OdysseyOdyssey is a simulator in the online world of Second Life devoted to presenting contemporary art and performance. Odyssey provides studio space to dozens of artists and features continuous online exhibition space for installation and performance work. The simulator is currently co-managed and co-curated by Yael Gilks (Fau Ferdinand) and Liz Solo (lizsolo Mathilde).
Experiencing an artwork as an avatar in a virtual space is different than viewing it on a screen or reading about it after the fact. You kind of have to be there. When one spends time in a simulated environment, the landscape of the mind and the landscape of the machine merge somehow, leading to sensory immersive experiences. In an effort to bridge/blur the space between the real and virtual worlds, many online artists are creating pieces that involve both the virtual and live performance spaces simultaneously–sometimes called “hybrid-reality” or “mixed reality” events.
At the 2010 Odyssey Performance Art Festival, Los Angeles-based Micha Cardenas (Azdel Slade) and Elle Mehrmand (echolalia Azalee) presented Virus.Circus. using wearable electronics, sensors, and audio to bridge virtual and physical spaces. The performers’ heartbeats and voices were monitored and streamed from a local art galleryinto Second Life as they and their avatars performed intimate actions in both places: via soft sensors, the movement of the performers in the gallery space effected the movement of the avatars in virtual space. A large-scale projection in the gallery allowed local audiences to experience the work from both perspectives.
Dozens of artists around the world present work simultaneously in both physical gallery and virtual Odyssey spaces over a 24 hour period. nora Furlough conceived Zeitgeist for the Muro Gallery in Geneva also using mixed reality as its central concept. She streamed live video from the Muro Gallery into the Second Life space and vice-versa. In another experiment, “Real Virtual Games” –Participatory Mixed Reality Performance by Isabel Valverdeand and Todd Cochrane, dancers in the Muro Gallery improvised choreography in response to the real-time movement of avatars in “Second Life.”
Live streaming was also central to a recent Odyssey presentation of The Gate by Yannick Antoine and Yves Bernard–which ran for six weeks as part of the 8thShanghai Biennale–creating an intersecting point between Odyssey and China’s Shanghai Art Museum. Scores of gallery goers in Shanghai peered into a window to Odyssey and many online performers took the opportunity to present new work for these new audiences. Some viewers misunderstood the interface and language barriers made it challenging to communicate with them. There were also periods of dead space punctuated only by the appearance of the Shanghai security guard shuffling past the camera on his rounds. Limitations of virtual exhibition space are continuously being exposed by artists pushing the parameters of live performance. The technology is still rife with glitches but crashes, lag, and time delays; all the unknown elements that come from pushing the technology’s potential are part of the nature of the beast.
Odyssey was founded in 2005 by the avatars known as Sugar Seville and Pacino Hercules (Marcus Markou). The pair met in-world and knew that the Second Life interface held great potential for artists and their creative processes. Markou decided to purchase the simulator as an experiment and Seville then became the driving force in establishing Odyssey as an arts community. She curated the first 3 years of exhibits and invited scores of performance artists to present work, building Odyssey into a network of over 600 people. Much beloved, Seville worked tirelessly for Odyssey until her departure in 2008 when she passed the reigns to Helfe Ihnen at an online public meeting of community members. Ihnen went on to deftly maintain and curate the simulator for two years, during which time Seville disappeared from Second Life. Her real life identity remains a mystery to this day. Markou says, “She was a great source of creative spirit. I still don’t know who she is – in real life – and I really like that. She’s like a virtual muse.” For over five years, Odyssey enjoyed financial sponsorship from the UK-based Dynamis Media Group. It was in December 2010 that Markou announced their intention to move on:
“Dynamis got involved because we genuinely wanted to see how virtual worlds would impact on how information is shared. Second Life preceded the craze that was Facebook and Twitter. At the time, I thought Second Life would become an embedded part of everyday life for most people. That never happened, largely because of Facebook.”
Despite this (or perhaps because of it), Second Life remains a viable meeting and workplace for an international community of artists. In January 2011, 16 members of the Odyssey group came forward to pool resources and take over the costs of the simulator. Odyssey has, in essence, evolved into an artist-run virtual space.
In its sixth year of existence–a long time in virtual years–Odyssey, like the Metaverse (another virtual space), is in a continuous state of flux. When developers invest time and energy into a virtual world, building communities upon a social platform, it is healthy to remember that these worlds are transient and changeable, and ultimately controlled by corporations, which use them for advertizing as they use other social networking sites. Every incarnation is a stepping-stone in creating the next virtual world.
New synthetic environments are continuously being introduced via Odyssey and many of these artists are also exploring other virtual spaces, including Open Sim environments (virtual spaces run with Open Source programming on independent servers). The Craft simulators are based on Second Life‘s Open Source Linden Scripting Language (LSL) and Odyssey recently opened a sister island there. Odyssey on Craft is a brand new frontier ripe with possibilities, now slowly being animated with the content of early pioneers.
Artists will continue seeking the boundaries of Odyssey and pushing to go beyond them. The many manifestations of work involving hybridity reflect visions of the not so distant future–when virtual spaces will not be separate from real space, will not be viewed through a screen or special interface, but incorporated into the real world.
Rose Borchovski on Odyssey
Dekka Raymaker on Odyssey
Micha Cardenas/Azdel Slade
Video of performance by Micha Cardenas and Elle Mehrmand on Odyssey
By Lizsolo Mathilde