask if there is a book about SL’s aesthetics!!

    thanks a lot!!

  13. Nettrice says:

    Other than the published thesis by Gary Zabel I am not aware of any books on Second Life aesthetics. Of course I am very interested in the topic as now I’m creating my own SL art simulation with support from a virtual land grant by IBM.

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  15. I really enjoy looking at virtual art. It takes the same amount of patience and skill to create. I just prefer making 3D pop art the old fashioned way 😉

  16. jordan says:

    can this bi friii

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