self portrait in anticipation of the singularity
self portrait in anticipation of the singularity

The Australian National Portrait Gallery in Canberra is presenting an exhibition on portraiture in a virtual setting.   I spent over an hour on  Portrait Island viewing the “doppelganger” exhibition;  that’s all the time I had, but it wasn’t enough.  There are just five exhibits, but each one takes a lot of time to explore.  I really recommend it, especially if you are working on identity and self-representation in Second Life.

I started with Patrick Lichty’s Code Portraits, which reference Andy Warhol’s “screentests” in the 1960’s.  Lichty made short machinima of friends and acquaintances who visited his Factory in Second Life, and catalogued them as a record of his Second Life, demonstrating how the lives of others intersect to form our own reality.   I was quite absorbed by this exhibit, although I would have preferred to see the videos within SL.  However, there were quite a number of them, and perhaps that wasn’t possible in the space available.

Cao Fei (SL China Tracy) presented her machinima exploration of Second Life, “iMirror,” both within SL and on a linked website.  I really liked the video, and would use it in my class, either as a field trip assignment or as a linked video for viewing outside of SL.  The video is a calm, reflective and somewhat moody montage of SL scenes that combine to form a portrait of Second Life society.

The iGods exhibit by Gazira Babeli was fun.  I don’t want to spoil it for you by telling you why, but if you are interested in the Seven Deadly Sins, DNA as code, or if you just have an inflated view of your own importance, you should see it.

The Autoscope exhibit is a collaborative project by Adam Nash, Christopher Dodds and Justin Clemens.  You are asked to type in a name on channel 1 and the programme then does some technological hocus-pocus, tracking that name in a number of databases, and presenting a completed link portrait of that person.  I would have liked to see that portrait within SL, but it is actually presented on the Autoscope page. (See Adam Nash’s thoughtful response to this passage, below.)

I did a search for Ellie Brewster, my avatar name, and sure enough, she gets a lot of hits.  But what was more interesting to me was to look at the archive of searches.  It seemed to me that people who used the Autoscope programme through the web searched for famous people: James Cameron, Barak Obama, etc.  However, people who searched from within Second Life seemed to be using avatar names — perhaps their own name, like I did?  If my observation is true, could SL people be more self-centered?  Are we more limited to our virtual space?  What does this say about Second Life and identity?

The last exhibit I saw was by Andrew Burrell (SL Nonnatus Korhonen), “temporary self portrait in preparation for the singularity.”   It was by far the most immersive of the exhibits, and I had the strongest reaction to it.  I definitely had the feeling of being “inside someone’s head.”  This can be an uncomfortable feeling.  It would be interesting to ask students to compare this exhibit with “iGods,” which has exactly the opposite effect on an avatar; “self-portrait” invites us to look within the other, and “iGods” playfully asks us to see ourselves from another’s point of view.

This exhibition runs until March 23, and they are proposing to use a section of the island as an open platform for work  identity and portraiture,  so this island promises to be an excellent space for research and study;  however, if you are thinking of bringing students to this exhibit, I’d be very careful with newbies, as there are a number of architectural jokes that will be frustrating for beginners, and there is very little signage to direct them in their explorations.