This week Second Life celebrates its seventh year of commercial operation, and as in previous years, world owner Linden Lab is holding an official anniversary party, known as SL7B. As was often the case during past anniversaries, this year there's some Resident controversy over how the company represents the culture of Second Life at the party. Much of the 2010 outrage centers around the metaverse art of Rose Borchovski, whose works contain abstract nudity. Because of this, her installation, "Susa Bubble", was summarily ejected by Linden Lab from the SL7B party grounds, which prohibits depictions of avatar nudity. Soon after, a number of sign-waving Resident protesters assembled on Rose's land, railing against "Thought Police" (as seen in the video below.)
This time, however, the protesters have a strong ally: Peter Greenaway, the acclaimed British director of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover starring Helen Mirren, and The Pillow Book starring Ewan McGregor. Greenaway is a Second Life user himself, and has incorporated SL into some of his own art (see below), some of which he's done in collaboration with Rose Borchovski. Over the weekend, Rose has been passing around a notecard authored by Greenaway, a statement directed at Courtney Linden, the company staffer who helps manage SL7B.
Greenaway declines to give his Second Life avatar name for privacy reason, but I have confirmed with a close associate that he did indeed write it. Ironically, it contains one of the strongest endorsements by a world-renowned artist of Second Life as a powerful new medium:
"Whatever else you think you may be doing with Second Life," Peter Greenaway writes to Linden Lab, "you have created a very sophisticated tool that combines traditions of painting with cinema and the graphic arts in present tense terms that permits visual expression of language like never before. Do not underestimate what you have created..."
"The Kiss" by Rose Borchovski, courtesy The Metaverse Journal
After the break, Greenaway's full statement, words from Rose Borchovski, and Linden Lab's response to both. For the record, I personally believe some of the protest rhetoric (even from Greenaway) is overwrought; after all, it's entirely permissible to stage artwork with nudity in much of Second Life. However, by not including a Mature-rated area in SL7B, the Lindens do open themselves up to these kind of protests, and charges that the anniversary event doesn't welcome the full breadth of SL creativity and free expression to a party that's supposed to celebrate it.
"Dear Courtney Linden,
"As a reaction to the rejection of Rose Borchovski's art installation 'The Kiss' at the Celebration Sim, I would like you to read this. It seems to me incredible that you are enforcing censorship concerning nudity in public forums on Second Life.
"Traditions of nudity in Western Art have for centuries been legitimate, honourable and creditable. The cyperspaces of Second Life - and Second Life has so far proved itself to be among the very best of such events - are among todays' cutting edge of visual languages - continuing an enviable tradition of new technologies in the visual arts now that the orthodox cinematic arts are proving themselves moribund and archaic, and enforcing new efforts to avoid artistic elitism and the encouragement of egalitarianism in artistic expression. Any artist worth his or her salt, always must engage in contemporary technologies - it has been the very reputable tradition of the most worthwhile artists that has benefitted us all. Visual artists have always taught us to look. The man-made world owes them everything.
"Just because you have eyes does not mean you can see. And the political and social emancipation of the naked and the nude by artists has been essential for humanist civilisation - it has given you and me great liberalities of thinking and self-respect.
"Whatever else you think you may be doing with Second Life, you have created a very sophisticated tool that combines traditions of painting with cinema and the graphic arts in present tense terms that permits visual expression of language like never before. Do not underestimate what you have created - but to remain creditable you simply cannot enforce reactionary hypocritical standards that have been so discredited over the last five hundred years.SL7B Protest video shot and narrated by ColeMarie Soleil
"Like any self-respecting artist of course I am against gratuitous exploitation that demeans and insults intelligence and sensibilities but by your blanket censorship you are now doing both those things - insulting artistic intelligence and demeaning sensibility.
"I suspect you are responding to pressure, to some form of mind-police, certainly to some form of political correctness that is related to money and the slow swing to the political right that is happening all over the world related to civilisation's fear of financial insecurity. Don't go that way. You are endangering a tool that is greater than you.Second Life machinima footage incorporated into theatrical production "Blue Planet" co-created by Peter Greenaway
"When the cultural histories of the early 21st century are written from hindsight, you will undoubtedly find the possibilities and successes of Second Life being eminently lauded and praised. Too many art forms in the 20th century have been stunted and deformed and deflected into ineffectuality and banality by small mindedness. If you really insist in so-called protection of innocence (and I really wonder what that really is - is it a synonym in fact for ignorance and intolerance?) then do so on a careful case by case basis with intelligence and foresight. This will be troublesome for you to do, if you want to do it well. But it will be very well worth your while.
"Yours, hoping you will see sense, and not be influenced by short-term gain.
"Peter Greenaway, film-maker"
* * *
"When I did set up my 'Kiss' [at the SL7B site]," Rose Borchovski tells me, "it did not even cross my mind that I was violating any rules of the Linden Lab celebration. My Susa is a caricature, a cartoon, she is naked like Donald Duck is naked, she has no genitals, and a flat chest. She is not real, I do not even try to make her look real, she is a little creature telling a story. The story is about the dark inner life of us all." The SL7B policies allow exhibitors to include links to Mature locations. Since that's the case, I asked her, why not just put a non-nude excerpt of her installation at the site, and include a teleport landmark to the full, Mature-rated exhibit? "I was in the presumption this was an Art Event and not an alternative landingspot with an advertisement of a landmark to my sim," she told me.
I forwarded Rose and Peter Greenaway's protest to Linden Lab, and got this response attributed to company community manager Blondin Linden:
"As with past Second Life birthdays, we have implemented guidelines for the SL7B event to create a celebration that can be enjoyed by as wide an audience as possible. One of these guidelines notes that the event has a General (aka PG) maturity rating, as have previous Second Life birthday celebrations. As described on the wiki, the General maturity rating includes a prohibition on nudity. All exhibitors and builders agree to adhere to the policies for the event as a condition of participation, and these guidelines are available publicly on the wiki."
Much thanks to Marmaduke Arado for first alerting me to this!
Update, 6/22: Tweaked the title a bit to emphasize Greenaway's statement on SL as an artistic medium. Top photo of filmmaker from his Wikipedia profile.
Update 2, 6/23:: Replaced older iteration of Susa Bubble with "The Kiss", the work in question.