I find it fascinating that many homes have kitchens while grocery stores are few. We shop for clothing with a vengeance and yet have no closets. We have no weather, but have roofs. No gravity, but these roofs rest on (apparently) weight bearing walls. We have no privacy, yet we have curtains.
“Form follows function – that has been misunderstood.
Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”
Frank Lloyd Wright
At the turn of the 20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright fused the flexibility of materials like steel and concrete with a philosophy of unity between form, function and setting to revolutionize architecture. I can’t help but wonder what he might have done as a builder in Virtual Worlds. The rules are different here and the functional requirements a profound departure from RL.
An example of how the new rules affect architectural philosophy is pictured above. The purpose of the build is to display art – so walls become frames. The absence of gravity enables concrete to float on water, glass floors in mid air. There is no need for protection from the elements, so it is wide open. There are no stairs. Visitors don’t drown, so visit the mermaid level as long as you like.
In RL a home has a purpose – to shelter us from the elements, provide a place to interact, sleep, cook, eat, attend to our hygiene, pursue our interests, store our goods and park our car.
What are the requirements of our SL homes? A place to rez and open our packages. Sit and talk with friends. Maybe dance? Hang art and set out some belongings. A space for your cat? Perhaps a place for romance.
Is a bed for sleeping? Do we actually sleep here? (At our keyboards, perhaps, but my AV continued to dance cheerfully anyway.) Is a kitchen for cooking? A chair for resting? What is a road for when you can teleport and fly?
It’s a New World
In SL we are free from the constraints of disease, physical threat, disabilities and many of our first life’s societal constraints. We are free to chart a course and decide what we want to be. We express and realize some aspect of ourselves (often that our first life denies us). Our avatars are projections of our psyche and personalities.
The function of a resident created virtual world is to enable us to discover and express ourselves, and to enable residents to interact and exchange these inner realties with each other. Stripped of the physical it becomes an entirely psychological and social reality.
We may not require a kitchen, chairs, stairs, roofs, walls, curtains and roads, but many builds and homes include them all the same. That they do raises an interesting question – why? The answer is simple – we require them to fulfill some psychological or social function.
Psychological / Sociological Functions
The insight that all things exist in virtual words to fulfill a psychological or social purpose creates an interesting vantage point from which architecture, fashion and art can be analyzed and evolved.
Why do we have items in SL that fulfill physical functions in our first life? We have a need for the familiar to orient us. We need up to be up, down to be down, homes to feel like homes, stores to feel like stores. They put us in a frame of mind to rest or shop.
A Sense of History
CocoaJava Cafe owner Ceejay Writer explains how her builds address another psychological need. “For me, it’s not at all important to have a kitchen or bath or such. It IS important that a building have a sense of history. I need it to have roots.” She goes as far as to give the building a back story, which influences the build.
As I explore SL, it’s architecture and art, I have been increasingly aware that when something “works” (or doesn’t), it is because it is effectively hitting one or more psychological or social “buttons” that are appropriate to it’s purpose.
Virtual Art was originally described by Frank Popper as a fusion of technology and art in which a person was immersed in art in an interactive way. His observations were based on the technology of the 80s… and we’ve come a long way baby.
Resident created virtual worlds are the ideal platform for the definition, examination and evolution of Virtual Art. With thousands of active architects, landscapers, artists, designers, photographers and machinimatographers experimenting with the new rules, we are seeing a new art movement emerging, affecting all these disciplines.
vir·tu·al·ism [vur-choo-uhl-izem] – An art movement which exploits the relaxed physical rules and enhanced capabilities of virtual worlds. The primary considerations are psychological, aesthetic and/or social. The physical is used to provide and orienting frame of reference.
Abstraction doesn’t necessarily follow from Virtualism. Yes, there are a great many swirly, glowy works of art in SL, but virtualism can often be very concrete.
Let’s check out some examples.
Museum of the Globe
There’s not need to worry about weather, gravity or how to move around. The structure is the statement, freed from the bounds of much of the earth’s limitations.
Mermaids, Nekos, Demons, Bunnies, Furries and Vampires. Avatar design spans a huge range from supermodel hot to mobile cardboard boxes.
Rouge, by Eshi Otawara
What is a sim but an adorned sculpture, as fabulously illustrated by the Rouge sim (photographed from high altitude, above). A club lies beneath the hair, a gallery in the boa and a store in the base of the restraint post.
Winter Flame by Nicky Ree
Departures from the real in fashion range widely from customizable fabrics to fantasy farie wings, from objects that circle the wearer to gravity defying hair.
Animation and Effects
Miso Susanowa cuts loose
We can dance in the sky. While we’re at it, let’s kick up our own personal special effects unit.
Pirate Airships in Caledon Sound
The steam punk community is a great example of how form and function and the rules of virtual space are twisted to fabulous effect to create entire environments. Imaginary steam powered typewriters, pirate airships and elaborate mechanisms devised to fulfill an imagined purpose.
42, photo by PJ Trenton
You might think photography (and by extension machinima) might simply record virtual realities, but the creativity enabled by being able to edit the light conditions of the environment (and indeed, shoot up through through ground, as pictured above) creates far more opportunity for the visual artist than merely capturing a record.
Virtualism isn’t limited to SL of course, or even virtual spaces per se. The idea of virtual reality bleeds out into first life art renderings as well (particularly film). Take the time to watch World Builder, above.
What’s in a Name?
We’ve been doing this, in virtual worlds, for some time. Why give it a name? Why define it?
For my part, it focuses my thoughts, enables me to explain some of the things I do inworld. It sparks reflection and discussion with my friends and collaborators. Sometimes it inspires. Friends are experimenting with virtualist ideas, following a gab on the back porch. Their efforts are spurring me on.
I’m looking forward to such further discussions as might be kicked off, so feel free to comment or get in touch.
Thanks for help and feedback go out to CeeJay Writer, Saffia Widdershins, GM Nikolaidis and Kell Babenco. Also posted at ravenhaalan.com