My current telematics/telepresence practice asks at what point the participant is embodying the virtual performer in front of them, and whether they have become disembodied in doing so. In what follows, a number of interactive Second Life artworks are looked at in detail, to provide answers to these questions, ranging from my telematic experiments in the early 1990s to current site-specific, user-generated presence and performance in Second Life that polarizes fundamental existential questions concerning identity, the self, the ego, and the embodied avatar. This work is discussed extensively in ‘Creating Second Lives’, Edited by Astrid Ensslin and Eben Muse, Routledge 2012. The concept of the ‘telematic’ artwork is rooted in the discourse that Roy Ascott, Robert Adrian X, and others proclaimed in the early 1980s as collaborative arts practice on a global scale. Whereas there is an apparent shift of emphasis from my previous telematic projects here, there are significant parallels between the earlier networked video experiments, particularly that of Telematic Dreaming (1992), and the presence and absence experiments I am developing using Second Life.
This project looks specifically at the concepts of presence and performance in multi-user virtual environments (Second Life) and first life, and attempts to bridge these two spaces through mixed reality techniques and interfaces. The project further examines the notion of telepresence through the blurring between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ identities, and the signifiers and conditions that make us feel present in this world. This work questions how subjectivity is articulated in relation to embodiment and disembodiment. It explores the avatar in relation to its activating first life agent, focusing on the avatar's multiple identifications, such as gender roles, human/animal hybrids, and other archetypes, identifiable through visible codes and body forms in Second Life. The project aims to evaluate the diversity of personas and social life styles of the avatar. So as to explore this emerging relationship between the virtual and physical I have developed a number of interactive installations using “Second Life” that focus on the interaction and exchange between online and offline identities through social practices, such as performance, narrative, embodiment, activism, place and identity construction. Their collaborative experiments seek to question whether Second Life is a platform for potential social and cultural change - appropriated as a mirror image of first life. By consciously deciding to refer to this image that is mirrored as ‘first’ life rather than ‘real’ life, the central question in my work poses a paradox in Second Life when we consider Jacques Lacan’s proposition that the ‘self’ (or ego) is a formulation of our own body image reflected in the 'mirror stage’. However, there is no 'mirror stage' in Second Life, which would suggest that the computer screen itself is the very mirror we are looking for, one that allows the user to formulate her/his 'second self'.
This work has been exhibited extensively since 2008; An interactive public video installation incorporating Second Life environments and user interaction, developed for ‘GAMES: Kunst und Politik der Spiele’ Kunsthalle Vienna (Kunsthalle project space Karlsplatz) 28 May - 6 July 2008. Supported by Arts Council England, for the ISEA Belfast in 2009, Amber Media Art Festival in Istanbul 2008 and for DUAL at Nottingham Playhouse 2012.
Project Web Site: http://www.paulsermon.org/peacegames
Exhibition Web Site: http://www.kunsthallewien.at