23 May 2012

Bye Kara ....

My wonderful friend Kara Trapdoor has left Second Life. Those of you who knew her know how active she was -- she seemed to be friends with everyone, know about every event, and made blog posts and photos and machinima of everything. She was fun and a little bit hyperactive and a sweetheart. She was also one of the people who kidnapped me for The Great Makeover.

Take care of yourself, Kara. We'll miss you. Hope you come back some day. In the meantime, hugs!

13 May 2012

To LEA or Not to LEA

This post is a belated response to Quan Lavendar's discussion of some controversies regarding the LEA sims. At the time I was too busy to comment, but after Quan and I discussed some of the issues during the opening reception for A Rusted Development at LEA1 (a great installation, by the way, albeit a bit disjointed), I decided to write this post, expanding on some of my original thoughts. And from the start, I'll state that a number of my comments are based on ignorance ... which will be part of my point.

Many people have strong feelings about the LEA sims, sometimes accusing the committee's members of bias or favoritism or corruption or cliquishness. I'd like to pose a contrast that raises some questions. How do the independent curators compare? I don't know how the people who run (for example) Art Screamer, MetaLES, Originalia, and NMC select artists, but at Split Screen only one person has any say: me. I invite whoever I want to invite. Once in a while someone asks to build there; sometimes I say no, and sometimes (actually more often) I say yes. In theory, people could easily charge me with favoritism or whatever else, yet I've never heard that complaint raised against me or any of the other independent curators (not yet, anyway ... I've probably just invited it). So one has to ask, what's the difference between the necessary selectivity exercised by independent curators, and the necessary selectivity exercised by the LEA committee? Imagine the LEA committee didn't manage the sims on behalf of Linden Labs, but instead paid for the sims themselves. Would people's attitudes be different? I suspect they would.

Most likely, the LEA sims raise so much debate because of their "official" character. I know artists who won't even apply for a LEA sim because of their "official" status or their feelings about the LEA committee. Conversely, I'm told that one or two LEA members have been unwelcoming toward some artists, even accusing a few of "hating SL." The situation is a pity, because I bet those artists could do amazing things with a full sim. However, their refusal to apply helps make the point: the sims' "official" character raises hackles. If I'm right about that, then one of the questions artists need to ask themselves is why they have such strong feelings about the LEA sims. Does the intensity derive from the desirability of a full sim? Does "official sponsorship" offer higher status, cachet or clout? Is there a sense of entitlement or a right to LEA land? Will a LEA sim -- and only a LEA sim -- enable you to create better art? What's the difference between a LEA sim and an independent sim?

I don't envy the members of LEA; they have a tough job. That doesn't mean I agree with everything LEA has done. In fact I don't even understand some of their decisions (why 5 months, rather than 3, 4, or 6?). They do a crappy job publicizing work (like most artists). They need to be cautious about what they say to whom, and they sometimes fail. And they face the problem that confronts every sponsor of a new work: you make a bet, and there's a chance you bet wrong. Most of the work LEA has sponsored has been good, some has been amazing, but there have been some duds too. The possibility of disappointment is simply part of commissioning new work.

It is true that Linden Labs benefits from LEA's work -- the company didn't provide the sims (tenuous as they are) out of pure generosity. So? If LEA's work simultaneously helps artists and helps Second Life survive, I don't see the point of faulting them for it. (Some of LL's calls for promotional work are more exploitative.)

However, LEA suffers from a lack of transparency, starting with the committee's composition. I for one have no clue how its members were selected. A couple of them I've never even heard of, let alone observed their interest in SL art. (For what it's worth, none of the members are on my Friends list -- not even Bryn, who had an installation at Split Screen.) The grapevine says that there are major conflicts among personalities and/or priorities, which makes me wonder if the committee's membership needs to be reconsidered. It also suggests that the committee doesn't have a coherent set of goals for the sims. Do they feel it's important to include artists who haven't built on a full sim before? Do they strive to have a mix of (say) highly scripted and unscripted work? Do they place a priority on work with a narrative element? I have no idea -- but if they do have an articulate set of goals for the sims, it would help to set them out publicly. If they don't have clear aims, then the committee really isn't a committee: it's a squabbling reality TV show, and from the outside its decisions can easily look arbitrary or political -- even if they're nothing of the sort.

Which brings me to my major concerns about LEA: whatever the committee thinks or intends, from what I've observed it has given itself the appearance (and maybe reality) of operating in a top-down manner, and fostered competitiveness and jealousy among artists. Competitiveness and jealousy in turn are likely to make the sims more trouble than they're worth to Linden Labs. LEA needs to work toward generating a sense of community. But artists must bear some responsibility for achieving that too -- LEA can't do it alone. (I have other concerns, but these are at the top.)

The heart of community is transparency. I propose a set of forums, in which the LEA committee members explain what they do, hear and respond to concerns (maybe only to issues submitted in writing, in order to avoid heckling and recriminations), and seek ways to resolve shortcomings. I would also like artists to discuss why they respond to LEA the way they do (honesty would be nice, though I'm not sanguine about that). It might be best if LEA didn't directly sponsor the forums: instead, FreeWee Ling's ArtGyro group might provide more neutral auspices, although the forums might be held on a LEA sim (e.g., the theater space). (I haven't talked with Free about this; she's a smart woman, so she'll probably run like hell.)

I'd also encourage LEA to use its blog to explain as much as they can about themselves, their aims, their hurdles, and especially their relationship with Linden Labs ... or from what I hear, lack of relationship, and being upfront about their problems getting responses from LL might nip a lot of problems in the bud.

Meanwhile, to any artist angry about not getting a LEA sim: that's life. LEA is not all there is to SL art, and getting a LEA sim isn't the only chance -- or necessarily the best chance -- to do great work. There are other sims in the virtual sea. So I might not feel sorry for you. I might be celebrating, because now I have a shot at getting you. Maybe you should be looking for people like me. In fact maybe you should flip your perspective -- independent curators have to be far more selective than LEA because we have less land to offer, so maybe we're the plum gigs. Support your local independent curators.