Thursday, 15 October 2009

Blue Mars - first impressions

It took a few adjustments and some upgrades to firmware and software, but last night I managed to spend an hour 'in world' chatting at the 'meet and greet' event. There were several familiar names and friends from Second Life and it was really good to meet Glenn and some of the other staff. At peak time, there were around 40 people present and absolutely no sign of lag from anyone. The fps was pretty good - most people reported around 15 whilst in the crowd and around 35 when looking at the sky (that will mean something to some people!). My main frustration is suddenly having to use Windows on my Mac and all the software that I am used to, not being available. I particularly missed the video capture programme I use to do movies 'in world' and will have to find a Windows compatible alternative.
See some images of last night's event here

So, the next task is to plan out the Blue Mars stage of the Spacexcape Project. First, there is the new building software to conquer though with experience in Second Life and Hexagon, I don't anticipate this being too bad. When the ideas for the project were first thrown into the arena, most of us were keen on the idea of a participatory 'game' that engaged elements of art, science and philosophy and this has been the focal point of the planning for the work in Blue Mars. I am going to expand the website to discuss some of the ideas and to look for new people to join the project or at least to help with it.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Blue Mars for Mac users

The long journey towards Mars ... Blue Mars that is .... is finally glimpsing it on the vast horizon of virtual reality. Estimated time of arrival - two hours. Ok, so Blue Mars is not designed for Mac users even though the majority of designers use Macs and this is a design platform! Fortunately, Apple Mac designed their new OS (Snow Leopard) to help people like me - but you do need an Intel based Apple Mac. So after weeks of upgrades and new software installations, Windows has now been installed on its very own hard drive within my MacPro. Some tips for anyone starting the same journey - read the PDF file on Bootcamp from the Apple support page and follow it line by line!
1. Blue Mars needs far more space than the Bootcamp assistant allocates to the partition, so make it much bigger! Mine is on a 500g hard drive. If you need to make the partition larger then use Wincon - free software that will make an image of the disc that you will need to restore in Bootcamp assistant and then copy it back into the new larger partition.
2. Do not attempt to install Windows before inserting disc but if you do then reboot holding down the left mouse button to open the CD drive (this will be very clear to anyone trying to work out how to open their drive with only a blue screen and no Mac options available!)
3. Try to imagine it is not Windows that you are being forced to use!
Good luck - my next post will be aimed at my first experiences in Blue Mars.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Spacexcape: The Collaboration

The next movie clip about the project is complete and has been published and it can be viewed on the podcast channel at
or you can subscribe to our podcasts on iTunes now! Just search for Spacexcape in the Music Store. The Video is also available on You Tube

In July 2008, after a few weeks of debate and dialogue, the Spacexcape Project started to take shape. Some of us had to learn how to build, especially Spacexcape Bridges who had the enormous, and daunting task, of the main build. But we opened our doors to the first stage of the project in July 2008, keeping a fairly low profile while we tested the installation and made improvements. The build started to expand into five sections - the entrance, and then four pods off it which represented the ‘trigger words’ used to help the collaborators move forward. Communication, Technology, Space and Identity. This way the team were able to choose the area that most interested them and break into smaller working teams. In October 2008, we launched the installation and were listed in the Hotspots on the Second Life website. In the next 3 months, the installation had over 10,000 unique visitors.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Blue Mars goes to beta live

So finally, after a long wait, the creators of Blue Mars announced the live beta testing. It requires that you apply for it and then, for Mac users like myself, it requires setting up 'bootcamp' and upgrading and installing Windows. I am waiting for my registration and for the software updates that I need. When I am finally in their world, I will be documenting and reporting on my experiences there.

So what can Blue Mars do that is 'new'? That's a tough one. The newness will undoubtedly be the high definition graphics and hopefully they will have address the lag that we all experience in other virtual worlds. I assume that the 3d building will be far more advanced than Second Life and that in itself will allow more development for the creative sector. Above all, Blue Mars needs to be an environment that people are proud to be part of in order for them to constructively get involved in its future. Cyberspace is full of places for avatars to just hang out.

Second Life originally claimed to be what Blue Mars aspires to - and they will need to study the history of Linden Labs behaviour very closely. Linden Labs made a fundamental mistake of naming their users as a 'community' and then ignoring them when making decisions that affected all of that community. That was the start of its demise.

"We are committed to creating a place where you, our colonists can explore the farthest reaches of your imaginations, building a virtual society that reflects your desires and your ideals."

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Virtual Reality - the future or the past?

Virtual reality has reached a stage of stagnation, I am sure of it. The initial euphoria has been taken over by the abundance of drivel that now fill up the servers. That is not to say that there is not creativity continuing amongst the amazing groups of designers who continue to look for the next virtual reality breakthrough. There is an air of boredom in all of the current virtual reality environments. Perhaps that is because the users insisted on dragging in the real world instead of embracing the new world. Or perhaps it is because we are subjects in a grand experiment that eventually someone will tell us the results of (Baudrillard's idea, not mine, I hasten to add). Does technology move so fast that we demand the new at every turn of a corner?

There is hope, I hope! Blue Mars has just launched its beta testing and I have signed up!

Problematising Interdisciplinary Studies

A discipline is an area of training in which a particular systematic method is taught within a set of rules with the intention of specialisation in subjects that are specific to that discipline. For instance, the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena such as quantum physics to the scientist or the investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods, in philosophy. In the contemporary world, it is not unusual to encounter the cross over of disciplines and liberating as this is to the Lyotardian idea of plurality, it is not without its problems in relation to art. It is these problems that are investigated here.

There is a tendency to assume that interdisciplinary means multidisciplinary and to confuse the use of more than one discipline within a metadiscipline. To unravel this mystifying term of interdisciplinary, it is useful to consider that a discipline is a body of knowledge or branch of learning characterized by intersubjectively accepted content and methods. In this way, painting is a discipline within the metadiscipline of art because it adheres to a specific set of technical learned rules specific to painting rather than sculpture or photography. On the other hand, multidisciplinary practice in art solves problems between mingling disciplines dealing with the same subject - such as sculpture, painting and photography dealing through their chosen medium with the same subject such as landscape, the figure, sexuality, death and the sublime in art. Interdisciplinary practice, however, creates new spaces such as we experience through installation, video and performance art. It has the potential to succeed when two disciplines are able to cooperate with each other without one dominating over the other and where they do not fuse to simply create a new discipline. It is certainly not the abandoning of disciplines but rather the synthesis into an arena that is neither specific nor restricted or dominated by one or the other. In this way, the space between disciplines establishes a new set of rules where no hierarchy exists under the pretext that all disciplines have equal value. The state of uncertainty created as a result is considered as a positive attribute. At least, this is the intention of interdisciplinary studies.

But here we encounter the first of many problems. New hybrids inevitably emerge through these interactions and they too are prone to establishing specific rules by which they can survive. Many interdisciplinary projects fail because they are unable to sustain their original intentions and regress into multidisciplinary practice or get lost in a wealth of empirical detail. To be successful, the notion of interdisciplinary practice should result in a problem finding/problem solving strategy that draws on specific rules and inter-links them. It has the capacity to open up fresh ideas and fresh problems through questioning.

As the author to the preface and the translator of Derrida's Of Grammatology, Gayatri Spivak, points out "It is the questions that we ask that produce the field of inquiry and not some body of materials which determines what questions need to be posed to it"2. We have an ethical duty, Derrida reminds us, to consider différance through deconstruction "In order to recast, if not rigorously re-found a discourse on the 'Subject'"2 Both Lyotard and Foucault have used a collage of ideas to move between ideas and theories through language - language that has been both liberating and also, at times, bewildering. It is what Lyotard calls a differend - the tension between the disciplines, ideas and theories that are unresolvable - where the restrictions of specialised language for each discipline make it problematic to resolve reconciliation between the two. The differend for Lyotard, is a celebration. The criticism around the confusion and friction that often results between different intellectual 'cultures', is welcomed in a Lyotardian postmodern condition. It should fuel progress and innovation by opening up the discourse through questioning the limitations of disciplines. Yet increasingly it results in a feeling of loss. This sense of loss results from the difficulty in deciphering the new and complex language of interdisciplinary practice.

When there is such interplay of at least two disciplines that are handling the same subject the tension is created where it is difficult to place oneself in either discipline. The discomfort is caused by socially ingrained acceptance of what has been taught. Continuing to accept disciplines is generally the result of this unease where, for many, breaking with social conditioning is too complex. We already experience this sort of tension in our everyday lives where there is racial, religious, sexual and cultural conflict created from lack of knowledge and through socially installed conditioning.
But confusion is not necessarily negative if it makes one question and investigate the alternatives. For instance, when one encounters an art exhibition in a science museum and where the art claims to be neither art nor science the viewer's response to the work is neither scientific nor artistic. It raises a number of questions about what is art and what is science and yet resolves none of them. In this way, it becomes both a philosophical problem and cultural problem. For instance, how can the discoveries of scientific research combine with the metaphors in art to impact the audience that is receiving it? There is currently a huge amount of collaboration between scientists and artists to address this, particularly at the Wellcome Trust centre in London and it is not unusual to find shows such as The Turbulent Landscape at the Natural History Musuem (May-Sept 2002) where the exhibits claim to be art yet work as educational and 'hands on' learning tool for science also. Interaction in art is historically rare though now increasingly common in contemporary art as a result of interdisciplinary practice. The exhibits in The Turbulent Landscapes exhibition work in a purely aesthetic manner also, and the viewer would not need the accompanying commentary to enjoy them on those terms without the additional bonus of interaction with the exhibits. But as a collaborative effort, the works speak to the audience both informatively and aesthetically and create a new space of experience that is both outside of science and art. But it is not until we participate in dialectic between what is and ought to be, between science and art, that the project becomes interdisciplinary. In other word, we need mediation to position us and that mediation comes through discourse. Many artists are reluctant to enter into dialogue about their work in this way.

One of the most successful examples of interdisciplinary studies in a contemporary context is that of 'visual culture'. Visual culture studies often suggest a shift from a focus on structured viewing settings, such as the art gallery or the cinema, to an investigation into the role of visual experience in everyday life. This has opened up countless opportunities for art to expand into the new spaces that are created from the interaction of different disciplines. Why has visual culture succeeded then to use the space between disciplines without establishing new rules? Primarily because it is used as a means of problematising the practices that are in play rather than attempting any solutions. In other word, there is a means available, but no end.

Interdisciplinary research in art is hardly a new idea, and yet it seems to have taken on a dominant position within the post-modern debate. Multidiscipline approaches in art are particularly interesting in the crossing over into media technology, and also in the growth and success of both performance and installation art that has become symbolic of postmodernist art. However, it is not the tools of art that we are investigating here, but the reason for those tools. In order to appreciate the use of interdisciplinary practice, it is useful to look at artists who have discovered a new space between two disciplines as a result of specialised knowledge in the field of both. Throughout history, artists have drawn on the colour theories of Goethe; the writings of Leonardo da Vinci, Pythgorean geometry, Myan and ancient calendars, the I Ching, Greek religious rituals, and Michael Faradayis theories of electromagnetic forces to name but a few. Artists have always crossed disciplines, drawing inspiration and subject matters from a variety of areas that are unfamiliar territory to the arts. Unfortunately, the antiquated notion of disciplinary separation is not entirely obsolete in the British art education, as graduates of many art schools, including myself, will confirm. However, an Internet search for interdisciplinary arts brings up 481,000 sites that refer to it, and which a large proportion of the sites are educational institutes offering interdisciplinary degree and diplomas in two interacting subjects. Yet also we find a new approach to education here which encourages and invites students to expand their horizons and thought processes beyond singular disciplines. It is particularly evident in cultural studies where the interaction of students from a variety of cultural background meet and exchange information and ideas that presents new ideas and problems to solve. What changes have to be made to accommodate the peculiarities of the art medium in these circumstances? For instance, painting and literature often tackle the same subjects such as social injustice, war, and human relationships. The problem is that both are reliant on specific and complex communication tools used in each other's disciplines.

The Collaborative Team

The Collaborative Team (in order of joining project):

Spacexcape Bridges (UK) - London based installation artist and Second Life builder
Xandro Falta (Italy) - programmer and Second Life builder
Nite Zelmanov (Canada) - Computer coder and Second Life script writer and builder
Vajra Raymaker (Canada) - Philosopher with an interest in the epistemology of language and communication systems more generally
Menthu Faulkes (Denmark) Scientist.
Fnordian Link (Canada) Artist, script writer and resident genius
Tropo Inshan (Germany) - Artist, philosopher and Magician
Miros Torok (France) Artist and astronomer
Zenzi Voom (Germany) Artist in residence and Second Life interactive art creator
Zen7Men (Germany) - Sound artist
Jer Straaf (USA) Script writer and generally crazy guy
Binary Quandry (Denmark) - Artist, scientist. Interactive art using the avatar keys to produce visual effects.
Hokon Cazulet - philosopher

Introduction to the project

In Second Life, Spacexcape spends the first few months tentatively moving through the new world exploring the possibilities and potential of the medium. In the process, she discovers an environment that nurtures open thought, discussion and collaborative ideas and creates a project that brings together scientists, philosophers and artists. Through discussion groups and collaborative thought, the Spacexcape installation was created. The work took ideas from all disciplines and created a completely new interactive, experiential experience that could be claimed by no single discipline.

"Interdisciplinary studies …. Do not merely confront already constituted disciplines (none of which, as a matter of fact, consents to leave off). In order to do interdisciplinary work, it is not enough to take a "subject" (a theme) and to arrange two or three sciences around it. Interdisciplinary study consists in creating a new object, which belongs to no one."
Roland Barthes:1972.

To explain this further, a discipline is an area of training in which a particular systematic method is taught within a set of rules with the intention of specialisation in subjects that are specific to that discipline. For instance, the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena such as quantum physics to the scientist or the investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods, in philosophy. (Read more).

"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one"
Albert Einstein

The Spacexcape Project

The Spacexcape Project started over two years ago, as part of an ongoing enquiry into the "Blurred Edges: Perspectives on Reality" project by Alison Raimes, a London based mixed media artist.
Spacexcape, is a virtual reality character created by Alison in the online worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft. In the first, Spacexcape works in a collaborative team of artists, scientists and philosophers to create an experiential, interactive installation that allowed other online avatars to participate. In World of Warcraft, the scenario is very different. This is a young, male dominated environment in which the avatar travels through a 'game' attempting to achieve and progress to the top (which is infinite).

In both environments there are similar yet contradictory situations. Specific language becomes imperative to the sense of belonging that each environment creates. Identity play an important role in their acceptance into both worlds. In both worlds, there is commerce - in Second Life this commerce is 'real' in that it involves actual currency. In World of Warcraft the commerce is internal (like monopoly) and no money is exchanged outside of the game. Avatars take on a character which is often completely different to their 'real' character and the forums provide environments for relationships to develop in various forms. Addiction, and obsessive behaviour are observed in both environments and the affect of this on the participants is monitored and reflected on.

Above all, the Spacexcape Project questions what is and what is not 'reality' through the eyes of the user.