Archive for March, 2017

h1

Class 8: Heterotopia

March 29, 2017

fishing-boat-leaving-sherkin-island-baltimore-harbour-mouth-at-sunset-from-beacon-5810

Week eight began with some technical issues with voice activation again and rather than get too distracted by this, the group very quickly developed an involved and engaged critical discussion on the subject of Heterotopia. In many ways, the absence of the speaking voice seemed to enable a lively at times contentious discussion entirely through text in the chat box. This discussion was prompted by a prior reading of French Philosopher Michael Foucault’s 1967 essay: Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias. The purpose of this text in the course was to introduce an alternative concept to that of Utopia as a way to think about the environment of Second Life and to some extent to think about the environment of Sherkin Island. Opposed to the idea of Utopia as a fictional space, Foucault describes a Heterotopia as a ‘space between’ which breaks from the Utopia/Dystopia dialectic.  By positing the real spaces of difference and plurality that exist in the world Foucault is drawing attention to the fact that spatial organisation and planning can never completely totalise our world, and that no matter how much cities and rural communities are developed there will always be spaces of difference and plurality that transgress the homogeneous categorization of space and its use.  These spaces often take on multiple roles and functions rather than singular ones, there is often a different experience of time within these spaces and they often presuppose an ambivalent system of opening/closing, entry/ exit. Examples of heterotopic spaces are: Graveyards, cemeteries, brothels, gardens, prisons, asylums museums, festivals, and ships. Expanding upon the latter example, Foucault writes:

if we think, after all, that the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea and that, from port to port, from tack to tack, from brothel to brothel, it goes as far as the colonies in search of the most precious treasures they conceal in their gardens, you will understand why the boat has not only been for our civilization, from the sixteenth century until the present, the great instrument of economic development (I have not been speaking of that today), but has been simultaneously the greatest reserve of the imagination. The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates. 

In many ways, this passage captures some of the uniqueness of experience that the students have in the BAVA on Sherkin island. That their working day is marked at the beginning and the end of the day by a boat ride illustrates the imaginative context in which study and art making are taking place.  It also captures the in betweenness of experience in second life, between real and unreal, imagination and materialization (it was a quote that was used to describe second life in the film screened at the North Shore Discovery on Sherkin Island, titled: Utopia 1.0 Post-Neo-Futurist-Capitalism). Such tensions were drawn out in the classroom discussion and it was clear at the end of the session that there was a lot more room for challenging set ideas about this concept.  In the next session, the group will be developing ideas for their exhibition in second life and going through the assessment brief.

unnamed

h1

Class 7: Akron Island

March 22, 2017

The class visited the University of Akron island in Second Life this week. We were hosted by Prof Dudley Turner (aka Dudley Dreamscape) who took the module some years ago and then co-taught it with DIT for a number of years. Many of you also met Dudley at the seminar for National Digital Week in the West Cork Arts Centre last November. Unfortunately the problems with voice in SL have persisted so the class was conducted in nearby chat text.

Dudley described the origin of the island. When it was planned the faculty wanted to make sure there were a variety of areas for small group gatherings. These are scattered around the island. Originally there weren’t any big classroom spaces but Dudley built the larger lecture hall type space for larger meetings as the requirement grew. The learning spaces include a tree house and a glen with its own waterfall. Glenn noted that the rural design was reminiscent of the hedge schools that sprang up around Ireland under the Penal Laws.

Akron

Akron Island with the life-size pie chart maker in the foreground.

We moved to the life-sized pie chart maker for a discussion on virtual identity. As we were forced to chat through text this was a useful to device to encourage debate. The facilitator (me, in this case) asks a question. Participant avatars then move to the appropriate section: Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree and a pic chart is built in the centre. We worked with the following questions:

  1. Do you think you share too much online?
  2. Do you know who is watching you online?
  3. I would be happier not to have social media apps
  4. I keep my business and personal stuff separate online.

The second question resulted in discussion around free apps and the ‘price’ we may unwittingly pay. Chip Van reminded us that if it is free we are the product. In response to John’s question if people feel in control of their online information Inchydoney suggested we tend to throw caution to the wind for the sake of convenience. However, there was an acknowledgement that different age groups are behaving in different ways online.

The discussion around social apps resulted in many comments about ‘addiction’ to the buzz from them. Yet everyone agreed they were useful for keeping in touch when physical distance is an issue. Once people have met in RL the online engagement can be more satisfactory.

The class meeting finished with thanks to Dudley for hosting us at Akron Island and an invitation for him to join us in Dublin anytime.

h1

Class 6: Discussion

March 15, 2017

Following on from last week the group discussed the visit to Virtual Ability Island. It seems that this experience had a deeply affective impact on most of the group and for whom the second life environment has taken on a whole new meaning. There was a lot of discussion about the benefits of the virtual world for individuals with disabilities, how the community has created a social space that supports engagement with others, conversations, showing art, providing information and to move about freely. Whilst many in the group felt that Virtual Ability Island was like a utopia for the community that engage with it, it was also suggested that it could be seen as sad that the participants needed to create an alternative social life due to the limitations in real life. Another way to think about this issue might be that instead of feeling sorry for themselves or complaining about their limitations or lack of access the community has been affirmative and residents get on with their lives creatively and constructively in SL as opposed to accepting limitations. In many ways, this might be one of the most therapeutic aspects of Virtual Ability Island, that it is an active creative space, a space of human subjectivity and agency against the odds.

Within this discussion, the group touched briefly on the possibility that the aesthetic dimension of SL might also have a complex sensorial value for the Virtual Ability community, and it was on the back of this conversation that the group proposed a brief exhibition of their Digital Skies work in the Gallery in Virtual Ability Island. John has agreed to discuss this possibility with Gentle Heron and it would be a great event to share with that community. Burnsygirl, freddymcfreddy and whatyamacallit volunteered to liaise with the community and see if artists from Virtual Ability would like to take part also.

Finally, the group briefly discussed Richard Noble’s Lecture: The Politics of Utopia. Some of the key discussion points revolved around the tensions in utopia artistic practices between autonomy and instrumentalisation, which provoked questions concerning the use of art as a social-political form and the function of art and aesthetics as political in and of itself.

h1

Class 5: Virtual ability

March 8, 2017
Snapshot_008

Gentle Heron introduced the class to Virtual Ability Island.

This week the class was hosted by Gentle Heron in Virtual Ability Island. Comprising three islands, the community (of over 1,000 people from six continents in RL, and growing all the time) supports and enables people with a wide range of physical and mental abilities to thrive in online virtual worlds. For many, SL has become integrated with their RL. Gentle introduced us to some members of the community who spoke of this experience, Mook Wheeler, camaro and Eme Capalini. Although disability may be less apparent in SL where, for example avatars can walk even though their human counterparts may need a wheelchair, those with visual or hearing impairment require particular consideration.

The principles of universal design and access for all underpin the development of the environment so that colour schemes, landscaping, materials and access all promote integration – there is no segregation between the able and the disabled. You won’t find any stairs here, only ramps, colour schemes are soothing to promote calm stress-free engagement and support those with visual disability, while speech is accompanied by text in local chat so those with hearing impairment are not disadvantaged. The Virtual Ability website is worth a visit if you would like to read about the history and development.

Snapshot_010

There are many activities, supports and exhibitions in Virtual Ability Island.

Mook, a former academic with a doctorate in a social science field, has Aspergers and manages clinical depression and anxiety. Mook described ‘being an autistic social scientist as somewhat of a paradox: trying to understand the production/politics of subjectivity without being able to negotiate it in a personal or practical sense, for the most part.’

Eme and Mook told us that in SL they can leave the ‘difficult’ parts of their lives behind in RL. In fact, Mook’s avatar has evolved away from human form to become a sphere with various attachments and bubbles because ‘being human brought too much of RL’s physical difficulties and memories into SL.’ In fact, a lot of people in SL are not aware of Mook’s autism whereas they would be fully aware of it in RL.

We had a fascinating and enlightening discussion exploring and comparing experiences. Gentle commented that people with disabilities often experience a lack of respect in RL and asked if it also happened in SL. Burnsygirl told us of her experiences as a teacher with a disability organisation in RL and how people would pat her students on the head as if they were pets.

Acknowledging the theme of the module Mook said that ‘SL is perfect for me, as close to a social and communication utopia as any medium can be for me, because I can talk (in type) to people without having to deal with their physical presence or eye contact … I can adjust all of SL’s settings, avatars, environments, visuals and sounds to accommodate my sensory needs. SL is a space of pleasure, interaction and comfort to me which RL cannot duplicate.’

Mook also shared her insightful and searing analysis of Le Guin’s short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas which is well worth reading!

We all appreciated the generosity of Gentle, Mook, Eme and camaro for taking the time to welcome us to their community and share their experiences. It really exemplified the possibilities and opportunities offered by this technology. Gentle said we were welcome back anytime – the islands are open to the public. Many of us remained after class to explore and chat.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. View: The Politics of Utopia by Richard Noble, professor and lecturer in Fine Art at Goldsmiths. From Utopia Revisited conference at ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, 2011.
  2. Write the fifth post: to your blog reflecting on our visit to Virtual Ability Island and the notion of a virtual Utopia.
h1

Class 4: Walking away

March 1, 2017
snapshot_004

Looking in on the discussion from the outside.

Last night was the fourth Digital Skies session with the group and it was the second theory-based session after we looked at Stephen Duncombe’s intro to Sir Thomas Moore’s Utopia in the first one. This week we updated the concept of Utopia by reading Ursula Le Guin’s text: The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas (1973). A deeply provocative rendering of a Utopian society that is conditioned by a darker reality, the picture painted by LeGuin in the text falls between Utopia and Dystopia. By implying that a perfect society will always be structured by some kind of exclusion or exploitation, Le Guin draws a parallel between the fantasy of Omelas and the social economic order that has dominated since the industrial revolution. It seemed that for most of the participants in the group the story was an analogy of contemporary democracy and the ethical challenges of living in a globalised economy. Whilst much of the discussion focused on the moral dilemma faced by those citizens in Omelas there was also an ambivalence towards their final response, the act of ‘walking away’. In many ways we could argue that this is a negative response to the situation, an abandonment, however by refusing to be a part of the situation, to leave it and go towards the unknown, we could say it also is a utopian act. It may not be Utopia in the macro sense of the word, as in the creation of a new society, but rather in those micro acts of freedom that happen in everyday life and that have the potential for greater change. Anyone interested in following this train of thought could look into the work of Avery Gordon who is developing the Hawthorne Archive which sets out to ‘record the living and intellectual history of the arrival and existence of a group of runaways, secessionists and in-differents who form autonomous zones and settlements and have receded from living as obedient (and also resistant or resisting) subjects’. Further within this discussion, an important point was raised about how one might even begin to imagine resisting in an overwhelmingly oppressive situation, such as the Nazi Regime, and a reference was made to the White Rose student movement, as an example of non-violent resistance, which led to a discussion on a more contemporary (and virtual) act of resistance in the online critical game Escape from Woomera.

Escape_from_Woomera_3.jpg

Escape From Woomera. 2004

As can be deduced from this summary, the session got a little dark as the group entered into a deeper discussion on the politics of the utopian imagination. We will lighten this discussion a bit in the next session by looking at a lecture by Richard Noble on ‘The Politics of Utopia’. All being well, we will be joined in this session by German Artist Susanne Bosch who will talk about her residency at the Utopia Festival in Austria in 2015.

Finally, each student was asked to send in some landscape photos of their travels in second life, these will be used on Sherkin Island to develop a series of visual investigations around the question: what is nature? We might try to show some of these works in second life in the next theory session.

It was really great to get over most of the technical issues the group have been having and to focus on the content of the course. Last night was a very impressive discussion to have on a Wednesday evening with a bunch of weird looking avatars (No Offence!!).

Next week will be led by John and below are the requirements for this session:

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. View: Fake It – to control your digital identity. In a 2013 TEDx Oxford presentation Danish journalist Pernille Tranberg, who wrote the book Fake It – Your Guide to Digital Self-defense with the German journalist Steffan Heuer, explains what happens with your data, what it can cost you now and in years to come.
  2. View: The Power of Privacy. In this 2016 film by The Guardian, Aleks Krotoski travels the world to undergo challenges that explore our digital life in the 21st century. Watch her be stalked and hacked, fight to get leaked documents back, dive into open data and live in a futuristic home that monitors her every move.
  3. Read: Who’s watching me on the internet? Technology Correspondent for the BBC, Rory Cellan-Jones writes about our digital footprint and explains data trails in iWonder 2016.
  4. Write the fourth post: to your blog reflecting on the discussion of The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. Ursula K Le Guin. 1973.
%d bloggers like this: