As explained in a previous post from last September, I plan to create a mixed-reality art book using digital images of scenes composed in Second Life which will then be manipulated and printed in real life using updated traditional printmaking processes.
I’ve been working on the first installment of Angry Gods on a LEA sim since 1 January. The sim is open to the public and anyone is welcome to visit, with certain caveats:
- SLURL: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/LEA17/245/11/26
- The installations are photographic scenery, which means they are out of context and are lacking characters who will be in the actual photos.
- However, there are a number of scripted and interactive elements to make it more interesting for visitors.
- However, due to the possibility of disruption of exhibits on neighboring sims (boom!) the most dramatic effect is limited to times when I can be there and when there are no visitors on adjacent sims. You can check the Big Map in SL and see if there are dots on LEA17, but not on LEA15 or LEA16. If it is around 4PM to midnight SLT, odds are I am there.
- The entire sim could be wiped clean at any time to make room for the next scene. I’ll try to announce a scene closing on FB, but no promises.
- The scenes are fictional depictions of speculative experiences in a character’s afterlife. As such there are many references to traditional religious practices and mythologies. If you are uncomfortable with such images, you may wish to avoid my exhibit. I am very interested in comparative religious beliefs, but I explore them without holding them.
There are signs on the sim with notecard givers. They describe roughly what each scene is about.
I’m keeping copies of raw images on Flickr:
When JayJay first opened up UWA in SL, it was primarily intended to be a virtual replica of the actual campus in Perth. Having spent a few months there I can tell you they did a remarkably good job. Many of the campus buildings were reproduced using (then) Google’s 3D modeling software called Sketchup. These models were then incorporated into Google Earth as part of an international virtual campus program by Google, for which UWA’s team won a top prize.
One of their team then developed an interface tool called SketchLife that could import Sketchup models into Second Life linksets, complete with texturing. This was at a time when the maximum prim size was 10 meters and before sculpted prims (much less mesh) were commonly used. So most of the builds were created as facades without any consideration for interior space or prim efficiency. So, for example, the iconic Winthrop Hall clocked in at over 1500 prims. Other builds were similarly primmy.
Last month when it looked as though we would be imminently losing three of our four sims, I scrambled to free space on the remaining sim (the one with Winthrop Hall), which was already very close to maximum capacity. I was able to get edit permissions on some of the major builds, though most of the original builders (who are also the owners of the objects) are no longer active in SL.
So I set about restructuring a couple of the buildings to increase efficiency. Most urgent, of course, was Winthop Hall itself. Since all the builds were made of normal prims, it was a fairly simple matter to link as many as I could in sections and simply convert them to convex hull, thereby cutting in half the land impact. For example, there are 72 columns in upper and lower colonnades on each side of the building. Each column has a base and a 2-part capital, so a total of 576 prims just for columns. Add 40 prims for the arched headers and you have 616. Just by linking and converting them to convex hull I reduced the land impact to 308.
In addition to using lots of parts just because they were using standard prims with a size limit, much of the building was simply pieced together, adding prims wherever needed to fill in the facade. The main roof of Winthrop was about 24 prims stitched together. By taking a couple of those prims and stretching them I could reduce the count to 4, converting to convex made a land impact of 2. (I could have reduced it to 3 prims but since I d0 not own them and do not have copies of the original textures, I had to add one that had the correct end textures.)
In the final analysis, I was able to save about 500 land impact from the original build without actually changing much. I did a similar job on the adjoining Hackett Hall that saved another 200 or so.
There are other objects that can’t really be altered, like the two bust statues of Socrates and Diotima made by Chuckmatrix Clip. Each curl of Diotima’s hair is a torus prim and that statue alone is 158 prims. With all the twisted and cut toruses I’m not sure there would be much savings by converting to convex hull, and in any case I don’t have edit perms on these objects.
A few years ago I undertook to recreate the interior of Winthrop. This is the main auditorium for the campus. used for concerts, lectures, exams, etc. I was originally interested in just making a replica of the pipe organ, but on JayJay’s suggestion I went ahead with the whole thing. JayJay took a lot of high resolution pictures for me to use as textures. Unfortunately the exterior build (as with all the original Sketchup models) was built to standard 1 to 1 real life to Second Life meters using actual floor plans and elevations. As most people know, the average avatar in SL stands about 2m tall or more, and the camera angle is from above and behind the virtual body. So real life scale tends to look way too small. Also, at the time I was not able to edit the Winthrop exterior and there were a lot of prims and projections into the interior that interfered with the space. So instead I simply built my replica on a platform in the sky. Touching the outside door to the interior would instantly transport you into the sky space.
With my rebuild of Winthrop Hall, I was able to clean up a lot of the interior space (including simply deleting a few dozen superfluous prims) and I inserted a reduced scale copy of my skybox into the space. It does feel smaller, but is probably closer to actual scale than my original. I made the windows line up better with the exterior and a few other changes, but one issue is that the beautiful entrance foyer was added by another builder from whom I was not able to get edit perms. That space does not precisely line up with the main hall, so I had to adjust my interior to line up with his doors. This means the floor is lower than it should be, making the undercroft area unusable. In all I’m fairly pleased to have the exterior and interior integrated, though I’m still tweaking some details.
Looking into Winthrop Hall directly from the foyer for the first time. I made the decorative iron railings in normal prims, patterned after real life. They’re 56 prims, so I should probably convert them to sculpts or mesh.
It’s not clear whether any of our sims will survive past July. We currently have about 1200 prims more than we did before on the main sim and with a few select deletions of other objects it should not be difficult to free up another thousand or more. It will help if we should happen to be able to maintain at least this one sim.
In June of 2011 I had been the curator at UWA for just over 6 months and LEA wasn’t even a thing yet. Some months earlier the UWA Virlantis sim, which had been used for language teaching in a program that was no longer happening, was relegated to monthly full-sim installations by select artists. Before LEA, this was a nearly unheard of opportunity for single artists to go crazy with virtually unlimited resources. I lusted after the sim as much as anyone, but felt it was inappropriate as curator at UWA to just take a month if another artist could use it. But there was a vacancy for June and when no one jumped at it, I asked JayJay to let me have it. The result was my simulated journey into the afterlife called Angry Gods. It was an inspirational and obsessive creative process for me at the time, and it’s been something I’ve been quietly working on, as time and the mood strikes, ever since.
My first thought was to make an online exhibition book of the installation. I had the images and the skills. And as the idea has evolved I’ve begun in earnest to write what I’m calling a “graphic novel,” though it may be more like a series of vignettes than a coherent story.
At the same time, I’ve been obsessing over a lifelong interest in traditional print technologies and how they might be used in conjunction with modern digital imaging. I learned to do letterpress printing when I was very young and my family had inherited a wonderful benchtop cast iron printing press and a set of type cases. I learned to set lead type, but also learned some basics in linocut and silk screening. In graduate school for Musicology, I was a medievalist and studied not only the content of illuminated manuscripts, but also the techniques for creating pens, brushes, pigments, paper and parchment, bindings, etc. All the bookmaker’s trades.
Later, I would go into professional fields that were more and more technology oriented, ultimately doing PR and web development for universities, libraries, and government arts organizations. And I learned to make print publications using Adobe InDesign and Photoshop.
All the while never losing my interest in traditional printing processes. In the last couple of years, I’ve been pursuing my knowledge of these processes more in earnest and the vision for Angry Gods: The Graphic Novel has been evolving into Angry Gods: The Art Book.
My plan at this point is to spend the next year or so working hard on this project, which will be in two parts: a limited edition of a book that uses photographic images created in virtual worlds, but rendering them with many traditional printing and printmaking techniques. And a separate book describing the processes used to create the first book.
My first experiments have been predictably crude. So far I’ve made a print using a portrait image from a SL avatar and made a 3D printed plastic plate for printing on a large traditional printmaker’s press.
Print made from 3D printed plastic plate.
Next I used the same image to hand carve a standard linoleum block.
Print from hand cut linoleum block.
And now I’ve been experimenting with cyanotype. This is the traditional photographic process used in old style architectural blueprints. It’s really easy and requires almost no special equipment. I took an image of my Traveler cartoon avatar from Angry Gods and tweaked it a bit in Photoshop to smooth it out and increase contrast. Then printed it in a reversed negative on a transparency film in my laser printer. I used a cyanotype kit that includes two bottles of chemicals and measured out a tablespoon of each into a small beaker. Mixed them together with a soft wide brush and there was enough to coat eight sheets of roughly 8″ x 10″ watercolor paper. I did this in a dimly lit room at night, turned out the lights and let them dry a few hours. Then placed them in a light tight pouch until ready to use the next day.
Cyanotype test #4.
I made a sandwich of the treated paper and my negative between two sheets of glass I had from unused picture frames, all held together with binder clips. Then I took it outside and placed it in the sun for about 5 minutes. The chemicals react to UV light. Then it’s just a matter of removing the paper and plunging it into a water bath for a bit. I added about a cap full of peroxide, which caused the chemicals to immediately turn their characteristic deep blue. The image above was my best of 4 test exposures. It’s a beautiful looking texture, but I think I need to work on shielding the paper better from ambient light exposure and painting the chemicals a bit more evenly. Also, my cheap desktop laser printer doesn’t print a very solid black, so for my final project I will likely take my images to a professional copy shop to make the transparencies.
Cyanotype test #3. I passed the transparency film through the laser printer twice to get more solid blacks, but there were registration problems.
I met French pastel artist Silas Merlin (RL: Jean-François Le Saint) several years ago through my friend Zephyr Zabelin, who then owned the artists’ community sim called Artemisia where I was a resident. When Zep left SL I acquired the sim and sought to populate it with the work of both residents and other interesting artists. I offered Silas a small space and I was happy to have a selection of his beautiful pastels on display.
- Silas and his doppelganger
Silas has been in and out of SL over the years, but has recently come back stronger than ever. Most recently, he has been working on rendering some of his 2D pastel work into 3D digital sculptures, which he has imported into SL and has also had RL 3D printed editions made. This afternoon was the opening of an exhibition of his new work at the MBK Gallery, curated by Asmita Duranjaya (SLURL below).
- Realities inbetween at MBK Gallery
I have to say I was stunned when Silas invited me to see some of this work a few weeks ago as he was preparing for this show. The work closely aligns with the research I’ve been doing in cross-world art making processes. But while my work has so far been mostly conceptual, here Silas was actually doing it.
Silas uses different approaches for his 3D work. Some of his sculptures are based on his 2D pastel paintings (which are, in turn, based on real live models). But just as a sculptor in clay creates an armature with gross shapes that are gradually refined, Silas has started with normal primitive objects in Second Life to model the basic shape. He then exported that model as an editable mesh object that can be further refined using 3D modeling software. Once the detailed model is complete, he then imported it again into SL as a 3D textured mesh object. And as a bonus that same model can then also be sent to a 3D printer to make a solid model in real life.
- A display showing the process from prims to mesh
- Silas shows 2 versions of his “final result.” The high resolution model has a land impact of 10, while the other comes in at 3. Both very efficient for a complex model.
- Here you can see a wireframe view of the 2 models showing the differences in mesh geometry.
- From a real life pastel, to a SL sculpture, and back to real life again with a 3D printed model.
Silas’s show at MBK Gallery continues through April.
Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179) was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. Among her many works is reference to a lingua ignota, or unknown language, that she apparently invented for her own mystical purposes. What survives in writing is an alternative alphabet, a couple of partial glossaries, and sporadic use of isolated words within otherwise normal Latin text. Apparently Hildegard’s community was aware of her secret language, but it’s not clear how it was used or that anyone other than Hildegard herself ever used it.
I have been an admirer of Hildegard’s music, her visionary art, and her interesting story for many years. I recently happened across the information about her lingua ignota and an image of her alternative alphabet glyphs. Coincidentally, I also became aware of a free online service called MyScriptFont.com that provides a TrueType font created from your own handwriting. On a whim and for no particular purpose, I decided to create a Hildegard font.
Here is the original image:
The resolution of the image is not great. I took it into Photoshop and tweaked the contrast to make the letters clearer and remove the background. I then created a new layer and traced each letter with a quill-shaped brush. My tracings are not exact and I took some liberties to smooth some edges, etc. The tracings were pretty jaggy and I wanted as smooth lines as I could get, so I took them into Illustrator and converted them to vectors using the default tracing parameters. I then placed the form provided by MyScriptFonts.com behind the vector tracings and moved each letter to the appropriate location.
I did not include the ligatures for et (&) and est for no particular reason. As you can see, there are no separate glyphs for J, V, or W as these letters were not used in Latin texts of the period.
My tracings are pretty rough and could stand to be refined, but the font created by the online service turned out surprisingly well, considering. I may tweak it a bit further, but I have no specific use for it at this time. If anyone would like the TrueType font, send me an email FreeWeeL@gmail.com and I’ll gladly send you a copy.
I’ve been banging to get some projects completed before heading home from Australia. This is an exhibition catalog from a show in 2012-13 at Tuscania gallery on my old Artemisia sim. All work by others that I had collected over the years. I was especially careful to keep separate the work that has been given to me to be displayed as part of a show, either at my sim or UWA. There are a lot of pieces here that did appear in shows I curated, but I specifically got copies from the artists for my personal collection, either as gifts or by purchase. Anyway, I have a remarkable and diverse collection and just wanted to share it.
The ineffable Vanessa Blaylock does it again with a fascinating new project for her LEA sim beginning 1 January. She has announced the creation of Medici University, a virtual campus where you can go and be a teacher or a student, takes classes, and even earn a degree. All for free! Yayz!.. So what classes are they offering? Depends on what people want to teach. What are the requirements for a degree? You decide. Then if you finish your own program they give you your degree (explicitly non-accredited by anyone). This is a great experiment that demonstrates that bricks and mortar universities will likely have a harder and harder time competing with rapidly deploying online alternatives.
Interestingly, this idea is remarkably similar to the rl program that I was in for my undergraduate degree. I went to New College in Sarasota, Florida. Begun in the 60s, it was and is a radical approach to learning that puts responsibility on the student. The program has a first rate reputation. I applied to 8 graduate schools and was accepted to all of them. (My ultimate decision to go to University of Kentucky was based in part on their offer of a teaching assistantship with tuition paid and a small stipend.). In my case, I had been out of school for a few years and I didn’t want to start over with a traditional program. At New College I was able to work towards a BA in Music History in 3 years. The program required the completion of “contracts.” These were normally accomplished by taking classes, but could, for example, include private instruction, an internship or some other thing. They had 10-week terms with a 5-week interim during which it was expected that you would do independent study or a travel experience of some kind.
The key to the New College program was that I could design my own degree. There were no pre-defined requirements for my degree and there were no grades. Every class or activity had a personal written evaluation.
They didn’t have a formal music program, but I was able to take music history and theory classes almost to the exclusion of all else. Some of my advanced Theory classes consisted of “tutorials” with the professor and only one or two students. I did take German for a year and a couple of off-topic classes like “Physics for Humanities Majors” and and a course on the Crusades. Otherwise is was serious concentration on music studies. I did several independent study courses relating to history and construction of musical instruments. And there was a senior thesis requirement for which I wrote an extensive research paper.
This kind of education can be life-changing for a focused and motivated student. It’s important to work closely with an advisor to assure that you stay on track. Younger students at New College who arrived directly from a structured high school were often disoriented when they had to sit and define their degree programs.
I’ll be interested to watch Vanessa’s project unfold. I will try to participate if I can, but I may be too busy with my own LEA sim and my fellowship in Australia.
Second Life creator Philip Rosedale and partners are working on a new VR platform called High Fidelity. It’s still in very alpha state, but they are occasionally releasing little samples of their progress. What I’ve seen until now has been less than impressive, but I was pretty amazed at this latest demo. The characters look very cartoon-ish, but what you need to understand is that the gestures and facial expressions are all being generated in real time based on the actual expressions of the users. Eye movement, raised eyebrows, the guitar strums… A top priority of the project is near zero latency, which would open the doors to the Internet being more widely used for real time music collaboration, among other benefits.
I have questions about the point of all this, e.g., at what point is it no different from Skype? The advantage to Second Life is that you can present yourself as you are not in real life. When I’m inworld, I’m often glancing at my two side monitors or doing a quick Google search relating to a conversation I’m having. With HiFi the people I’m with would see that I’m distracted. This may be a more “authentic” experience, but I don’t use SL to recreate a real life experience. I use text chat for the same reason. I’m much more articulate and thoughtful when I can edit what I’m saying on the fly. The “inauthenticity” of SL is precisely what makes it engaging and empowering. Given infinite possibilities, why be what you already are?
Tim Maley is a Western Australia artist with a developmental disability. He has shown his work locally in several exhibitions, and has experimented with a variety of art forms and mediums including drawing, painting and film producing.
I was asked to create a butterfly garden above the UWA campus in SL using some crayon drawings Tim made. The project was sponsored by DADAA/stARTSPEAK, as part of their sponsorship of the UWA Freedom Project. The project was unveiled to Tim and the sponsors on July 8. You can see great pictures of the rl occasion on the UWA blog.
Tim Maley connecting with FreeWee
The drawings seem childlike at first glance, but I grew to appreciate Tim’s sense of color and design. Each drawing is unique and interesting in its own way. As I invariably discover when I have time to really look at art and to live with it for while, my appreciation for its subtleties deepens. This certainly happened with Tim’s pictures.
Tim Maley butterfly drawings used in the garden
I chose nine drawings to use in the garden, selecting for variety of color and also for adaptability to the various techniques commonly used in SL for making butterflies. Several of the drawings are quite asymmetrical, but that seemed not to matter very much in most cases. I took each drawing into Photoshop, aligned it along its central axis, and removed the paper background. In most cases I added a thin black outline around the edges to make them distinct.
There are several ways to make butterflies and I used three basic techniques, mixing them together to make as natural an overall environment as possible. The most common and easy method is using particle emitters. These are best for making lots of butterflies. But I had to experiment a bit so they would not be obviously blinking in and out from a central source. At first the garden wasn’t exactly brimming with butterflies, so I just kept adding more until it seemed rich without being ridiculously so.
At first I had the emitters target an approaching avatar. Unfortunately, when you target an agent it heads for the core of the body, i.e., the crotch area, which was weird and unrealistic. In order to randomize the target, in most of the emitters I set them to target a matching physical rendering of a butterfly. I created sculpted insect legs and body and a set of flexible wings onto which I placed Tim’s drawings. This object is scripted to fly in a random pattern around a given location in a pretty realistic motion. The nearby particle emitter targets the moving object.
Particle butterflies following the 3D leader
The third type of butterfly uses what is called a “track”, which is simply a specially sculpted prim. A butterfly texture is placed on the track and the texture is rotated, which causes it to appear to move in a circle, but also to flap its wings as the texture follows the warp of the sculpt. I did not create the tracks, but purchased a full-perm set.
Butterfly texture track
For the garden itself, I found a large floating “sky island” sculpt and landscaped it with a a few different environments, including a wildflower meadow, a small creek, a rocky area with eucalyptus trees, and forested area with a winding path. There is a gazebo at the landing area with a table and chair where you can sit and draw. On a whim I created a sculpture in the elevated rocky area consisting of a mechanical claw delicately supporting a large butterfly.
You can see a portfolio of photos here, or visit the garden in SL.
I have owned three books by the late composer John Cage for many years. The most recent was published in 1972. On very rare occasions, probably less than once every few years on average, I pick up one of these books and, in appropriately stochastic fashion, read something at random. Without exception this exercise proves to be at least interesting, often humorous, or even more often astounding. Last night as I was heading for bed I snatched my copy of A Year From Monday and began reading the introduction.
This book, published in 1967, begins by referring back to Silence, his previous book published in 1961 and arguably the most influential of his literary works (which includes the text of his narrative piece “Indeterminacy” and manifestos on new music), noting that the current book includes writing and lectures from the intervening years. What made me stop in my tracks was the text that follows:
“The question is: Is my thought changing? It is and it isn’t. One evening after dinner I was telling friends that I was now concerned with improving the world. One of them said: I thought you always were. I then explained that I believe–and am acting upon–Marshall McLuhan‘s statement that we have through electronic technology produced an extension of our brains to the world formerly outside of us. To me that means that the disciplines, gradual and sudden (principally Oriental), formerly practiced by individuals to pacify their minds, bringing them into accord with ultimate reality, must now be practiced socially–that is, not just inside our heads, but outside of them, in the world, where our central nervous system effectively now is.”
First Internet Message Arpanet UCLA (Photo credit: Dean Terry)
This statement seems prophetic, but he and McLuhan were not talking about the future. Cage was talking about his now: 1967. ARPANET, the precursor to what we now know as the Internet, did not exist until 1969. The first hand-held cellular telephone was demonstrated in 1973. Small CATV networks have existed since around 1950, but were primarily built to provide clear signals from over-the-air local broadcasters. Specialized cable-only programming networks distributed by satellite appeared in the 1970s. What Cage was talking about in 1967 as electronic technology consisted basically of hard wired telephones, broadcast television, and radio. There were no other popular electronic communications media at that time. But McLuhan’s message about the immediate transmission of information shrinking the planet into a “global village” was a revolutionary observation on the heels of the first transatlantic television and data signals broadcast via the Telstar satellites in the early 60s.
More recent advances in technology have accelerated McLuhan’s thesis, resulting even then in the awareness of “Future Shock,” as Alvin Toffler’s popular 1970 book so clearly enumerated. So Cage’s logical extension of McLuhan’s idea is that consciousness itself has become decentralized. And this has now become a way of life for anyone who uses technology to discover, store, retrieve, or share information. We are inextricably tied to our technologies in ways that make us more connected, arguably more productive, and ultimately more dependent on each other as segments of an intellectual and social network. A network in which it is becoming more difficult to distinguish between that which is “me” and that which is “not me.” And perhaps this comes from Cage’s Zen perspective, observing that experience is inclusive–as music is not separate from the environment in which it is played, so we are not separate from the social and information networks within which we live and think. Though how one might practice Zen meditation via a social network is a puzzle, perhaps.
I have a small desk in my living room that is covered with trinkets. I think of it as a sort of shrine. There are a few Mexican objects not related to each other and for no reason other than that they came to me in various ways: a dark wood carving that belonged to my father of a seated monk reading from a book, a Oaxacan Dia de los muertos skeletal figure carving with a colorful sombrero and playing a fiddle, a native woven basket, a votive candle depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe. Also on my shrine are pictures of people I admire–a sort of personal pantheon. These include Buddha, Bodidharma (a watercolor I made myself after a Japanese original), Jimi Hendrix, Bach, Fred Rogers (AKA Mr. Rogers), and most certainly John Cage.
Among the snippets Cage later quotes from his own earlier writings is this context-less notion, which I copy here, also without context:
“Our proper work now if we love mankind and the world we live in is revolution. ”