Friday, March 7, 2008

Whereupon Blackthorn Hare creates "Yes" and becomes the first person on the planet to get his Masters degree in Second Life sculpture

If you have an interest in seeing this build in person, go soon. The sim will be wiped clean on March 11th (teleport directly from here).

photography by Stephen Venkman

It's a terrible scene. In a nanosecond, a plane will smash into a million bits after nosediving into the middle of a busy four-way intersection in smalltown Anywhere, USA. This being Second Life, however, we are able to do something that would not be possible in any other medium: walk around a frozen moment and observe and speculate on all that transpired to induce it.

While freezing an action scene and then showing various images of the subject from different points of view has been done many times cinematically, it is the opportunity to experience it in first person and choose what to look at that distinguishes the Second Life "set."

That "set," sits on a sim called "Yes," and was created by Blackthorn Hare (aka Doug Anderson) (rez: 7/7/2004), who has just kicked off what will most assuredly be more than his allotted 15 minutes of fame. It seems that Blackthorn will be the first person to ever receive a Masters degree in Second Life sculpture.

Blackthorn Hare: I've been in a Masters program at Massachusetts College of Art for a few years, and in January '07 I met with my advisor about doing my thesis in Second Life. "Thesis," in this program, isn't a written thesis... it is a coherent body of artwork. My advisor had just barely heard of Second Life but was very supportive. We had lots of talks about SL from a fine arts perspective -- aesthetics, media theory, and so on.

I had no shortage of ideas for pieces for the thesis, but the challenge was securing sims to build them on, and to figure out how to communicate my work to a Real Life audience who didn't know Second Life. A gallery show, traditionally, is not ideal for this sort of work, but I found a few work-arounds.

Bettina Tizzy: Why was that important?

Blackthorn Hare: I'm a member of the Second Life community, but also of the Real Life art community.

Bettina Tizzy: So, what workarounds did you come up with?

Blackthorn Hare: I developed a method of making stereo images of my work and ordered a box of cheap plastic glasses that let visitors to the gallery see eye-popping 3D snapshots of my work. The principle is really old, like those 3-D Viewmaster goggles, and they were really a hit at the show.

Bettina Tizzy: What inspired this disaster scenario?

Blackthorn Hare: This came out of a period last year when I was fairly down about something in Real Life, but I see the piece as actually quite positive. The key to this installation is two poseballs under the plane which allow two avatars to embrace. By doing this, we're defying some very uncomfortable truths about the world. I feel that love is an act of defiance, of rebellion. It makes no sense, given how disposed the world is towards collapse and suffering, and yet, here we are. This sim gives everyone a chance to find a friend and make a stand against what we most fear.

Bettina Tizzy: What are you going to do now that you have your degree?

Blackthorn Hare: I get the piece of paper in May, but the work for the degree is now done. I had my formal review on Tuesday that entailed a one-hour defense of the work with three professors.

Bettina Tizzy: How does it feel?

Blackthorn Hare: It feels odd not to be under the gun. That's been my life for the past four years, while teaching full time and raising a small child. I feel I'm down to only two incompatible activities now: teaching and parenting. LOL I teach art in a public high school. It's an urban school. The kids are amazing, and I have great support from the administration.

Bettina Tizzy: What do your students think about your Second Life?

Blackthorn Hare: I got them a pilot program in Teen Second Life (TSL) last year. They loved it, and I'm still figuring out how to budget for a permanent TSL presence for my school.

The sim "Yes" was made possible thanks to the generous support of Garth and Pituca Fairchang, Tayzia Abattoir, and Larry Pixel.


Jenn Forager said...

Went to visit and yes....a truly beautiful build. I love the slice of life houses, complete with lawnmower or playthings waiting for their owners to return.

Thanks Blackthorn!

J.S. Clark said...

OMG this is fantastic! Reminds me of an old Twilight Zone episode in which Burgess Meredith stops time --with an A-Bomb in mid-descent over the city. Brilliant - can't wait to see it ISL.

Bettina Tizzy said...

J.S., so sorry to have to share with you that the entire sim has been wiped. :/ Thanks to Garth and Pituca Fairchang, Tayzia Abattoir, and Larry Pixel, Blackthorn had a full sim+ at his disposal for the purposes of his thesis presentation. Now gone, though, as he accomplished what he set out to do and got his degree! :D

Anonymous said...

And herein lies the tyranny against which all Second Life artists must struggle: your work in SL is ephemeral until the Lindens allow us to create back-ups outside their grid.

As an academic, I am deeply concerned that a local institution of higher learning has granted a Master's Degree on the basis of a phenomenon that can no longer be documented. Where is the proof of the thesis? Blackthorn speaks of a "coherent body of artwork" but where is that "body" now that the sim has been wiped?

And WHY was a sim used that would be wiped for something like this?

Is the surrogate (the show he alludes to) sufficient to constitute the appropriate academic documentation?

This is a very slippery slope ...

Anonymous said...

Actually, I like the ephemeral nature of the work, like a real-life Happening, it makes the experience of seeing it more precious.

I'm happy to explain in more detail the process by which my work was evaluated. Hi-resolution screen captures of the work were on display in a gallery for anyone to see. And I had a live thesis review in which I took three professors through the installations and answered questions about my intent, about the work, and about the medium. Art students create temporary installations all the time, it's no different. You install it, document it photographically, and invite professionals to review it.

If your objections were to be applied on a broader scale, anyone ever awarded a degree in dance, drama, or any other performance-based artform would have to turn in their diploma. If it's a slippery slope, than visual and performing artists reached the bottom decades ago and are very happy there.

I used a sim that was graciously lent to me for free by Garth and Pituca Fairchang. Like Christo and other large-scale installation artists, I consider the social activity of securing permission to use a sim to be part of the artwork itself. All the components are safely tucked away in my inventory -- I could easily, given enough time, recreate the installation.

I hope this information allays any concerns you may have about my work.