Ars Virtua

James Morgan

Independent Artist, Educator, and Researcher

This work represents a story arc about my career that began fruition recently as I came to recognize the importance of agency in the work that I was producing. I have worked collaboratively for most of my career; hence Ars Virtua takes a lot of credit for the work in my portfolio.

ART RPG, Data rendition of artist. ©2013 James Morgan.

ART RPG, Data rendition of artist. ©2013 James Morgan.

The idea of agency is facilitated by the use of a game space in my most recent projects. The V2V project (produced for Zero1 Biennial and the 2nd Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art) created a collaboration that crossed time, space, language and cultural barriers. To accomplish this the game and environment of Minecraft became fundamentally important as it provided an anchoring experience for peoples of different culture and a common vocabulary with which to describe the experience. Teams of artists, scientists and other collaborators were convened in Silicon Valley and Titanium Valley – more than 20 people scattered across 13 time zones – a matter that made scheduling difficult.

Four Trees, Data renditions of the work exhibited in Yekaterinburg Russia as part of the 2nd Ural Biennial of Contempoarary Art, Pepakura, Meshlab, Data and Photograph (by Alex Kiryutin & NCCA). (Used with permission.)

Four Trees, Data renditions of the work exhibited in Yekaterinburg Russia as part of the 2nd Ural Biennial of Contempoarary Art, Pepakura, Meshlab, Data and Photograph (by Alex Kiryutin & NCCA). (Used with permission.)

In conversation with the commissioning bodies it was clear that the collaboration could be accomplished via Skype or other video conferencing software, but MC permitted us to have a spatial critique space and a common experience. Although it is rare that one might get killed in a videoconference, that threat hung over our meetings and imposed certain mindfulness.

The indications of this work go far beyond questioning how to use games in spaces –virtual and real – to provide social connections to content and context immersion. Immersion tends to be strongly social and imaginative; however in reading text, one may not always make the connection. However, in the Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) a player begins to see the potential.

The physical world has a porous border space with the virtual environment that is magnified by the arbitrary difficulty attached to a game space. As humans, we reach into the environment and everything we touch, say, and do becomes part of the data recordable and re-presentable in a material space. This porosity is engaged through the extraction and manipulation of data from the virtual space.

By running residencies in virtual spaces we see that the individual constraints are not the greatest challenge to the artist and the end goal is not specifically to find “native” media that leverages the space, but that which extracts additional meaning.

 Project Flow, Vera Fainshtein, (Used with permission.)

Project Flow, Vera Fainshtein, (Used with permission.)

To that end, the social aspect is the most important element of the virtual space, it is the element that lets us spend hours connecting remotely via telephone, skype, etc.; and it is the game layer that challenges the perceived value in this. If one spends five hours raiding a boss in a delicate dance with 25 other players across the world, the achievement is not something that is lauded, or even recognized, outside a small circle.

This is the point at which agency takes a turn towards sovereignty. Joining an online community often involves a huge set of terms of service that give the hosting corporation a shield against liability, and essentially permits it to ban you for any reason, or for no reason at all.

This is unacceptable. Even though the UDHR guarantees rights to embodied humans, we see that the necessity of extending rights into the networked environment is demanded as more of our lives rely on these spaces to function properly.

Internal, society specific, and democratic governance is required. True democracy can only exist with sovereignty, true sovereignty with inalienable rights.

I end my presentation with an invitation to join us as paid residents in the space, and to become explorers in code, society, design or explorers in building. No experience is necessary. I welcome artists, engineers, designers, and poets, to enter the environment with fresh insight, and to explore, to experience ease or difficulty, to seek solutions in the community, and to learn how to deal with creepers.