The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

Second Life Installation Phenomenology

The Second Life show at
continues to change; since it's complex and interactive, it makes sense
for you to visit it. The images and videos I put up almost daily can
present one or another new (static or dynamic) topographic feature, but
only in an isolated and framed configuration; one doesn't get a sense of
the roil or negotiated pathways of the spaces which are always under

At one point symmetries dominated, as well as moire patterns related to
early cinema; at another, flat black areas created a problematic of depth
that remained unresolved. At times a machine-structure (gears, wheels,
cams) appeared out of partial assemblages; at best, these were metaphors,
doing nothing in the virtual or the real. In the exhibition, objects tend
to ignore one another unless given physical weight; few objects have that,
since those that do tend to tumble out of the exhibition, 'out of world,'
ending up in lost-and-found inventories.

Now the symmetries have corroded by 'foreign' non-repetitive textures that
indicate movement trajectories (it's easy to follow the movement of a flat
black square for example) and block moire effects. It's as if the symmet-
rical properties of objects and assemblages are falling apart. Almost
every object moves vertically; some are aligned, some are harmonic, some
appear independent. It's easy to fall vertically at this point, from sky
objects to the exhibition hall surface, and from ground surface to the
underwater environment beneath the hall. Teleport labels may or may not
take you somewhere; you might end up where you started or even more en-
tangled on a different level. The environment as a whole appears as shaky
as the economy, and there's a parallel with bandwidth and prim quantity
issues. I build and don't know who sees what; I find my own computers
locked up on occasion.

At this point I want to start radically modifying the installation; again
I urge you to visit while it retains a semblance of its current state. As
objects are given weight, they'll fall and reorganize the surface; they
may well pile up without falling out of world, at least temporarily; they
may provide new surfaces and cavities to negotiate. It's almost impossible
to document the dynamics of this; things fall too fast for cameras to

When I sleep at night, spaces open up; I'm torn and brought close to death
in nightmare after nightmare, some of which are set in apparently real
environments that slough off into the virtual. A train begins here, the
tracks connect there, leading to dilapidated and jumbled architecture. Or
arousal which disseminates in the midst of prims sharp enough to slice
through site and sound. From Dhananjaya: "'Rasa is that which is made
enjoyable by the behaviour of the characters that gives enjoyment because
the object of the drama is not to enjoy the behaviour of the characters
since that belongs to the past.' (Otherwise, says the author, the specta-
tor might as well himself fall into love with the heroine." And again:
"The spectators enjoy at the site of characters like Arjuna and others
what they themselves feel inside just as children enjoy, playing with clay
elephants, the fervour that is within themselves." (From Adya Rangacharya,
Drama in Sanskrit Literature, Bombay, Popular Prakashan, 1968.) Enjoyment
is not enjoyment in the sense of pleasure, but inhabiting a diegetic cons-
tructed through a series of coded interfaces. In the Second Life instal-
lation, the strange remains strange, but one learns to negotiate complex
trajectories among levels, prims, sounds, spaces, worlds; soon rasa
(flavor among other meanings) emerges as one's eyes are one's avatar's
eyes and one becomes comfortable with hir body. There are no identifica-
tions in the Second Life show, only corners, plateaus, and circulations
that permit discourse, that one might conceivably inhabit. All of these
spaces, like capital, are rickety; Second Life is governed by exchange,
not use value and things constantly threaten to fall apart. The only
certainty is an absence of breakage and death; what is attached for the
most part remains attached, no matter how far it falls, no matter how
sharp and difficult, impossible, the landing. Death in Second Life is
never death, but literally a passing-away; an avatar disappears more or
less permanently and one might assume that something has occurred in real
life parallel to this - illness or death or disinterest or bankruptcy -
one never knows.

The spaces in exhibition are malleable, not liquid, not liquid architec-
ture so much as capable of distortion and linkage at a distance: things
may well move in synchronization, even over a fairly large distance, as if
Bell's theorem suddenly appeared in the large and abstract. When the space
- the normative space of Second Life - fills up, it transforms the avatar
within it. Boundaries are no longer fixed or even apparent. I imagine a
Kristevan chora, part-objects and pre-linguistics driving the show, as if
the birth of language were imminent and immanent. The birth never occurs;
the chora remains at the state of the laugh or scream or orgasm or even
free-fall. One is stripped down, and the images, such as they are, textur-
ing the prims are often sexualized - penises, breasts, rings, faces in
pain or ecstasy, posed mannequins of fossilized desire and dance. One
senses an alien choreography behind everything, the world inverted in
Plato's cave from virtual shadows to the watching and participating body
on the damp floor. The alien is ourselves of course and the aliens are our
self, chora to chiasm.

Rasa is the taste of this, the taste or flavor of the enlightened audience
which means the knowledgeable audience, who have already migrated past the
strangeness of the exhibition towards an inhering organic that passes for
flesh and tissue. I think of the space as avatar body, as avatar hirself,
as chora, as womb, as phallus, as adverb. I think of rocketing through the
space as the dissipation of vectors without origin and destination; one
lands in the midst of circulation and circles hirself.

But all of this takes time on the part of the visitor, as does the reading
of signs, even the writing and writhing of signs in sky and water and
within the earth itself. One has to enter the space, ascend and descend,
allow oneself to be caught up in the multiplicity of worlds, even the
smoke of catastrophe and catastrophic industrialization, the destruction
of families, speech and phenomena which are always already in a state of
withdrawal. The world comes and goes without saying; we pass away as it
passes by, and even a minute after our death we no longer hear a voice,
see the sun, read the next day's market.

Generated by Mnemosyne 0.12.