The Virtual Black History Museum: Made in SL and more

The Virtual Black History Museum

Thursday, February 20th saw the release of the latest in the Lab’s on-going video series Made in SL. Subtitled History in SL, it could also fit into the category of Learning In SL, given its subject,the  presents a lesson in both history and education: the Virtual Black History Museum, which has re-opened for 2020’s Black History Month is the United States.

Founded and curated by AbriannaOceanside, the museum traces the often uncomfortable history of African Americans from the days of slavery through to modern times, as well as offering featured exhibitions on African American history and the civil rights movement, with the February and March feature focusing on the Unsung Female Heroes Of Black History – women who may not be as famous as Rosa Parks, but who have nevertheless played important roles in the shaping of African American history in the United States.

Abrianna Oceanside

The museum is split between two min buildings. The first, located alongside the landing point, has within the foyer area a complete reproduction of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech, delivered on August 28th, 1968, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC.

Through a clearly arrowed door facing the panels bearing Dr. King’s speech, visitors are invited to walk through African American history in America, from 1619 through to the 1960s.

It has been argued that the history of African slavery in America actually dates back almost a hundred years further, to the colony of San Miguel de Gualdape (which also saw the first documented slave rebellion). However, 1619 is not an unreasonable place to start a museum like that, as it was then that a ship privateered by British seamen arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, carrying some 20 African slaves to what might be regarded as the nascent United States as we know it today. Which is not to say Abrianna is in any way ignoring any earlier history of African American slavery in continental America, as I’ll come back to in a moment.

From this point, the museum, through a series of information boards, offers a chronological flow that commences on the ground floor and progress to the upper. This charts the unfolding history of slavery and subsequent matter of segregation, the Jim Crow laws, and the civil rights movement.

The boards can make uncomfortable reading for some, but they do chart a period of American history that forms an important part of the country’s heritage. Currently, they stop at 1965 and the assassination of Malcolm X, and the Watts riots that took place later that same year; but there is a reason for this, which also links back to the use of 1619 for the start of the exhibit, as Abrianna shared with me, as well as revealing some of the future direction for the museum.

At the time I originally set up the museum [2017] I intended to have a build that went into depth as far as what led us to 1619. But a sudden change in real world priorities meant I never had the time for the projects that I now do.

My long-term vision has always been to dig deeper into the “how”; not just a series of events, especially now that I have a more giving volume of space to work within, but also the focus. I want to include an exhibit on modern day issues, like police brutality/high profile cases, the prison system, institutionalised racism in general; it’s a wide topic that would be great for discussion.

– Abrianna, discussing the Virtual Black History Museum and its future

The Virtual Black History Museum

Meanwhile, the second exhibition hall is currently home to the Unsung Female Heroes Of Black History, set to run through to the end of March as noted above. Within it are a series of information boards focusing on nine women noted for their roles in civil rights, LGBTQ issues and as role-models for African American women. These provide an photo of the subject, and a brief outline of her life and work, and are in the process of being updated to direct visitors to a web biography of each woman when touched.

That exhibitions in this building will change around every two months means that visitors to VBHM have an incentive to make return trips to the museum and witness future exhibitions. In this, it forms a part of much wider plans that Abrianna has for public engagement.

I’d love to engage people interactively as well. One example of this would be to stage iconic or significant scenes from the civil rights era that allows visitors to become a witness or participant in them; the Freedom Riders, some of the sit-ins, and Selma.

– Abrianna, discussing the Virtual Black History Museum and its future

The Unsung Female Heroes of Black History

Some of this work will be dependent on Abrianna receiving support – and she is always willing to hear from anyone willing to offer practical assistance; she can be contacted via note card or through the Virtual Black History Museum’s Facebook page. Suitable events are also welcomed at the museum – with the potential for music and arts events already in the planning stages, with Abrianna already looking towards educational opportunities as well – school visits, and similar. So again, those who would be interested in holding a related event at the museum, or who would like to help Abrianna in providing space at the museum as an events venue, should drop her a line.

At a minute and forty seconds, the Made in SL video forms an excellent introduction to the museum, and as excellently narrated by Abrianna, as well as being superbly framed by the use of the famous instrumental version of Billy Taylor’s I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free, adopted as the unofficial anthem of the US Civil Rights Movement, with a version with lyrics recorded by Nina Simone. Once seen, a visit to the museum is highly recommended.

SLurls and Links

Taking wing with Made in SL

Marianne McCann gets a little Top Gun as she discusses aviation in Made in SL

The latest Made in SL video launched on Thursday, January 23rd, with a look at the aviation scene in Second Life, and featuring Second Life long-term resident, aviation enthusiast and SL historian, Marianne McCann providing the commentary.

Second Life aviation is a genuinely broad and layered subject to try to cover in under three minutes, but thanks to Marianne’s expertise in the subject, Aviation Made in Second Life packs a huge amount into its brief running time. We get a brief peek at SL history, with names like Garth FairChang and the legendary Cubey Terra rightly popping up, (Cubey actually got me into SL skydiving, which is kind-of related to flying 🙂 ), as well as touching on the range of aviation communities and flying-related role-play in SL by touching on the Passengers of SL group (a good way to get flying with the many airlines and charter flight operations that offer point-to-point services in SL) and a look at the work of the Second Life Coast Guard (SLCG) role-play group that combines airborne and marine vehicles and role-play in places like Blake Sea and its surroundings (I’d personally note that the Get The Freight Out community also encompasses flying – see: An inside look at Get the Freight Out in Second Life).

Also given the short time frame of the film, coupled with the breadth of aircraft content available in SL, Marianne wisely focuses on just a couple of options for getting into the air at the controls, pointing to Sherwood aviation – an ideal for those who wish to have a high degree of simulated realism in their flying – and to Arduenn Schwartzman’s Warbugs, which have been design purely for fun and to allow single-region air combat (I actually wrote about Warbugs back in 2012 in Bitten by the (War)bug, but I confess I’ve not flown my own Warbug “seriously” for about 3-4 years).

Flying in SL takes many forms and includes many different aircraft and aircraft styles. I don’t really have any good examples of “unusual” flying machines, but the Piaggio Orion autogyro is both fun (and challenging at times!)

However, given the range of aircraft is so vast, getting to grips with what to buy can be difficult. Hence, Marianne points to some of the more popular or bigger airports, many of which have vendors offering demo versions of aircraft. In this, places like Hollywood Airport and Hona Lee Field can be particularly helpful, as they sit on the edges of the wide open skies of Blake Sea, where having to compete with skyboxes occupying the same piece of sky as you is removed. Many aircraft makers also have their own airfields where demos are offered, so when parsing the Marketplace for ideas, allows be sure to click any link to an in-world location and go see what demos might be available and give them a go.

As a keen aviator in SL myself, I’d probably also add to Marianne’s thoughts by saying those seeking to ease themselves into SL flying and want to have fun without worrying too much about things like instrument flying via Mouselook or having to learn the correct start-up sequences and so on, might want to try the likes of DSA (available at Hollywood Airport, noted above) for fixed-wing light aircraft flying (I’ve covered several of the DSA aircraft in these pages, and as I noted back in A look at my most-used SL vehicles (thus far!), one of them remains one of my preferred aircraft today; while for rotary flight, the likes of Spijkers Aviation & Marine (just across the channel to the west of Honah Lee Field) offer a range of helos that are pretty easy to master and are a good way to get started.

Airports like Hollywood Airport and airfields can be found throughout the Second Life continents and along the interconnecting waterways and places like Blake Sea and its surrounding private estates

Of course there are some drawbacks to flying (like any other form of SL travel), such as region crossings. However, and like everything else, the best way of dealing with these is by practice and gaining familiarity with the grid’s behaviour. Certainly, fear of region crossings should be a reason to put you off.

All told, a great promotional / introductory video.

Art Made in Second Life: FionaFei’s fabulous shuǐmò

Fiona’s Reflection, as featured in Art Made in Second Life

FionaFei is a relative newcomer to Second Life and its art world, but she is someone who has made an enormous impression on those who have witnessed her art. I’ve personally had the delight in discovering it, and in writing about it on two occasions (see: Captivated by FionaFei’s art in Second Life (May 2019) and FionaFei’s shuǐmò Reflection in Second Life from November 2019).

As such, it was a joy to see that Fiona and her work are the subject of the first video (embedded below) in the Second Life series Art Made in Second Life (itself a further branching of the Made In Second Life video collection).

FionaFei (via Art Made in Second Life)

Fiona specialises in reproducing shuǐmò ink wash painting as 3D sculptures and setting within her appropriately-named Shui Mo gallery space in Second Life.

Also called shuǐmòhuà (suiboku-ga in Japanese) shuǐmò, uses different concentrations of black ink to create an image. Found throughout East Asia, it first emerged in Tang dynasty China (618–907), before spreading to Japan (14th century), Korea and to India. Beside the use of black ink in place of colours, it is also marked by the emphasis of the brushwork being on the perceived spirit or essence of the subject, rather than directly imitating its appearance.

Through her installations, Fiona marvellously brings the entire essence of shuǐmò to virtual life. In doing so, she allows the spirit of this ancient art form directly inhabit us, by making our avatars part of her work by virtue of our presence within it, whether we participate through direct interaction (as with the umbrellas in the “foyer” area that sits between the pieces referenced in the video (Reflection and Rising) or through our entry into, and exploration of, Reflection itself.

Within pieces like Reflection and Umbrella Landscape, and before them Wo Men Dakai (about which I wrote in Captivated by FionaFei’s art in Second Life), Fiona offers a combined celebration of this ancient form of art, a means of reflecting on her heritage, and an opportunity to present her own philosophy on life, as she notes both through the video and in her own writings.

As a Chinese American who immigrated from China at a young age, I created the Shui Mo series as a way of connecting with my ancestry and celebrate centuries of art from old masters who painted using traditional Chinese ink brush style….

…I see life and my journey as a painting. It can be forever an evolving piece … At any given time, you think you’ve reached the end of it, but you can always add to it, layer it, and change it. In a sense, each brush stroke is like a footprint.

– Fiona discussing her art and her world view

Three of Fiona’s traditional Chinese scroll painting – which are actually 3D sculptures, the centre on animated

What is particularly attractive about this short video (running to just under 2 minutes) is the manner in which it reflects the emphasis of shuǐmò. Rather than dwelling at length upon Fiona’s art, or presenting an in-depth look at her life and how she came to Second Life, it provides broader – dare I say  – brush strokes of both. Thus, and like shuǐmò, it captures the spirit of her work and presence hear, rather than more directly presenting the appearance of both, leaving us with the opportunity to discover more by visiting Shui Mo and Fiona’s Flickr gallery.

For my part, I cannot emphasise the sheet beauty and alluring appeal and depth to Fiona’s work, and urge anyone who has yet to witness it to both watch the video and take the time to visit her gallery in-world and fully immerse themselves in her art and vision.

Additional Links

A video of home in Second Life

A look at the new house design, inspired by the Sky Tower from 2013’s Oblivion, (see More on a Sky Tower home in Second Life) as I get back to updating my video capture and editing capabilities.

Once again, Ramin Djwadi’s music from the Westworld series formed the basis for the video, this time the hauntingly beautiful Take My Heart When You Go, from season 2, and which comes courtesy of an arrangement via Lunar Black.

Future Shock: season 3 of the Second Life machinima series

Future Shock: sci-fi machinima

I first wrote about Future Shock, an ambitious Second Life Machinima series produced by Pryda Parx, in September 2016, when the first part in the series was released, and then revisited the project at the start of 2017.

Since then, the series has grown through a second season, and Pryda has edited the episodes on both together into two special Director’s Cut versions, the first running to just over 23 minutes and the second to a touch over 32 minutes (see Future Shock: the machinima continues, for more on both the Director’s Cuts and the second season).

Now, through November and December 2019, the third and final season of the series is being made available for viewing through Pryda’s You Tube channel.

Future Shock is perhaps one of the most ambitious machinima activities to be attempted in Second Life, a 25-episode story arc split across three seasons of episodes (8, 9 and 8 per season). Set at some point in the future, the story presents a somewhat dystopian / semi-cyberpunk world where technology infiltrates every part of people’s lives, a seemingly protective blanket for all whilst also offering the means for personal gratification and escapism through the intertwining of their physical and virtual lives.

Future Shock protagonist Tracy Grayling

The latter can take the form of immersion into user-defined virtual worlds where dreams and desires are made a reality, and in the physical world, the ability for people to physically augment / redefine / rebuild their own bodies to suit their desires, in a world where everything is defined by a person’s net worth, or IP Credit (draw your own conclusions from the use of “IP”). This IP Credit can be enhanced through a variety of ways – agreeing to complete tasks that are assigned an IP value, for example.

So long as a person’s IP remains positive, then all is well. But should it decline continuously, then things can become hard; and should it zero-out completely, they can find themselves clinically and harshly dealt with. And this latter point is also the case for any who question the apparent benevolence and societal rules of the overseeing technology.

A particular point of uniqueness is the non-linear storytelling technique Pryda has used. The first season, for example, tells the story from the perspective of Tracy Grayling, dropping us into the middle of her life which appears – like the lives of so many – to be self-centred, living in this world of morally questionable ethics, in which people view their time in terms of raising themselves to the next line in a balance sheet, simply to be able to make themselves “better” physically or virtually than their peers. However, is this really so, or is she – wittingly or otherwise – an agent provocateur?

This makes the first season something of a mystery thriller: much is going on, but it’s hard to determine where it is leading. At the same time, we are drawn into the the story via Pryda’s visual technique of contrasting the “real” world, filmed in flat grey and minimal, hard colour (blue, red, white), with the promise of a virtual nirvana rich in colour. In the second season, the events witnessed by Tracy are seen from an entirely different perspective: that of those apparently fighting the controlling technology. This both adds to the depth of the underpinning mystery whilst also given greater context to the first season, making the primary arc of the core storyline clearer.

Tracy Grayling – in avatar form (r) – meets with the leader of the rebels in virtual space

With the third season, the story threads revealed in the first two seasons intertwine and draw us through a further eight episodes to the series climax.

The first part of the third season (and episode 17 overall), Brotherly Assistant is now available on You Tube. While on Thursday, November 14th, there will be a special in-world showing of episode 17 and the premier of episode 18, A Proposition, at the Grand Ballroom, Embrace Aphrodite Island (rated Adult), and the two episodes will be followed by a showing of the Director’s cut of the first season. All who are interested are invited to attend.

I don’t want to say too much about the third season – having been fortunate enough to be offered the chance to view it in advance – simply because I do not want to spoil it for others who have followed the first two seasons, or who wish to catch up with things by watching them now. What I will say is that throughout all three seasons, Pryda has woven a layered story that is worth watching throughout and – considering her own admission that season one was a case of “learn as you go” for her in terms of machinima making – one that demonstrates her growth as filmographer and storyteller.

Should you wish to catch up with the story, please follow the links below.

Made in SL: education and CNDG in Second Life

The CNDG FutureWork Institute, as 2-region setting within CNDG’s spread of some 42 regions for education, training and showcasing

On Thursday, August 29th, 2019, the Lab launched the first segment of the new Made in SL series of videos. Carrying the  banner name Learning In SL, it would appear to be the first of a series (likely interspersed with segments covering other subject matter, as indicated by the original Made In SL series announcement) looking at the use of Second Life for educational / learning / training opportunities. Specifically for this piece, the work of the international and very successful Chant Newall Development Group, LLC (CNDG) is peviewed.

CNDG is a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) developer. We specialise in creating tailored, user-friendly VLEs, offering a fully supported service on all major virtual reality platforms.

We provide our clients with networked environments where instruction, learning activities, assignments, and synchronous and asynchronous exercises are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

– From the CNDG website

Students on CNDG’s Environmental Studies course (run with Florida State University) take to the water in SL simulating studies in climate change and ocean acidification. Credit: CNDG

CNDG is deserving of being surfaced in this series as their track record is impressive – but perhaps largely unknown to Second Life users. The organisation operates an impressive 42 regions within Second Life, which are split between what might be considered “core” regions, together with sets of “demo” and “live” regions and a series of specialised study regions – including sea / undersea settings. Not all of these are open to the public, being focused on servicing clients and students.

The organisation was founded in 2006, and has grown into one of the most respected providers of VLEs for clients – universities and other educational organisations, working in partnership with Pearson, the largest education company and book publisher in the world. This success also includes working with a number of commercial clients, including the likes of US Department of Veterans Affairs, Honeywell Corporation and Pfizer, the pharmaceutical conglomerate, to provide various specialised environments and facilities in Second Life.

We are not interested in building completely automated, run-on-their-own, no-contact systems: we build environments that help educators communicate their expertise and their knowledge to students in a direct, impactful way … We have the technology needed to create more opportunities for all students at all levels and all over to enter into relationships with mentors and teachers as needed. Virtual Learning Environments which are live and networked give us the ability to break down those barriers, and bring people together across boundaries.

– CNDG CEO and founder, William Prensky

Scotty’s Castle, a recreation of the idiosyncratic villa in Death Valley, was at the time, both CNDG’s first project and most elaborate and realistic buildings in Second Life. With the help of Linden Lab, it brought CNDG to the attention of their first commercial client, America’s Public Broadcast Service. Credit: CNDG LLC

Within SL, CNDG has developed and provided courses in biology, chemistry, economics and environmental science, working particularly with Florida State University and the University of Central Florida, which have seen in excess of 2,000 students participate in activities – with around 25,000 students having participated in programme developed by CNDG as a whole over the past 12 years.

A key part of the courses and units supplied is that students can access the in-world environments through the CNG gateway. This, like SL Community Gateways, provides sign-up, avatar selection and log-in at the main CNDG campus, where tutorial-style guides familiarise them with the viewer and their initial assignments. For clients – universities, collages, and so on – CNDG can provide tailored courses based on a client’s own materials, while Pearson can provide supporting printed material for CNDG’s broader courses (including access codes to sign-in to the CDNG virtual environments), which can be made available to students through the likes of university bookshops.

Within the video itself – running to just under 2.5 minutes, we are introduced to CNDG and its work, touching on some of the successes and partnerships that have arisen from 12+ years of supplying networked educational solutions within Second Life. It’s a fascinating glimpse and well worth taking the time to watch – hence embedding it below for ease of reference.

Given the sheer breadth of educational uses SL is put to, I certainly hope that Learning in SL will  – as seems to be implied by the title itself, as noted at the top of this piece – continue to be a theme within Made in SL as the series continues to evolve.