Archive for the ‘2017 class summaries’ Category

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Class 12: Virtual identities

May 3, 2017

Sitearm Madonna visited DIT in Second Life this week to talk about the origin and development of his online persona. An engineer in the US oil industry in RL and manager of Virtual Dublin in SL Sitearm is glamorous female avatar who happens to be male in RL.

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The glamorous Sitearm Madonna discusses the evolution of his avatar.

A resident of SL almost since its inception in the early 2000s Site elected to inhabit the virtual world in the form of a female avatar from the start. Attracted to the classical Greek myth of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, wild animals, childbirth and virginity but finding the name already proliferating in SL he settled on the anagram. He muses on this decision wondering how it might have been influenced by his working single mother’s life experience, or a simple curiosity. He soon discovered that not only was there a greater choice of clothing available for female avatars but, male associates were prone to bestowing gifts of jewellery.

In the early days of SL communication was via text chat – voice chat did not became available until late 2009 – so there was little to give away the fact that a female avatar might be directed by an RL male. It was only as Site became more engaged with the virtual world in RL, attending conferences and developing a consultancy practice for companies trying to move into SL that his identity became an issue. This led to some colleagues variously being surprised, irritated, embarrassed or unaffected by the revelation.

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Sitearm, left, introduces one of his alternative avatars.

However, men using female avatars and women using male avatars turns out not to be unusual in SL. Women sometimes refer to unwelcome attention from male avatars as the reason for their choice and, indeed, Site also spoke of this. Locks Aichi also spoke of her decision to use a male avatar saying that she grew up as a tomboy and felt comfortable that way in SL having tried female and male avatars. She does have a female avatar in traditional Nigerian costume which she reserves for special occasions.

We also remembered a past student, Box of Chocolates, who photographed herself in RL with a cardboard box over her head and face, sporting hand drawn features, which then influenced her avatar for the semester.

Virtual worlds such as SL, and social media in general, allow us to explore our identities in new ways. This can be an interesting and revealing experience. In Asian Genders in Tourism Rokhshad Tavakoli reflects on how virtual tourism could be used to overcome barriers to travel for Iranian women. But, one needs to be mindful of the impact this may have on others. There are numerous examples of how it can go terribly wrong from the Syrian lesbian blogger who was revealed to be a married man in 2011 to the outing of a white woman who posed as a black civil rights leader in 2015. They were both seen as behaving fraudulently despite their own insistence that they were presenting an inner integrity.

Somehow, the discussion segued into the subject of robots and cyborgs with special reference to Donna Haraway’s seminal feminist text: A Cyborg Manifesto (1984) which challenges traditional theories of the performativity of gender, proposing the confusion of gender roles against the essentializing of them. For Haraway the Cyborg represents the space to move beyond binary codes into more a fluid and dynamic understanding of identity, she writes;

Cyborgs might consider more seriously the partial, fluid, sometimes aspect of sex and sexual embodiment. Gender might not be global identity after all, even if it has profound historical breadth and depth. (P.108)

Within this conversation Site told us about the Museum of Robots in SL and promptly his avatar become a yellow robot, reminiscent of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No 2.

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Tasrill Sieyes, an SL Resident who made Duchamp’s legendary painting come alive.

This constant merging and morphing of identities throughout the presentation was resonant with practices in the field of Queer Pedagogy which seeks to use pedagogical techniques to disturb and trouble the way social norms are constructed and affirmed through traditional educational frameworks. In Site’s performance, the ‘Dragging’ of identity expressed a creative space between socially assigned norms ie ‘Male/Female’, Drag being the in-between (/). Such performative pedagogies also subvert the traditional role of mastery assigned to the teacher in education, allowing for more constructivist horizontal approaches reminiscent of Joseph Jacotot’s radical conception of Universal Education discussed in the first session.

As an extension of this discussion and as a way to both engage with the ‘making’ potential of SL and to interrogate and question the formation of identity in SL, Glenn suggested we build a robot for our next project. However, given that this is the last class of the module before the exhibitions and presentations on the 17th May, this ambitious undertaking will have to be postponed until a future point.

This last class has really been the wildest of them all and certainly opened up new questions and new possibilities within Second life. The students have been on a creative and somewhat disconcerting pedagogical journey through this project, one which has been challenging and bonding in equal measure. It has broadened our understanding of what constitutes a world in the contemporary sense and how we might act in worlds that are still too new to be fully comprehended, but which might at the very least give us a glimpse of what is to come. Class ended with Site offering a guided shopping tour in SL. This was received with much interest and we closed a most interesting discussion.

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Class 11: The crit

April 26, 2017

The show of student art work this week was very successful. Each student exhibited one piece of art and, led by Glenn, presented it to the class; explaining the origin, inspiration, context and production.

Treasure Ballinger and her colleagues from Virtual Ability Island and Cape Able Gallery joined us and shared their responses to the work. The range of work was impressive, as was the relationship with the theme of the module this semester.

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From left: AlxMway’s acrylic is a view of Schull from Sherkin through a keyhole; Yashurdoshur painted her reflection looking down on a still pool of water as a symbol of Utopia.

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jackmittens’ painting of the archway within the walls of the Abbey on Sherkin Island – you are neither outside nor inside.

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Fayebubba painted the Abbey from a photo – measured by points on the buildings.

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Shadidame seems to be walking under Saoise’s fairytale bridge over a stream near her house. The fact that it seems like a road yet is a river gives it a heterotopic quality.

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Unfortunately Inchydoney was having trouble with the internet connection and was logged out before she could present her intriguing painting.

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From left: ChipVanCorner’s painting of the community hall in Sherkin; whatyamacallit’s Mocollop graveyard in Co Waterford; Burnsygirl’s painting of the Abbey is a reminder of her great grandparents buried in a similar place.

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Left: Shadidame’s heterotopian space of crisis and deviation – Retirement Home. Right: freddymcfreddy’s Boat.

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freddymcfreddy was inspired by Foucault’s description of a boat being the ultimate heterotopia: 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.

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Deeuwan’s acrylic of her garden, a heterotopic ‘other’ place for festivities apart from our home.

Glenn, John and Locks complimented you all on the show – it was very impressive that you were able to mount it so successfully. The work was a thoughtful response to the readings this semester and you all presented confidently. Well done!

Afterwards we all teleported to Cape Able Gallery where Suellen Heartsong’s SL photography show is on. Gentle Heron was there to greet us and Slatan Dryke razzed some of his moving photographs and dynamic sculpture on the lawn (see more on his website). iSkye Silverweb showed us one of her interactive sculptures, more of which can be seen at Ethnographpia in SL.

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A moving airborne sculptural work by Slatan Dryke.

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Class 10: Teamwork

April 19, 2017

There was a healthy turnout for class this week, despite the Easter break. The issues affecting voice in SL appear to have been resolved, although some participants were still having difficulty.

John explained that due to an unexpectedly busy period before Easter he had been unable to make arrangements for Sitearm Madonna to join the class this week. Site has frequently presented on teamwork, particularly in the online context. We will try to arrange a visit from him before the end of the semester. In the meantime, John presented the lecture on teamwork based on Site’s slides for Team Building Tips. If you missed the class review the slides and talk about the content with your team partners.

We had an interesting discussion based on our own experiences of team working. We compared that to the theory and put particular emphasis on the fluid nature of collaboration. The stages of team development are not necessarily linear and so teams can move between Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing and back again in almost any order. Similarly, the roles required for a successfully performing team may be taken on by different team members at times. The theory is useful to guide teams as it provides a structure but it must be seen as a useful guide rather than a rigid set of rules.

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Class 9: Assessment

April 5, 2017

Glenn and John took the class through the requirements for assessment, which is divided into two parts. Firstly, the group project and secondly, the individual blogs.

Firstly, each participant will be producing a series of digital paintings as part of their main module. For the SL module you will produce a large-scale group canvas (in the groups given in week 3). We are asking you to collaborate on a canvas to give you the experience of working on an online collaborative project. You will bring the finished canvas into SL for a group crit and exhibition.

The exhibition will take place in Cape Able Gallery on Virtual Ability Island in May (provisional dates are 17 or 24 May). A team from the class (burnsygirl, freddymcfreddy and whatyamacallit) will coordinate the exhibition with the curator of the gallery and will also invite residents of Virtual Ability Island to take part.  Part of your learning in this module is figuring out how to work virtually with people you have never met in RL.

Each group will give a short talk to present their work and discuss the experience of working in a team, virtually, collaboratively. This will be followed by a crit.

There will be a dry-run in DIT on 26 April. You will show your work in progress more to get a feel for exhibiting in SL than anything else. John suggested that you should review the module website to see how past student groups have presented their work.

Secondly, you will be assessed individually on your blogs. You need to ensure that you have made the five mandatory posts as described in the ‘Things to do before next class’ section of each class summary. Following that you should have at least five more posts describing your engagement in the group project.

Finally, 50% of the marks for this module go on the group project and 50% go on the individual blogs. For full details see page 6 module assessment.

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Class 8: Heterotopia

March 29, 2017

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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