Monday, 15 May 2017

Cape Able Exhibition

As part of the team set up to assist with the preparation for our exhibition in Cape Able I have been in touch with Gentle Heron, Treasure, Erme, Suellen and Slatan Drake since early April. They are a great bunch of enthusiastic Second Lifers and their eagerness and energy is infectious. Tonight myself, Burnseygirl, Freddiemcfreddie and Fayebubba met at the gallery in Cape Able along with Eme, Slatan, Treasure, Suellen and Gentle, to get working on the exhibition. Over the past few days, Faye and I have been gathering all of the images from our classmates, preparing and naming them for SL. Our hosts were more then helpful and kind. Treasure gave Fayebubba access to the gallery and as Artistic Curator, she has single handedly worked on the prims, rezzing and resizing all of the textures. It is a slow process, it took 3 hours, at Faye's attention to detail is commendable.

Here are the images prior to being positioned with Gentle in the picture.

We had fun exploring the work of the other artists too...the variety of work is intriguing and the visitors to the exhibition are in for a treat. I hope to link with Slatan at some point over the summer to learn about how he creates his interactive installations and moving frames.
gentle told us about Fenimore Art Museum in SL, just across the park from Cape Able Gallery, who's curator is Nicolo Anthony in SL. Nicolo is Paul D'Ambrosio in RL, the Curator of Fenimore Gallery in New York. Nicolo keeps the gallery in SL current to his real life museum and its well worth a visit.

Isn't it wonderful that one can make international professional contacts in a virtual world. I have come to realise that the possibilities SL are limitless and that it is such an amazing platform for engagement across so many boundaries.

Finally, I wanted to make a special effort for Whatyamacallit to look her best for the exhibition on Wednesday night - so Faye kindly took me shopping for free clothes!!!.. and this is the result.

Whatya in a sari !!! and minus her glasses.

Finally the night of the exhibition arrived. We all teleported to Cape Able Gallery on Virtual Ability Island where quite a crowd had gathered.  The input and effort made by everyone was amazing and it was good fun. As my first experience of a virtual party it wasn't a bad one.
Each group nominated a member of their team to step forward and to explain how their painting related to the concepts of Utopia, Heterotopia and Dystopia. The feedback from the visitors was very positive all round. My only criticism is that we didn't hear from the Cape Able artists regarding their work. I was actually a bit embarrassed that they were not invited to step forward and give an account of their art...after all they had put so much effort into the exhibition.
Lots of group photographs were taken and we departed feeling very proud of ourselves.
My individual painting in the gallery.

First Year Avatars - Group Photograph

Friday, 5 May 2017

Teamwork - Is one life enough? Group project

To date we have met remotely on three occasions; it was actually just two of us from our group of three. Sadly other commitments arose for Alex at the pre arranged times and dates for our meetings in SL. Ultimately this meant that two of us decided to drive on with the project and updated Alex with our progress, inviting her to partake at every stage. Our aim at this stage was to identify our goals to keep us on the right track and to inspire us to realise our goal. The fact that we are also part of a bigger team, i.e. our class is a support to us in areas where have have difficulties.

We adopted the SMART method of planning our goals as follows;
Specific -  to complete a group painting at class on the island on incorporating the ideas of utopia, heteroptopia and dystopia.
Measurable - To meet remotely in SL twice in advance of the next weekend on Sherkin to explore our ideas and select 5 images each that depict the themes for us as individuals.
Achievable and agreed upon - We all agreed that 5 images each was doable and that we would prearrange meetings to facilitate planning these into our personal schedules.
Relevant - We agreed that we would keep to the point and have most of our preparatory work done in advance of our weekend on the island so that we could devote the class time to actually painting.
Timely - We tried to schedule meetings that suited everyone and felt that our preparation would enable us to complete the task on time.

From research I have learned that Belbin team roles are as follows;

Plants - the generators of ideas and are considered to be free thinkers

Resource/Investigator - the enthusiastic and opportunistic one's

Coordinators  - are good as leaders of a group because they are generally confident stable and mature people who are good to delegate tasks

Shapers -  are driven and energetic and keep focus, they are also good problem solvers.

Monitor and Evaluators - are the logical observers and tend to be analytical and passionate

Team workers - are good listeners and can smooth out conflict

Implementors - efficient and self disciplined people with a strong sense of loyalty

Completer/ finishers - perfectionists and they set very high standards

Specialists - those who are passionate about their own particular field and love finding answers to problems or questions

As art students, each one of us is naturally creative, so we found that we were eager to bounce ideas off each other to begin with. I found this was both a fun and frustrating period in our team development because I tend to be an organiser and like to plan workable strategies and work through them efficiently and methodically. The limitations of working within a remote team who have a variety of varying schedules meant that e.g. a delayed response from one team member could thwart the plan outlined by the other two. We needed to be very respectful of each others schedules and be flexible. I offered to take the lead with organising times and dates to meet and to communicate this information out the group using social media. At one point in the early stages, when we got no response from one team member, we had no option but to progress as a pair, keeping in mind to update the absent team member as we progressed.

We decided to go away separately and research and find images that we felt were applicable to the brief "Is One life enough?" and communicated this plan to Alex in her absence via social media to ensure she was up to date with the plan and to keep her in the loop. At his point of our team development each one of us brought free thinking, creativity and ideas to the table, so we shard the role of shaper equally.

When we reconvened virtually the second time, to review our progress and share our research we both played equal roles of team workers and plants, listening to each others ideas and working through them while respecting each other views. (Our third team member was again, unable to join us.) The initial time was highly explorative and we seemed to stray off the topic but Ann played the role of the shaper by intervening and refocussing me on the task at hand and team work prevailed.      I am naturally a problem solver and relish this role, therefore I suggested we meet up in real life as we are only a one hour drive away from each other. this we did and it proved to be a very productive session. It was apparent that there is a richness with face to face interaction which can never be matched in remote meetings.

By this time we had a plan of action but as we know the best laid plans can be changed! We were acutely aware that there was a third member to this team and her input had not yet been included, so we didn't want to take an aggressive approach in an attempt to get things done.

Our next meeting was on Sherkin with our visiting lecturer Mark Garry. In Alex's absence on the Friday, Ann and I moved the plan to the next step, by selecting 3 images from the overall research to incorporate into our final painting. We contacted Alex to fill her in. She confirmed that she would be attending class on Saturday and permitted us to proceed with the plan we outlined. Ann and I worked through the three images, laying them out in various different arrangements until we were happy with how it looked.

On Saturday as Alex and I underpainted and drew a rough guideline, Ann recorded each step of the process in a sketch book. We also set up a group Padlet to keep a digital record which we could access remotely.

As the painting progressed, we almost naturally fell into our roles and shared the tasks equally. The time we had invested in the preparation was paying off and because there was no pressure on us time wise, everything ran smoothly. There were no arguments, but instead lots of positivity,  interactive discussion, suggestions and opinions which led to a very productive day.

Sunday arrived and all we had to do was put the final touches to the painting.  We were all pleased with the result and were proud that we had accomplished what we had set out to do.

Our painting encompasses Ursula LeGuin's concept of a child in a basement, a dystopia image of the suffering of some. The girls goggles are painted the same green as the crystals of the Emerald City, signifying her dream to find utopia. The large satellite dish reflects the sky, in a similar way to a mirror, which Foucault refers to as a heterotopian place, neither here nor there. And finally, the yellow brick road which leads to the Emerald City is a utopian vision of a perfect place.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Virtual Environments. Is one life enough? SiteArm Madonna

Tonight we had the pleasure of the company of SiteArm Madonna, a fascinating individual who has had a career in SL as an entrepreneur and creative designer over many years, going back to October 2005. He initiated a variety of extra curricular activities in SL and is responsible for Virtual Dublin. In RL he was architect, which I would imagine naturally augments itself to the construction of creative spaces....and the freedom that SL provides for creativity is immense. Just imagine being an architect without being limited by health and safety rules! I guess he had lots of fun and in a way explains why he is so focussed on the visual in SL.
But primarily, Site's story was on the subject of identity in SL and to introduce us to this concept he had 9 images of the various stages of his avatars' "evolution" displayed on the wall of the classroom.....and she is female. Site told us how he was influenced by Artemis, the daughter of Zeus and Leto and the twin sister of Apollo. She was one of the most widely venerated goddesses in Greek Mythology, she was chaste, a hard task master and a champion of childbirth. He told us how his mother was a strong influence on him, and like Artemis she championed her kids, Site and his sister. He explained how he wished to explore feminine expression and so went online to recreate or redesign himself.
Throughout his time in SL, he continuously fiddled around with his look , altering and experimenting with his outfits, skin tone, hair etc.

At this time, he was involved with other SL enthusiasts in setting up environments where people could meet for friendly chat and banter and he loved it. This grew to a  partnership business, Artemus Consulting, which Site was deeply involved in. He tells us that during this time, his persona moved from just an appearance as a female avatar to playing a female role. He enjoyed being told she was beautiful, and savoured appreciative comments about her appearance, and enjoyed experimenting further with animation overrides e.g. SL skin, a gypsy look, a goth look, hair, texture etc ...he even referred to one look as his/her "Red Look".....but also admitted that he occasionally received rude remarks from male avatars.
He was involved in lots of projects in SL from designing and setting up entertainment venues to rainforests and to quote him "had fun along the way" exploring having feminine behaviours and the point where almost everyone thought he was female in RL too.... (there was no voice in SL back then).
Around this time, he presented in RL in Chicago and his gender became public. Some people were shocked at this revelation and this led to an acrimonious break up of his business partnership and sadly virtual Dublin was discontinued. Site continued to participate actively in SL, organising contests, forming focus groups and delving into more entrepreneurship activities and the creative economy in SL. At his point he describes life as being a sense RL and SL had become intermingled, and the evolving persona of SiteArm Madonna was beginning to affect him in RL.

Locks Aichi also spoke about how excited she was at the prospect of being able to chose a male avatar and how as a child, she was a tomboy.  Locks revealed that there was no deep thought in advance of her choice, but that she delights in the reactions she gets when people realise she's female behind her male SL avatar.
Site interjected then, remembering how someone got offended when they discovered he was male in RL, because "they put a lot of effort into being polite to him as a female"! I find this fascinating and had wondered if our beliefs and values in RL transferred over to our avatars' behaviour in SL? I suppose in a way, its like a child playing with dolls...Barbie and Ken....and as the child displays behaviours learnt in RL through role play with the dolls.
And as we know, play therapy is an extremely useful and natural self guided and self healing process.

Site then transformed himself into his robot avatar, who /which is yellow i.e. female. Glenn shared a link to 'nude descending a staircase avatar', an Avie based on the painting by Marcel Duchamp. Again I am flabbergasted by the imagination, genius and ingenuity of the creative community in SL.

This class was absolutely captivating and gave an exclusive insight into the visual creativity employed by Site in designing and constructing the various versions of his avatar and the bewitching destinations in SL.
Thank you Site...its been wonderful.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Virtual Environments: Is one life enough? Work in Progress Show

This week we met in SL at DIT Arcata for our "Work in Progress' show. It was fantastic to see all of the artwork up on the walls and to at last be able to view everyone's work displayed together.
During the days leading up to the exhibition, as suggested by our lecturer John O'Connor, I had been chatting to Treasure and circulated an email to herself, Gentle, iSkye Silverweb, Slatan Dryke and Suellen Heartsong inviting them to our exhibition and amazingly they all accept and attended, even though there is an 8 hour time difference between GMT and SL time (except for Slatan...he's Italian so it was just an hour ahead for him.) I was sort of nervous meeting them, which is a bit strange as I wasn't actually meeting them at all!
The evening went really well. Each artist was invited to stand by their work and explain the thought process behind it.

I found this fascinating, and loved to hear everyones take on the concept of heterotopia. Although I was viewing the artwork on a computer screen from my own home, I truly felt as though I was attending an event, meeting new people, being part of a troop of like minded art enthusiasts.

Is that heterotophic?.... to sense that I'm somewhere other than where I actually am?

I've just suddenly realised that this is what this module is all about! Our module asks "is one life enough?"
As human beings with immense and monumental brain function we have the capacity to transport ourselves to any destination where we want to be, either as a recreational phenomenon or as escapism to protect ourselves from say harm, stress, depression or anxiety. So I'm thinking, if I can be transported to another realm by reading a book, by painting a picture or by daydreaming then surely SL is just a  modern day version of print fiction or traditional creativity? (with lots more possibilities of course!).

We all know that realism in art is not very popular anymore and quite a lot of visual art that is produced nowadays exist almost entirely to allow the viewer to escape to another reality. Fantasy art shows that people have an immense desire for anything that gives them a window to another world, and in that sense SL is a perfect platform to create and fantasize.

Being part of a team which worked remotely to execute this exhibition posed lots of challenges. If I consider some of the qualities that make for a successful team, i.e. reliability, constructive communication, active listening, full participation, willingness, flexibility, cooperation, commitment, problem solving, mutual respect etc I can honestly say that I wondered if we would achieve our goal. Meeting in SL when there are wifi issues most certainly challenges our listening skills. Some people find it hard to keep up with typing when using text only in SL and so cooperation and respect for individual capability is critical. Flexibility is vital when connecting with others who have challenging and busy work/personal lives. All of these issues sharpen our problem solving skills and I have found that the level of mutual respect is indisputable in our group. 
As one of the three volunteers to organise the exhibition I felt a great sense of responsibility and I took on a role as shaper, driving the team in the area of communication. I took sole responsibility to communicate with our SL friends fromVirtual Ability island via email, and kept them informed about our plans and progress, and made some new friends along the way. I also lead the team with regard to putting our art on the walls in DIT...and then encountered technical problems (I told you in a previous blog that I'm not good with technology!). And that is where Fayebubba stepped up to the mark and played a blinder. Without her skill, guidance and patience we would not have been able to achieve our goal in time for tonights' class. She and the other classmates communicated constructively and actively listened (digitally so to speak) using WhatsApp, Facebook and text messages to move the project forward. Each artist turned up in SL at the pre arranged time which displayed reliability and a common willingness to reach our goal.

Following the exhibition in DIT, Treasure invited us to Cape Able where we viewed the artwork on display in the gallery. 
Suellen's pieces were a collection of SL photographs celebrating the creative and romantic landscapes in SL. She explained that she met her RL husband in SL and there is a distinct romantic feel to her work. I particularly liked her photograph of the Volkswagen Beetle and the poly tunnel.

iSkye's work was displayed outdoors, a collection of wonderful rezzed 3D pieces depicting the seasons.

Slatan's work really captured my imagination especially his immaterial 3D sculptures which floated and hovered above our heads. He explained how he starts with a simple shape and then adds texture and motion and music. As we watched tonight, a melody from Bach played in the background, enhancing the atmosphere of invention and mystique that his pieces conceived.

Overall it was a delightful and successful evening.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Virtual Environments: Is one life enough? Team working towards a "Work in Progress" show

I have been quite busy over the past few days but boy have I learnt a lot! I can now proudly say that I know how to resize and upload images to Second Life, create boxes and flatten them to canvas size, attach the prim to the box, position, rotate, reposition and 'take' textures. As a group we are so lucky. The support and team effort that was displayed over the past few days has been phenomenal. Everyone is busy and many have personal issues that command much of their time yet the camaraderie assistance and cooperation that has been displayed is wonderful. I must extend a special thanks to our tech guru, Faye, who has been wonderful. I am concerned about one or two members of our class who seem to have disappeared into oblivion...I sincerely hope that you are ok.

In my 'day job' I deliver talks to teenagers on the subject of Internet Safety and Cyberbullying Awareness. They need to be aware of their digital footprint and to engage with the internet in a respectful manner so that silly mistakes do not impact on their future dreams and career prospects. A key element of these talks is to stress the wonderful array of positives that the internet offers, and since my engagement with other residents of SL, I feel more qualified than ever to explain this to the kids. I now regularly use SL as an example of the vast opportunities and possibilities offered to people with a wide range of disabilities. It allows like minded individuals worldwide to engage and flourish in an online community.
I remember fondly how as a teenager, I had to ask permission to use the phone, an old dial up monster of a thing attached to the wall!!! My Mum once bought a tiny padlock which she wrapped around the dial and then held on to the key, which meant no more secret phone calls! I would ask if I could phone my friend Eileen, and she would retort with "why do you need to talk to Eileen...sure you only saw her 3 hours ago at school!" I just badly needed to chat to Eileen about whichever boy I saw scooting along on his bicycle that afternoon!!!
So in one sense everything has changed yet things are just the same....we all need human interaction and community engagement. We are all social animals and the media is simply the way we feed that need.

For our work in progress show, I have invited the artists and curators from Cape Able to our class tomorrow night. As they are resident in RL in various parts of the globe I did this by email. While writing the email I was also instant messaging on the Sherkin Class FaceBook page, answering my mobile phone to my daughter who lives in Athlone, answering questions from my team members via our class WhatsApp Group....whew! This student life is a busy one! But isn't it fantastic, amazing, wonderful and awesome that digital communication affords us these opportunities to connect with other human beings in a variety of mediums. Working as a team remotely certainly presents challenges which I initially found frustrating, but as time goes on we learn to adapt and accept its limitations. We find ways to overcome any obstacles by engaging a range of online tools and platforms and developing our ability to be patient. I truly believe that communicating remotely will never provide the richness of face to face human interaction, but it should be looked upon as an opportunity to collaborate rather than a hindrance.

I am really looking forward to meeting Treasure, Skye, Slatan and Suellen at 'noon thirty' SL time in DIT Arcata on the mainland in SL tomorrow evening, and I'll be back to give an update of their visit.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Virtual Environments: Is one Life Enough? Details of our Brief and plans for Exhibitions

This week in SL, the majority of participants had sound and voice...yay!!! However, my euphoria did not last very long as voice and mic's could not be used because acuppatae and two or three other classmates were having wifi issues, so once again we reverted to text for our class.
Typing is not my forte (although I am improving) and as a result I often miss some of the texting conversation as I concentrate on the keyboard. While I tend to find it frustrating, my time in SL, and in particular on Virtual Ability Island, has heightened my awareness of how blessed I am to have all of my senses, so I quickly put the annoyance aside and accept the limitations of communicating in a virtual world.
John and Glenn gave an overview of our digital brief, and in particular the Second Life element of that brief. We have been assigned a Group Presentation in Second Life! This will be very challenging but also really exciting and the extra effort involved in working remotely, will hone our skills in communication.
John also explained the allocation of marks for the assessment of this module and advised us to read page 6 of the Virtual Environments website. In the first paragraph I was troubled to read the following.... "You should note that most of the posts are required to be written in the academic style".
I distinctly remember being told early on in this module that our Blogs were not to be written as an academic piece, but should be a reflection of our personal thoughts and experiences in SL. So am I to assume that this misunderstanding can be blamed on one of those "limitations of communicating in a virtual world" that I referred to earlier?!?
One way or another, its too late for me to alter my writing style in my previous posts, because "blog posts are date stamped" (as it also says on the website!!!)
This leads me to consider how on earth I, Burnsey and Freddie are going to organise an exhibition on Cape Able at the end of May....I know it will happen - but how to get from here to there is daunting at this moment in time. I reported to Glenn, John and the group that I have been in touch with Treasure, discussing suitable dates and she has assured me of her help. Interestingly, Treasure, who is deaf, finds communicating via text to be her preferred means of communication.
I visited Cape Able and had a look around the gallery there. It is over two floors and Treasure has a couple of SL artists in mind who she says would enjoy interacting and exhibiting with us. She indicated that space may limit the number of pieces we can exhibit so that may be a hurdle for us to negotiate. I have learned that each object/painting is called a 'prim' and once our pictures are uploaded to SL they are then referred to as 'textures'. We also need to go through a process called 'rezzing' the prim, placing the textures on the face of the prim, sizing it and then placing it on the wall of the gallery....for one who wouldn't consider herself to be highly computer literate, I'm certainly learning!!!
It was decided that we will have a "Work in Progress Show" on April 26th as a trial run with each of us exhibiting an individual heterotopian painting, followed by our "Final Group Show" on Cape Able towards the end of May.
Flying around outside the Gallery on Cape Able

What a lovely welcome

Some artwork in Deaf Chat Coffee 

Help yourself! 

Some of the artwork on display
During my visit to Cape Able, I enjoyed the exhibition of work by Suellen Heartsong.
Suellen's exhibit is very casual, primarily a collection of photographs taken in SL.
Suellen met her husband James, in SL and her work is about them and their love for each other. 


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Virtual Environments: Is One Life Enough? "Of Other Spaces : Utopias and Heterotopias" by Michel Foucault

This week in SL, we had a curious and intriguing discussion around this text by Michel Foucault which was originally a lecture given to a group of architects in 1967. Again, the technology let us down, we had no sound and had to proceed through text which is a bit cumbersome and confusing when lots of people contribute.
In "Of other Spaces"  Foucault looks at human perception of space since the Middle Ages and how we attach different meanings of space to different types of spaces according to their common associations.
Foucault describes a 'heterotopia' as a real place that is separate to a known or familiar space. A mirror, he says is both a utopia and a the mirror puts one in a place that doesn't exist in reality but the mirror does exists in reality. And as he says "from the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there".....How come I never thought of it like that!?!?
This reminds me of my daughter, Laura, at age five or six, looking at herself in a puddle and exclaiming "look Mammy, its me in another place!" Maybe she should be doing this course instead of her Mammy!
And so, I wonder, was the mirror a 'virtual place' in 1967? ...and how does that relate to SL? When we see ourselves (sorry!..our avatars) in SL, does the technology put us in a place that doesn't exist in reality, but SL does exist in reality? (Now I'm really confusing myself!!!) And so, is SL a heterotopia?

Focault also examines how a heterotopia separates us from our usual time. He gives the contrasting examples of libraries and museums which he suggests accumulate time, versus festivals and fairgrounds, which are much more transient.
John and Glenn challenged us to examine how we consider time in SL.....we don't grow old, we can choose the time of day or night by manipulating the technology., we can get 'lost in time' in another world.