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Drunken Boat contributor Ed Vespucciano meditates on using Second Life to virtualize the art gallery experience.

My first passion was writing poetry, and it still is, but, over the years, as I became a photographer, film maker, musician, video artist, and web programmer, I have always been looking for ways to combine the non-semantic elements of poetry into some wider form of sense experience. I toyed with the “Concrete Poetry” of the 1970s and tried painting poems, even going so far as casting a large Lucite block in which colored words were to float in three dimensions adding to their meaning and effect as the reader moved around them in space. Unfortunately, the toxic Lucite brew dissolved all my ink, leaving me with only a conceptual piece: a clear block of plastic – The Poem that Might Have Been.

So now, in the digital age, my dreams have finally come true! Under the influence of Jonathan Lethem’s excellent novel Chronic City, I investigated the virtual online world of Second Life (SL). I was immediately drawn into the community of artists, poets and musicians who are building the do-it-yourself universe. Poetry readings and musical performances are common in SL; walking into the room as an avatar, listening to artists, also embodied, on a stage, and chatting with other audience members after the show is an experience, if not as good as real, at least several cuts above listening to recordings or ordinary broadcast events.

The possibilities for creation in SL are exciting. Although one can work with real tools like Photoshop, Gimp, Maya, Poser, Blender, etc., and then upload the work into SL, everyone has access to the tools built into the avatars to build complicated 3D objects, take pictures of anything there with a flexible mobile camera view, programming scripts to give movement and life to objects and communicate with other avatars (i.e. people). There is audio – voice chat and streaming music capability – and a limited function to show small videos. The community of artists in SL is growing and everyone there is eager to meet the challenge of building things that an audience can see, hear, walk around, fly around, merge into, interact with, and generally experience without the usual limitations of chemistry, biology or physics. It is free to sign up and log on and the economics of art in SL come close to the digital version of Jean Cocteau’s famous dictum for cinema: “Film will become an art form when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper.”

Second Life claims to have millions of registered users and as many as 80,000 people logged on at any given time. I have met people from Hawaii, Uruguay, Equatorial Guinea, Australia, France, Louisiana, Kentucky, Texas, Germany and Japan and communicated with them via my chat translator. In my first few months “in-world”, as they say, I have been able to mount a show of Visual Poetry at Araminta Kroitshov’s Vividblack Gallery, that could never have existed before. I am grateful to the visionaries at Drunken Boat who have championed high quality digital web art and, indeed, for publishing my work. I hope to see their vision extending into the three-dimensional metaverse soon.  There is a vast audience of sensitive, intelligent people in Second Life, looking for art.

Click here for details about Sex With Typos, Ed’s  art exhibition on Second Life.

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Published Feb 04, 2010 - Comments Off

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