If one thing has meant more to me in Second Life than anything else, it has been the art. The Open Art Challenge at the University of Western Australia’s virtual campus introduced me to many excellent SL artists.
I’m neither an artist nor particularly well-educated in RL art. I’m the kind of person who bums along to art galleries as part of the cultural scenery of any town she happens to be visiting with an air of polite distraction. My SL self has discovered a hunger for art, and feels as if a huge visual switch was clicked on in her head because of it. Where better to feed the addiction than at the UWA Open Art Challenge, where you have a veritable smorgasbord of work from both established artists and new? I have greatly enjoyed “judging” the pieces submitted, and was so proud of myself when I was a runner-up in a competition to rank the winning pieces. (The letter from the university meant far more to me than the prize money which I no doubt squandered immediately on my virtual wardrobe.)
The best thing to me about SL art (as someone who nearly got thrown out of a Singapore gallery a short time back for taking a photo) is that nowhere is there a Don’t Touch sign and you can flying into, pose with, jump around on, and yes, photograph the pieces. (Some of my own pieces are here.)
On one of my first visits to the UWA gallery I bumped into Jay Jay Jegatheva Jegathesan in his Second Life incarnation (Jayjay Zinfawe). He looked like some sort of alien being: his metallic avatar skin shimmered with ever changing colours. But as we got talking we discovered (and what are the chances of this? ) that we had a whole lot of real life friends in common, and I had even once seen him in a play he was in (though I don’t have very clear memories of his two lines!). I’m British and came to teach in Malaysia almost three decades ago, while Jay Jay moved from Malaysia to Western Australia to study and then to work.
It was a total thrill the other day to meet the real world Jay Jay for the first time at the Digital Education Show Asia where he was giving a public talk on education in 3D virtual worlds.
In a very slick presentation, Jay Jay took us through the work that the university does in SL, we toured the virtual campus which looks uncannily like the real life one that it represents (including those damn peacocks that just wouldn’t stay still in the grounds when I tried to snap them for a photography competition!), we toured the different faculties and we saw students attending lectures. My own mind-blowing moment was seeing – a whole table of academics from Universities around the world attending a high-level meeting in the same virtual space, because as Jay Jay said, it was easier to set up than Skype.
He also showed the audience some of the Machinima and the art work. It was lovely to meet Hypatia Pickens, Dianne Eaton and FreeWee Ling (who curates the art) on screen. Hypatatia and Dianne talked about their own involvement in Second Life. And Jay Jay was there of course, a real cool dude in his leather jacket and not too dissimilar this time to the other self who was in the seminar room.
Sometimes when I’m logged into SL Jay Jay asks the members of the UWA 3D Art Challenge group to shout out where they are from because he wants to prove to a group he’s making a presentation to that we are a very diverse and far-flung bunch. Sometimes he invites us over the SL campus of UWA to show our avatar selves in all our glory (provided that we are decently dressed and not parading round in our virtual underwear) and wave at the folks on the other side of the screen. Now, sitting in the audience I was a bit frustrated that I couldn’t be in both realities at the same time! Loquacia Loon (my SL self) would have loved this.
I’ve been very frustrated that Malaysia seems very slow to move into virtual worlds for teaching and digital art. (I ran a workshop once for a design college here whose lecturers needed their students to use SL for an art project as part of their assessment with a British University – but there was no real enthusiasm or interest in the virtual world beyond that, I was sad to see.) I hope Jay Jay’s two talks at the fair have inspired Malaysian academics to make the leap into virtual worlds. I’m happy to share any knowledge I have if they do.
Thanks Jay Jay for a copy of the beautiful book 100 Treasures from UWA. The coffee stain proves that we met on the real world side of the computer screen.