Orientalism in Second Life

Orientalism

Open now at the Gedenspire II Gallery, curated by Walter Gedenspire, is Orientalism. The title and focus of the exhibition – an examination of patronising representations of the Middle East in art – are taken from Edward W. Said’s 1978  book of the same name.

Displayed across the gallery’s two floors are over 60 images, together with signage bearing a wealth of information on the subject. The lower floor primarily focuses on paintings by 19th century French artists – Pierre RenoirEugène Delacroix, Jean Ingres, Jean-Léon Gérôme and Henri Matisse (the later spilling over into the 20th century). These are supported by other western views of the Middle East: a poster from the 1966 film Khartoum, a post of Rudolph Valentino in Arab-style garb, cover art for an edition of A.E.W Mason’s The Four Feathers, and two paintings by Pablo Picasso.

Orientalism

The selected art very much points to the habit of painters in the 19th century – some of whom never travelled to the Middle East – romanticised the western view of Arabia – to inject a strong, almost patronising, western fantasy view of the East. Even among those who did make the journey eastwards, be it to Arabic states or places like Algeria, their work was heavily influenced by the Romantic movement, which reached its peak alongside the rise of French Orientalism, and western erotic leanings. Renoir went so far as to be outright dismissive of the “genuine article” he encountered during his travels.

The selected paintings are reflective of all of this, and the information boards expand on the art and the artists in an informative, easily digestible narrative.  Meanwhile, on the upper floor is a much broader display, covering cities / architecture, the influence of oriental clothing on western high fashion, and the more romantic views of the “oriental landscape”. Occupying one end of this floor is a small display of art by Osman Hamdi Bey, an Ottoman administrator who became enamoured of French Orientalism to the point of studying under two of the foremost exponents of the form, Jean-Leon Gerome and Gustave Boulanger.

Orientalism

For those who enjoy art and / or history, Orientalism is an interesting exhibition, nicely informative without being overbearing in the amount of information on offer. The gallery is nicely decorated in a style suggestive of Moorish interior styling, and for those who feel in the mood, a couple of “Arabic” costumes (female and male) are on sale in the gallery foyer at L$100 each.

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Lab engages on Reddit about Sansar

Sansar. Credit: Linden Lab

As Linden Lab gradually continue to ramp towards  more open access to Sansar, Peter Grey, the company’s Director of Global Communications has taken to Reddit and the Sansar sub-Reddit to address questions from those interested in Sansar and who may or may not be Second Life users.

While Peter’s responses to questions don’t reveal much about specific technical aspects of Sansar or reveal potential dates for the upcoming “creator beta” (again, the Lab has always indicated it using capability and functionality as the driver for opening the doors more widely, rather than a set-in-stone (or arbitrary) date marked on a calendar), his response to question thus far do make for interesting reading.

The thread starts with a simple enough question – has anyone been accepted into the Creator Preview yet? For those following Sansar, the response is fairly obvious (yes, several thousand now), and a re-iteration that more people will be invited over them coming weeks / months, together with an invitation for people to apply for access. Within the thread there is a series of questions which, although familiar with Sansar, have their answers summaries below for completeness:

  • There is no specific date on which the more open “creator beta” will be launched
  • Pricing for Sansar has yet to be finalised
  • Sansar is a platform for VR experiences that are also accessible via PCs (i.e. an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive recommended and preferred, but not necessarily 100% required)
  • What appear to be “delays” in opening the “creator beta” is because the Lab is approaching Sansar carefully as they effectively build it from the ground up.
Sansar. Credit: Linden Lab

However, perhaps the most interesting responses follow two questions which have been raised in numerous forums  besides this sub-Reddit:

  • How does the Lab think SL regulars are going to like Sansar?
  • Is there a policy on adult content in Sansar?

In reply to the first question, Peter states:

To be totally honest, I think there will initially be a mixed reaction from SL regulars. Some will love Sansar and what’s possible with this platform from the start, while others will be disappointed that it doesn’t (yet, at least) meet their expectations or hopes of what it should be.

I’ve seen both reactions from SL creators who have joined preview. Some are excited about what they can create and do now, and what they’ll be able to do in the future. Others – particularly if they’re expecting Sansar to be “SL2” – can be disappointed about things not working the way they’re used to in SL, capabilities that are important to them in SL but not (yet, at least) available in Sansar, etc.

We try to be as clear as we can in repeating that Sansar isn’t intended to replace SL nor to be a sequel version of it. I’d encourage SL regulars to check out Sansar from that perspective and to bear in mind that even when we open creator beta, there will still be many features and further functionality yet to come.

All that said, creators in preview have already made some awesome social VR experiences with Sansar, and some of my personal favourites have been made by SL users, so I’m eager to see the swell of creativity when we open creator beta and even more creators join.

That reaction has been mixed among SL users accessing Sansar isn’t surprising – and it is likely to be something that will continue through the “creator beta”, simply because the view that Sansar is supposed to be some kind of “SL 2.0” does persist quite strongly within the SL user base, despite repeated comments from the Lab to the contrary.

There are a number of areas where Sansar, in the first instance, will take getting used to by those more at home with the full spectrum of SL capabilities. Some of these will likely be a case of having to accept – such as the editing environment which will remain distinct and separate to the run-time environment where most users will experience Sansar environments and interact, even if “native” creation tools are added to it at some point. Others – such as the avatar and avatar customisation capabilities – may initially appear limited, but will hopefully improve over time.

Sansar. Credit: Linden Lab

In response to the adult content question, Peter stated:

Adult content won’t be allowed at the opening of Sansar’s creator beta this summer. Ultimately, we want Sansar to be an open platform that enables creators to make all kinds of experiences, but early on we also want to be careful that a single genre of content doesn’t come to define the platform and potentially limit its appeal to other creators.

While it may seem like censorship, limiting adult themed activities from Sansar does make some sense given the way that when Second Life did tend to hit the headlines from 2006 onwards, it was often in terms of the sexual content rather than the wider aspects of the platform. So  wanting to limit the risk Sansar will be similarly tarred is understandable. Of course, this still raises the question over how people react when “adult” content / activities are eventually permitted within the platform – but at least the Lab won’t be forced into fighting some kind of “rear-guard” action against any salacious reporting /  reporting bias towards focused only on adult activities from the minute the platform débuts to a wider public.

Sansar. Credit: Linden Lab

Taken as a whole, this Sansar sub-Reddit is worth reading in full, both for Peter’s comments and the broader questions and feedback from other users. Certainly, seeing peter engaging through it is positive, and it’ll be interesting to see if / how feedback like this grows over the coming months, and whether it extends to other forums.

Simbelmyne and a Love Story in Second Life

Simbelmyne

Simbelmynë, also called Evermind, has its roots in Tolkien’s tales of Middle Earth. It was a white flower that grew in Rohan; now, in Second Life, it is the name given to one half of the homestead region of Isle of Love.

Designed by L E S (Lestat Heninga) with assistance from Arol Lightfoot, Simbelmyne in Second Life presents a beautifully wild landscape carrying echoes of Tolkien’s Middle Earth without intending the be representative of Middle Earth.  Covering the northern half of the region, it is entirely open to the public with the exception of the beach house in the north-west corner of the land, which is a private residence.

Simbelmyne

The SLurl will deliver visitors across the region from the beach house, in the north-east corner, where they’ll immediately see the Tolkienesque influence. An ancient ruin stands atop a set of worn stone steps and runs southwards over a series of arches spanning a shallow inlet, to arrive at an old fortification, itself in ruin. Headless and armless winged figures stand guard over the steps, and across the bridge-like arches a stone robed figure stares blankly westwards.

A mist drifts slow inland from the arches, sharing the space between tall fir trees with ferns and white flowers which could so easily be simbelmyne, to where more walls, these intricately carved, sit within a small copse. Beyond them the land opens out, pointing the way towards the beach house on the horizon, allowing the view of it to remind visitors it is a private residence.

Simbelmyne

Further south, the trees give way to a small lake fed by a waterfall. An old wooden shack sits on the bank of the lake, bracketed by a moored rowing boat on one side and a small camp on the other, across the neck of a reedy channel that points eastwards to the sea.  A track meanders by the lake, heading west to the beach (open to the public), the ground carpeted in ferns and flowers which slowly give way to grass as the sands on the beach are reached.

Across the curtain of cliffs dividing the land is Love Story – Lost at Sea, by Lauren (Daisy Kwon). This is a coastal setting with a story of its own concerning lost love, hopes, the passing of time, and a love that encompasses a lifetime. The best way to enjoy this story is to read it for yourself from the note card that#’s presents to all arrivals to the land, and I’m not going to repeat it here.

Love Story – Lost at Sea

Hemmed to the north and east by high cliffs, but open to the sea to the west and south, the land presents itself as a coastal village or hamlet – where is not important, although the buildings running along the single street suggest this is somewhere along the European coastline of the Mediterranean. These buildings – a tavern, a bakery and a coffee-house – look out over a small, square harbour where sailing boats are tied alongside old wooden piers, watched over by a squat lighthouse. The latter seems needed, given the wreck brought up against the rocks to one side of the harbour entrance.

An old shack sits in the shadow of the lighthouse. It occupies a small space of flat land between lighthouse and rows of grape vines which step their way down a gentle slope. The shack forms a part of the story to the region, as does the gravestone close by. Looking out over the harbour, the shack is the perfect vantage point for sea views, perhaps only matched by the ruins of the old pavilion on the far side of the harbour, a place now devoted to dancing.

Love Story – Lost at Sea

Set beneath a setting sun, both Simbelmyne and Love Story – Lost at Sea offer romantic locations ripe for visiting. Each has a number of spots where sitting and cuddling can take place, and both are very photogenic.

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Isle of Love is rated Moderate