16 Minds

Virtual Performance, 2010
(computer, projector, avatars)

The project uses the online game Second Life (SL) to expose real humans as virtual objects in the exhibition space. Avatars get paid to stand still and answer personal questions, which are asked via script.

1. Communication, Information & Cyberspace
Ways in which we communicate have significantly changed and expanded since the advent of the information age. In web 2.0 every internet user can publish any content worldwide. This change is referred to as the "democratisation of the internet", which is responsible for nurturing the concept of a new societal order with its roots in cyberspace. On the internet, an image/electronic reproduction of the real world is developing. On Flickr, MySpace, YouTube and Facebook, people share their ideas, thoughts and daily impressions with the world. Networks are created. Everyone is a journalist, director, an artist. On Google Earth, you can watch the world from above. With every upload or search engine request, another part of us becomes virtual; saved and set free for common use or sale. The "age of information" has resulted in information becoming the most important resource on earth. We are seduced by the desire to share or to be "someone special"; to present a virtual image of ourselves ... open to be tracked, analyzed and archived.
Cyberspace is just a tool: The possibilities and dangers of this tool depend on how it is implemented.

2. What is Second Life?
Accessible via the internet, Second Life (SL) is a virtual world, developed by Linden Lab that was launched on June 23rd, 2003. A free client program called the Second Life Viewer enables its users, called Residents, to interact with each other through avatars. Residents can explore, meet other residents, participate in individual and group activities, create and trade virtual property and services, or travel throughout the world, which residents refer to as the grid." (Wikipedia, 28.11.2009)

3. The Human as an Avatar
The avatar is a virtual image of oneself. From the body height to the shape of the nose, the avatar can be individually modulated. Users can choose their clothing and describe their characters in a profile (similar to MySpace or Facebook). Furthermore, in Second Life, they can buy perfect pre-shaped "supermodel bodies" or brand name clothing. In Second Life, it is easier to fit the image of the perfect human as promoted in the media. It is easy to become that young, good looking, sexy and successful guy. For this reason, 90% of avatars look about 20 years old and have stereotypically perfect bodies. However, the question "Why do you like Second Life?" is mostly answered with, "Because of the freedom to be who I want”, therefore highlighting the aspect of individual freedom. Another interesting point is the self-reflection that takes place via the monitor. From a distance, the person sitting behind the computer guides him/herself in the form of an avatar through the virtual world – giving the illusion of having control over a second life. In this way, people can have a better, virtual life with a log out button and the option to start anew at any time. As the status of Second Life as a game or a virtual world is frequently debated, the question of whether things that happen in virtual space are "real" or not is also posed.

4. The Project
The economy in Second Life is a metaphor for humans as a resource. Thus, I developed the idea of involving avatars/human minds in an artwork by exhibiting them as objects.
For this project, I will set up a white cube in Second Life with 16 objects on a pedestal. Avatars can sit on these objects and earn a relatively high amount of Linden Dollars per minute. Every 2 minutes, the avatars have to answer personal questions. The questions asked, will be prompted by a script (a modified version of the "Eliza-Therapist" script that offers fake psychological help). If avatars stop answering the questions, they will automatically be kicked out and unable to earn any more money. Sentences displayed on the walls of the cube explain how the installation works.
In this way, I will observe the behaviour of real people sitting behind their computer trying to "earn money online". By paying for their emotions and thoughts, I will get an insight in to who they are and simultaneously show them in an exhibition.
The SL white cube will be projected in the exhibition space in real-time. Exhibition visitors will be able to chat with the avatars via text messages.