Monday, March 12, 2012
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."
Monday, February 13, 2012
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.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
“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.