Digital EthnographyIn Virtual Worlds:
Michael Gipson (Michaelmichaelmotorcycle) Returning from Wonderland
EthnographyThe immersion of oneself in an unknown culture for an extended period of time. To steep the mind and senses in the ways of the other, recording, observing, interacting, and participating in the norms, rituals, and practices for the purposes of research and the goal of understanding. A kind of collaborative anthropology. Knowing them by becoming one of them.Digital EthnographyThe practice of ethnography in a virtual environment. Its stages are:
Data CollectionContent AnalysisComparative AnalysisDefinition: Ethnography. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2016, from http://www.aqr.org.uk/glossary/ethnographyMeaning
Data CollectionThe act of collecting and measuring data in a systematic fashion that allows one to use the information to answer questions relatedto research. It is very important that this information is accurate so that hypotheses can be tested and evaluated.
Content AnalysisA technique for describing written, spoken or visual communication in a systematic way. This can be done using any media that can be recorded and reviewed. It can be used to analyze material or make sense of open-ended interview responses.Data Collection. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2016, from https://ori.hhs.gov/education/products/n_illinois_u/datamanagement/dctopic.htmlContent analysis: Introduction. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2016, from http://psc.dss.ucdavis.edu/sommerb/sommerdemo/content/intro.htmComparativeAnalysisA study that compares and contrasts two (or more) things. The study may be done to find the main differences between things that seem very similar, or it can be done to find the similarities in things that appear to be quite different on a surface level.What is comparative analysis? (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2016, from http://www.ask.com/business-finance/comparative-analysis-8661b9dfcce91fbc
Down the Rabbit HoleWhen I began this journey of exploring Second Life, I immediately thought of the Alice stories by Lewis Caroll. I felt as if I had fallen down the rabbit hole into a strange new world of which I had little understanding. Basic things, such as moving and looking had to be relearned. There were familiar things, to be sure, as this world was created by human beings, but it was all very much like having a vivid dream in which you are able to do amazing things, such as fly and teleport to the next dream sequence, but at the same time you feel lost. A stranger in a strange land. In my real life, I am intensely uncomfortable about leaving my door without a plan. Something about this place, however, beckoned me to take a leap of faith.
In my first several minutes in the world, my avatar would not coalesce into a human form and remained a misty mass for a time. When I finally did appear I realized that while the avatar I chose was dressed in a snappy looking suit, he was otherwise pretty basic. Even someone with my limited Second Life experience knew that the others, meaning the regular denizens of this world, would spot me for a newb if I didnt make some wardrobe changes. After a period of adjustment and learning how to navigate , I found a newbie mall of sorts where I was able to acquire some fantastic wings and other wearables. After that I felt more ready to take on this new world.
I wanted to overcome my newness to this world as quickly as possible so I could be something better than an awed tourist when I started asking avatars questions.This required immersion. I needed to find where people were interacting and join them in their rituals. At a country music club called Wildcat Country, I was able to join the dancing, partying denizens and absorb the textural elements of my surroundings. I could almost hear the creaking, of the beer soaked floorboards as my avatar moved to the music alongside those who have undoubtedly visited this locale many times. I was out of place with my wings and suit next to these leather and denim wearing country aficionados. Somehow, I let my figurative hair down and let the festivities carry me away. At the end of the experience, I felt that I better understood the belonging people here felt. Now it was time to get to work.
Research Questions1. What is the artists real world occupation?
2. Does he/she do primarily digital or traditional art?
3. What style of art dominates his/her work?
4. What is his/her inspiration for art making?
5. Does he/she work collaboratively or individually?
6. What is his/her reason for creating art?
7. What is his/her reason for exhibiting in Second Life?
Armed with my research questions, I began to explore this strange new world, looking for inspiration. My problem wasnt finding stimulating things too see, it was figuring out a way to decide which ones I would focus on. This is a vast world, full to the brim with wonders.
I found The Galleries, Georgiana through on online search for art galleries in Second Life. When I arrived at the location, I felt as if I had stumbled upon some kind of marine life research institute. The building was perched on the edgeOf a wide ocean. I imagined the smell of salt air and the sound of seagulls calling in the distance. The only things that identified the building as an art venue were the cryptic symbols that were present in parts of its faade.Upon entering, I immediately knew that I was in the right place. Walls filled with color, texture and form spoke to me, beckoning me to come closer and know them more fully.
The Old Man
I did not expect to be captivated by Old Man by Uleria Caramel. I was wandering around for several minutes before I stumbled into it. I had been looking at art for hours in so many places around the virtual world, and one gallery was starting to look like the next. This gallery was no exception. I wanted to find a work of art to talk about that was spectacular and moving. This work is not spectacular in a conventional sense, and I myself am an artist that has up to this point focused on depicting things in a realistic way. Despite that,something about this odd drawing spoke to me and I found myself staring at it for a long time. I continued to do so as I sent a message to the artist, requesting an interview.The Galleries, Georgiana (217, 220, 34) - Moderate
1. What kind of art do you make on Second life? (Real or abstract, and drawing, painting, digital, etc.)
Colors and contrasts are important to me and my style is mainly abstract expressionism. I use various techniques; drawing, oil painting, glass painting (glass art in general), ceramics, aquarelles, photographing etc.
2. Why do you make art on Second life? What are the benefits?
Art brings people together and gives them an opportunity to discuss about feelings and emotions. I love the idea that my art (or any others art) speaks to people and they can find new things from their thoughts when they are looking my art. Art is a mirror... Art in SL brings some "intelligence" to this mad virtual drama world! :D
3. What kind of artist are you in real life? (What do you do in real life?)
The artworks I make in SL are art pieces from my RL. So there is no difference between my SL art or RL art. Art is a hobby to me. I have a degree in Bachelor of Culture and Arts (BA) and hoping to find a job from that area. But it is quite hard.
4. How do you collaborate?
I visit art exhibitions, meet other artists and art curators there.
5. How did you make this artwork? (Medium, kind of materials)
Old Man is a coal drawing on paper.
Questions sent in advance, answered by note cardThe Galleries, Georgiana (217, 220, 34) - Moderate
Uleria (or Ule, as she liked to be called), contacted me the day after I sent her a message asking if I could interview her. She completed the advance questions In sent her via note card and agreed to meet me in the gallery to talk more about her work.
[08:09] MichaelMichaelMotorcycle: Is (Old Man) an ink wash drawing?[08:09] Uleria Caramel: It is a charcoal drawing.[08:10] MichaelMichaelMotorcycle: Oh nice. Is (the subject) someone you know?[08:11] Uleria Caramel: actually I made that drawing fast and I just wanted to draw a man.. Not any particular manso I think that man is a general man in my thoughts[08:11] MichaelMichaelMotorcycle: It seems like there is a lot of abstract influence in it.is that what you normally do?[08:11] Uleria Caramel: oh yes.. Abstract is my thing[08:14] MichaelMichaelMotorcycle: How long have you been making art?[08:15] Uleria Caramel: My whole life I could say, but in SL from year 2011[08:15] MichaelMichaelMotorcycle: Can I ask which country you are from?[08:15] Uleria Caramel: Finland[08:17] MichaelMichaelMotorcycle: So does all your art start out in the real world, or do you do digital?[08:18] Uleria Caramel: I have done some digital art too, but I havent brought them hereI usually manipulate the images before I download them here, so the colors are right, maybe correct some brightness and so on[08:22] MichaelMichaelMotorcycle: Do you get a lot of responses about your work by being on SL?[08:23] Uleria Caramel: well my experience is that you have to be active and then people will notice better
*idle chitchat edited out for the sake of clarity
Portion of Live Interview with Uleria Caramel on February 22, 2016*
ART BOX is a place that you would imagine was made by a delightful madman. It feels very much like a rodeo drive boutique, with its austere minimalist design letting the products do the talking. The products seem like an arrangement of vinyl records in their respective sleeves. Nothing is for sale in this Wonka-esque establishment however. All of its wonders are for the taking. So I tried on several of the styles that were available. I also interviewed Frankie Rocket, one of the creators of ART BOX, an interactive experience where avatars can become a part of famous works from art history and popular culture. Due to scheduling misses, I was never able to meet his avatar in Second Life, but he was kind enough to thoroughly answer questions via email.
My first selection was The Scream by Edvard Munch. As I touched the screen to activate the experience, I wondered if my venture into the two dimensional realm would have a clear pathway back. Before I could ponder it further, I was sent bouncing into another dimensional space.I was in a room that looked like a movie or television set. I thought of the little boy in Willy Wonkas chocolate factory who was shrunk down into a character in a television program. In the story, he was never the same again. Would my fate be different? I had to know.
Why did you decide to create Art Box?I had created a 'set' for Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" that I was very pleased with and thought it was fun hanging out in, but after the novelty wore off it was languishing in my inventory. It was Violet who suggested I should leave it out on display for other people to fool around with, and so I did. It was a hit. It seems inevitable that we would then think of adding some variety, and taking a cue from Nighthawks, we chose a second famous painting to model. Then a third, and so on. Soon it became clear we were going to need a purpose built building to house them in. That became atwo story building. Then three. victims of our success but enjoying it so much! Then we realized an entire sim wouldn't be enough, so we turned to rezzing them on demand in the (now) three story building that is Art Box.
How difficult was it to create it?Art Box is a labor of love, so not difficult at all. If you want a cold hard answer, well some of the easier sets took two of us two or three nights to create, say about 10 person-hours. Others took us a week or more. Then there is a lot of behind the scenes stuff going on too. I wrote a very complicated inter-process software system that tracks who is using which set, and how long they've been using it for, and keeps other consoles from (over) rezzing the current user until they've had a minimum time slot to pose with the set they chose. Before this Art Box was anarchy. People getting into fights all the time. Weapons and abuse in an Art Gallery! Can you imagine people being so keen to be first in line with a conventional gallery?! So the various management systems that make Art Box run smoothly took many weeks or perhaps months of work to develop. Yet as I said at the start, it was for the love of it. It was also a joint project. Violet and I created everything as a pair. Itcame about as a by-product of'creative play' between us. So I'd never use the word 'difficult'.
How did you come up with the idea?I had been working full time as a freelance Machinimatographer for a host of blue chip companies who had set up in SL but wanted to find ways to show the rest of the world what they were doing. Filming in SL, and doing it well, was a skill I developed. So I made machinima for Microsoft, for Intel, for Reebok, and many, many more. After a year or so, SL's bubble popped and all the corporates left. I was devastated because it was my primary income. After a while though I realized I had loved the actual work so much, I was missing not just the income but also the creative fulfillment. Then I realized I could at least have the fulfillment - I could be my own client! And that meant the added bonus of ditching the corporate messages and just doing something beautiful for it's own sake. Out of nowhere came the idea to create a 2 minute film that samples the atmosphere in Hopper's Nighthawks Diner: that lethal sense of insomnia, alienation and doubt. It was while I was making it that I discovered that Hopper painted it on the eve of America's entry into the Second World War, so my take on it felt entirely justified. The original film is lost on YouTube under an old account, but I remade it in wide-screen since and that link is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBdCmmL50vYI didn't know it at the time, but the creation of the set for this film turned out to be the genesis of Art Box.
Frankie Rocket Interview Excerpt:
This table compares the motivations and techniques of the two people I interviewed. NameReal world occupationDigital or Traditional artStyle of artInspiration for art makingCollaborative or individual workReason for creating artworkReason for exhibiting art in Second LifeUleria CaramelLooking for work (Bachelors degree in Culture and Arts)Traditional, with digital adjustments/DigitalAbstract and representationalVariedIndividualExpressionConnecting with othersFrankie RocketFormerly created video software for corporationsDigitalInteractive entertainment
Famous art from the pastCollaborates with a partnerEnjoyment/Creative fulfillmentLogistical necessity/Connecting with others
A study that compares and contrasts two (or more) things. The study may be done to find the main differences between things that seem very similar, or it can be done to find the similarities in things that appear to be quite different on a surface level.Comparative Analysis:
Comparing and ContrastingCommonalities:Uleria and Frankie are both artists. They both have some connection to creating digital work, although Frankie is much more dependent on it. They both display work on Second life as a means to connect with people who will appreciate what they do.
Disparities:Frankie does exclusively digital work that is designed to be physically interactive for an avatar. It can be argued that all art is inherently interactive, but Ulerias art is exclusively geared for experiencing visually. Uleria is at a very different place in her professional life than Frankie. She is a graduate looking for work, and he is a seasoned veteran of the work world who has seen success and setbacks. Uleria creates her work alone and seeks inspiration from varied sources. Frankie collaborates with his partner Violet on the work and its source is very consistent.
Leaving the Rabbit HoleLike any intensely formative experience, my adventure in analyzing the amazing places and denizens at the bottom of this digital rabbit hole known as Second Life had to eventually come to a conclusion. Real life is always beckoning to pull us from our dreams and stand us upright in the harsh glare of reality. Like Alice though, I am sure that I will return to continue my expedition in this place of fantasies, hopes and distorted reality sometime very soon.
What I am taking away from this experience is the humble knowledge that the future of the human race is inextricably tied to the realms of the virtual. The ability to instantly interact with cultures from all over the world in an enhanced reality that more closely resembles the one we would like to live in is a classroom for building the future.
I have learned a great deal about gathering and organizing data so that I will be able to make sense of the world going forward more accurately, and coalesce knowledge that was formally unruly strands floating around in my brain into real information that I can use to navigate my world and someday, the digital landscape of tomorrow.
Second Life URLSART BOX -http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Klaw/6/21/46The Galleries, Giorgiana -http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Georgiana/218/220/35Wildcat Country - http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/The%20Generation/209/211/26Freebie Galaxy - http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Ibiza/40/40/3016
Art Ark -http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Teaching%2010/52/203/77