Monday, March 12, 2012

Join Smithsonian LVM at the Virtual World Best Practices in Education Conference

Join the Smithsonian LVM at the 5th Annual Virtual World Best Practices in Education Conference this Saturday, March 17th at 10 AM SL Time (Pacific Time). LVM's Creative Director, Melissa Carrillo, will spearhead the session titled "Representing Latino Cultural Heritage in the Age of Social Media." Ms. Carrillo will be joined by research scholar from the Smithsonian National Museum of American Indian (NMAI) Cynthia Vidaurri and LVM lead artist Stacy Fox to share behind the scenes best practices curating in virtual spaces and the power of virtual worlds as learning spaces. Other special guests include artist/poet/musician Nancy Lorenza Green and writer/founder of Mouthfeel Press Maria Miranda Maloney.

The session will be followed by a tour at the Smithsonian LVM site. 

For more information about this session and the Virtual World Best Practices in Education Conference, Click Here

See you there!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Presence in the Virtual World

I find myself looking at her intensely. One key stroke and she turns around and looks at me. Her almond-shaped, dark eyes lock with mine. At times, she seems to fidget. Nervously, she turns left then right. Behind her, the museum stretches into a virtual horizon. This virtual woman is me.  In the past, I have spent more than a few hours and a few Linden dollars modifying her body dimensions and shopping for the clothes and hair styles. It seems that being comfortable in a virtual body contributes to my sense of presence in the virtual world.  And while I marvel at how well some folks can inhabit the shape of a nonhuman, I must confess I’m still confined to my human form as the best skin to help me feel I’m “there.” Only once did my virtual body take the shape of a calavera or skeleton during the Smithsonian LVM Dia de los Muertos Halloween Costume Contest. Needless to say, the feeling of incognito was liberating and just as fun as wearing a costume in the real world, further enhancing my sense of presence.  
          Duplicating real world experiences in virtual reality seems to be a key factor in developing presence, something LVM has mastered over the past three years of organizing and hosting Dia de los Muertos festivities. Not only are these events helpful in understanding, appreciating and learning about cultura, but one has the opportunity to explore the concept of self identity. My virtual self has taught me a thing or two about my real self that I had no idea existed, and while I will not get into those moment of revelation here, I will say that I have applied those new found traits of my virtual self out in the real world. But the experience of developing presence in virtual reality is not a solitary activity. Virtual reality is a social media, after all. Interaction with other avatars is an important element in developing a sense of presence. I feel “there” when I’m acknowledged by another avatar, a simple interchange of hellos seems to suffice, but events like the LVM’s Cafe Sin Fronteras poetry readings and workshops where groups of avatars are gathered gives me a sense of community. I feel connected. We socialize, exchange, read and discuss poetry and/or other topics just as we would in real life somewhere in a cafe, and more than once, we forget we are not physically sitting together, or are we? I have found, too, that returning to familiar virtual surroundings has been detrimental in my sense of presence. Experience and familiarity with the place seems to help in blurring the “there” and “here.” Perhaps this is the reason why I love returning to La Pacita and the Sin Fronteras Cafe over and over again even when there are no events scheduled. The place feels like my second home away from home. 

by MMM

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Notes on the Narrative of Virtual Reality

“The virtual is beyond photographic. The image is not recalled; rather we re-sense the intensities of experience. Virtuality, vitality, virtuosity is embedded and distributed like a rash of scarlet fever under my skin.”--Melinda Rackham, “They are reality”, The Australian Journal of Virtual Art

Enter my semi-permeable body, pliable. I register the colors of multi-colored, papel picado flags that hang across la plaza, and the brick pathways below my feet. I hang back momentarily to hear the quiet, to breath my presence in. I am both here and there. There, surrounded by blue sky, cobbled pathways, art and music. The distant sound of a hummingbird. Here, in my room of blank walls and mismatched coverlets and scattered clothes. There, I am dressed like Spring. My flowing skirt, the color of peaches, graze my legs, my short-sleeved shirt is tight across my waist. Here, I wear sweat pants and an old t-shirt, and I am wrapped in a worn-out shawl to keep the cold at bay. If I stand in this virtual space a bit longer, I will surrender to the potential pleasure of this virtual cartography. I will reach ambiguity--the space where art is born, where reality and memory are blurred. I breathe. Wait. I am present now.

I reach my arms to the sky and I fly across a blue sky. Below me is the ocean, a sprinkle of buildings, and the cafe where I’ve held poetry readings and workshops for the past year and a half. This virtual world, intended for collaboration, entertainment and education, has served our group of writers well. The engaging surroundings of La Placita and the hacienda-style buildings, artwork and music exhibitions feel like something out of our memory, or the stories of our elders, or the pueblos we’ve visited in Mexico, or lived in across the U.S. borderlands. As I fly pass La Placita, I am reminded of San Elizario, Texas, one of the first presidios in Texas established in 1789. The setting evokes a real feeling of nostalgia in me and a need to write about my abuela. I stop flying and sit in a familiar spot outside the Sin Fronteras Cafe, and I begin to write. I am present now.

Dr. Frank Biocca writes in his essay, “The Evolution of Interactive Media Towards “Being There” in Non-Linear Narrative Worlds”, that the virtual world has altered the narrative space. He states that “the original narrative medium was the body and the spoken word.” With the advent of new technologies, “the narrative virtual environments are now...the leading edge vehicle for artistic expression in our culture.” The Smithsonian LVM is perhaps one of the best spaces where artistic expression has thrived since its conception. The space has played a role in “expanding our experience of other lives, other spaces, and other ways of being.” (Biocca). Upon entering this space, the user whether artist, writer, musician or visitor, becomes a participant. He or she becomes the conductor. The director of his/her virtual destiny. Dreams and reality become a blur. The immersion and sensory-rich experiences, such as writing, reading poetry, performing music in a world outside of our real world is transformative. For a brief second, the outside world, my blank walls and unmade bed is diminished. The virtual cartography evokes real feelings of nostalgia, excitement and peace. A real sense of “being there" in a virtual space that is no longer virtual but feels real. I am filled with emotion as I write a poem about memory. My senses are alive. Biocca writes that virtual environments should be designed to create experiences and "moments when our awareness of the medium disappears and we are pushed through the medium to sensations that approach direct experience." I believe Smithsonian LVM has created such space-- a space where artists, writers and musicians can gather to tap into the sense of being inside a narrative space.


Biocca, Frank. “The Evolution of Interactive Media Towards “Being There” in Non-Linear Narrative Worlds.” 11/4/01.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Check this out!

I just visited the Smithsonian LVM Interactive Archive this morning and found a wonderful, nifty educational tool: the ¡Chequea esto! series, a compilation of animated shorts that focus on issues being discussed by Latino youth. I opened the link of the latest clip and was immediately met by Ana and Teresa, two animated youth standing in a backdrop of green trees and purple-trimmed windows. Teresa proceeds to ask Ana what she is watching on her smart device. Ana says she is watching a video of a scientist. Turns out the scientist is Liz Cottrell, a curator at the National Museum of Natural History. My 8-year-old daughter, who was standing three feet away, was immediately drawn to the voices and dropping what she was doing, sat next to me to watch Cottrell discuss her scientific career. In less than five minutes, Cottrell introduced my daughter to the wonderful world of scientific skills, study, and exploration. At the end of the short my daughter asked me if she could be a scientist too. My answer: Why yes! I think I'm going to love these ¡Chequea esto! clips. I'm looking forward to the next one.

To view the ¡Chequea  esto! clips click here.

-- M. Miranda Maloney, contributor to Smithsonian LVM

Monday, November 21, 2011

LVM Interactive Archive- A Good Resource for Educators!

The Smithsonian LVM Interactive Archive is a great resource for educators looking for interactive, historical and ecological student materials. Here you will not only find videos related to the Latino experience, but also great downloadable 3D books such as the  Eco Explorer that introduces students to the Smithsonian SI Pre-Colombian collections. The student will be fully immersed in exploration and discovery of a 3D environment, complete with archealogical sites, maps, and anthropological journals.

The LVM Watershed allows students to investigate land use, water quality, and examine various animal habitats, as well as industrial sites. One of the goals is to encourage students to participate in sustaining our biodiverse planet. We invite you to continue to explore this and many other resources available to you and your students. For more information, visit LVM Interactive Archive.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Smithsonian LVM Dia de los Muertos Festival Highlights

The Smithsonian LVM wishes to thank everyone who attended and participated in the third annual Dia de los Muertos Festival in Second Life. We congratulate the winners of our Costume Contest: Xico (First Place), Harleywood Guru (Second Place), Adrn (Third Place), and runners up ZeroPercentBodyLead and DonConejo. The winners and runner-ups received prize money in Linden dollars, the currency used in Second Life. The contest, hosted by LVM’s creative director Pennelope Wiggles, and Ninfa Blackheart, took place at the Sin Fronteras Café in front of La Placita. While the audience cheered on and voted with applause, the contestants displayed ingenious creativity in costume design and also proved to be very talented dancers. Congratulations!

Costume Contest winners

Visit from La Muerte

La Placita on Nov. 2nd


On Tuesday poets and musicians took the stage at the Dead Poets Reading. Readers included Ire’ne Lara Silva, author of furia; musician and writer Nancy Lorenza Green, Juan Manuel Portillo, author of passwords_; Amit Ghosh and Moisés S.L. Lara, and audience members like BluSky. Artist and musician César Ivan played guitar live from El Paso, Texas. The reading was followed by a CD Release Party with Radio La Chusma at the Drink Cultura Cabana
Dead Poets Reading

Radio La Chusma in-word presentation

Congratulations to team Muertos del Sol for being this year’s Ballcourt Tournament champions. Team Muertos del Sol triumphed with a score of 2-1 over mighty opponents- the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. The 3,500 year-old, Mesoamerican game was played at the Ballcourt of the Sun, an accurate pixel by pixel  reconstruction of the court, from its “I”-shape to the walls made of cut stone.  

Team Muertos del Sol and Team Notre Dame
Game play

Muertos del Sol members
Team Notre Dame at Opening Remarks

Another festival highlight was a tribute to Chicano artist  Gilbert “Magu” Luján (1940-2011), the exuberant artist whose exploration and incorporation of Chicano imagery helped to promote and advance Chicano culture and aesthetics into the mainstream arts. Luján was  known for his mixed-media car sculptures, or carritos. Visitors rode replicas of Magu's carritos during the festival.

Gilbert "Magu" Lujan

Carritos Race

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Final Day of Dia de los Muertos Festival!

The Smithsonian LVM in Second Life continues its Dia de los Muertos programming with a Ballgame Tournament at 3 p.m. EST. The Mesoamerican game is known to have been played as early as 1000 B.C. by people of Mexico and Central America. To learn more about this game, visit Mesoamerican Ballgame: An Educational Website

At 9 p.m. EST the fun commences with a Costume Contest and Calaveras on Wheels, followed by a tribute to artist Gilbert "Magu" Lujan, and Calaveras and Carritos Race.

Come mingle with us during the day, learn the traditions of this long standing celebration, enjoy the ofrendas, cultural videos, and art exhibits and interviews.