Log Rolling Avatars and Virtual Identities

I think of avatars as vehicles, a means of travel within virtual worlds. They are frozen fragments of our kaleidoscopic self-image(s). Avatars as vehicles cost a lot less than a car and are capable of taking us to outer space one minute and far beneath the ocean in the next. Mosaic pieces of self spinning through the electric hum of cyberspace.

Log Rolling at Armageddon
A log rolling self portrait ? Lady Fog avatar on the island of Cocoon.

Visitors to different virtual world locations often adapt their avatars to blend in and belong. (Avatars tend to be rather conformist, but don’t tell them that.) Creators of both whimsical and educational locations in virtual 3D worlds encourage tourists to kit out their avatars according to the relevant theme. By encouraging visitors to ‘dress’ appropriately they can become more fully immersed in the experience of their visit. For example, if you visit the *1920s Berlin Project in Second Life it is suggested that you wear the (free) 1920s clothing provided. This helps avoid the faux pas of wandering around pre-war Berlin dressed as a medieval knight or a Nasa astronaut (basic considerations for experienced time travelers).

Treehouse and balloon
Treehouse and balloon on Cocoon Island (designed by rikku Yalin)

To my mind, this shows how we wear the places we visit in online 3D worlds (just as in our physical apparentlymorerealworld). With this in mind, I have recently been entertained by the idea of donning a Second Life avatar and then giving myself the task of seeing what place the avatar might wear… Hence the post where Lady Fog is liberated from a framed picture in the Meta_Body exhibition and carried away by mechanical flying boat to the island of Cocoon.

Queen of the crows
Animated avatar & possible Queen of the Crows ('Fog' avatar courtesy of Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu)

Avatars are playing an ever greater role in our online lives. You do not have to visit virtual worlds to have one. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and a multitude of other social networking sites use avatars nowadays. In fact, at Gravatar.com  you are encouraged to zip up your ‘Globally Recognized Avatar‘  and prepare it for travel across the internet where it can be used on (as they say) a ‘kajillion websites’.  These gravatars are colorful cubes that we can stick in the comments box on sites (strangely parallel to sending letters with a postage stamp on an envelope). WordPress provides free patterned squares of color to those who lack a gravatar thus enabling them to leave a little decorative stamp of individuality in the comments area below posts. (Try it and see, you will be given a colorful cube with a geometric design (that looks surprisingly like a quilting pattern) should you decide to leave a comment below this post… Theoretically, once you have experienced a Gravar first hand you will be so stirred with the hunger to establish your own virtual identity you too will set out to establish your very own cube of portable social presence.

Peaceful view with distant ruins
Peaceful view with distant ruins (Cocoon)

In a way, a gravatar is our digital portrait. The poor person’s land grab in the digital void. The rich and famous commission paintings of themselves; these are highly controlled portrayals designed for posterity, destined to be the lasting record of their lives, forever posed in a good light. Well, whether you use the term avatar or gravatar, these pictorial signatures are cost cutting self-portraits and part of their economical use derives from the fact that they acquire significance from their surroundings. That is, you are saying something about yourself not only from how you depict yourself in your image cube but also in where you place your avatar/gravatar. The location soaks into your little avatar stamp and flavors it with peripheral information about your tastes and sensitivities.

Flying elephant
Cyberloom dressed as in Meta_Body's 'Fog' avatar seated upon a flying elephant.

This seems a good place to finish this post with an important statement about myself. I leave you with a picture of Cyberloom wearing borrowed avatar clothing, traveling through digital space seated upon a comfy cushion on a flying elephant. It really does say a lot about me.

Happy Space Traveling.

Post notes & credits:

*1920s Berlin Project in Second Life is actually a role playing sim in Second Life. This means site-seers are welcome but it is important that they wear the clothing of that period and allow those who are actually role-playing (i.e. imagining themselves in Berlin at this time and exploring their stories) are not interrupted. See the interesting article about this sim written by Jo Yardley, make sure that you check out the comments section as there is additional information posted there as well.

The Petrified Gallery: Meta_Body Exhibit created by Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu.
Slurl: 
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Porto/126/113/703 (Please visit the gallery to see more of the avatar creations of Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu.

Cocoon at slurl: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Strand/143/125/39/ created by rikku Yalin

Out of the Painting and into the Cocoon

A tale about a woman who escapes from the trap of a painting where she was held like a dead moth in a dusty case. Where was she from? Where was her home? Who was she? What dastardly magic had caught her and imprisoned her in art ?

Delicatessen and Fog Painting
Delicatessen and Fog Painting

There is a very special art gallery in Second Life, it is a huge shadowy room filled with paintings that glow in a dark cavernous space. It is intriguing to learn that all is not as it seems at the Meta_Body Exhibit found in the Petrified Gallery, for here we discover that these paintings can be brought to life. We the viewers supply that ‘life’… With just a few simple mouse clicks that lightly touch upon the canvas we can become the strange and mysterious beings of the paintings. (Truth be told, if we should ever pause long enough for thought, such activities could be seen as some form of arcane magical practice.)

Fog avatar leaving the gallery
Lady Fog running for the exits

I selected the image titled ‘Fog’ and before I knew it I was the lady known as Fog! It was almost as though the woman in the portrait had jumped down from her gilded frame and was making a run for the exits with my soul in her possession. Her shoes were very thin ballet shoes and they made a light swishing sandpapery sound as she ran across the dusty floor. Her dress was rough to the touch and she smelt of hessian sacking, garlic and hair spray. The next thing I knew I was trying to yodel like an Alpine shepherdess but found (rather sadly) I sounded more like a cheap imported fog horn. This ululating caused a fabulous mechanical flying boat to materialize, the astonishing machine then lifted me right through the gallery roof and high up into the dark skies overhead.

Princess Fog escapes the gallery by skyboat
Lady Fog escapes the gallery by mechanical flying boat (the Morpheus Meriman)

The flying boat flew across the electric night of virtual space and I wondered where Lady Fog was heading as the stars flew past us and I concentrated on not falling out of the flying contraption.  As dawn broke across the digital heavens the flying boat began to descend to a land I later discovered was known as Cocoon. To be continued

Cocoon
Dawn over Cocoon

Meta_Body

Meta_Body
The virtual experience of the body is not exactly an experience of the flesh. These sensations, albeit having a physical sensorial aspect, continue to be experienced in our bodies behind the screen, not in our avatar body. The virtual body is a metaphorical body, all language, therefore open to experimentation and possibility.
In this new project, Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu invite you, once again, to rethink your bodies through your avatars, making available all kinds of skins, shapes, body parts, clothes, etc. All these items will be fully modifiable, shareable and copyable, thus challenging the audience to become creators and also share their derivative work with us, in the All My Independent Women RL exhibition. While the avatars will be available in the Second Life Sim Delicatessen, the pictures and machinimas of the derivative work will be displayed at VBKOE, Vienna, giving a glimpse in RL of the new creative flux, beyond the concepts of author and work of art, happening online.

The above text is taken from Meta-Body on Flickr:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/capcatragu/6175364863/in/photostream

Post Credits:

The Petrified Gallery: Meta_Body Exhibit created by Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu.
Slurl: 
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Porto/126/113/703

Mechanical Flying Boat by Sextan Shepherd

Cocoon at slurl: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Strand/143/125/39/ created by rikku Yalin