Research Critique – Interview with Second Front

The interview with Second Front was a refreshing experience as we got to be in the virtual space with Second Front! They were all rather laid-back, cool and excited (especially Bibbe), and shared their personal experiences and thoughts about Second Life and their work. They talked about the difference between the virtual and reality, the reason behind their choice of medium and their process behind some of their works. I was surprised by the amount of audience participation in their live performances and how these interactions affect the outcome of their work, as I couldn’t see it in the recorded performances. Hopefully one day I would be able to catch their performances live and interact with them in the virtual world!

Networked Conversations with Second Front, hosted by Randall Packer

I found the fluidity of identity discussed by Second Front rather interesting. At the beginning of the interview, each of the members did a brief introduction about their virtual identities and their relationship with them.

Liz Solo’s character was her virtual puppet, while Patrick, Bibbe and Jeremy’s characters were a cross between their favourite artists, celebrities, musicians, and other media influences. It seemed like their identities on Second Life were more of an alter ego than a personal extension of themselves, and an idealised blend of their favourite characters. They could assume the partial identity of another person and act freely with it. Second Life was a channel through which they could express themselves in ways that they can’t in the real world, or as Bibbe would say – “Second Life sets me loose.”

In the virtual world, a character’s identity is something like a mask that can be copied exactly and controlled by another user. This interchangeability of avatars allows further exploration of possibilities in Second Life. One example of changing identities in their work is the Grand Theft Avatar.

Image result for second front grand theft avatar

Grand Theft Avatar
was a live performance at the San Francisco Art Institute as part of the “From Cinema to Machinima” panel. It depicts a local bank heist, where the Linden Treasury was robbed by a group of professional robbers. The robbers then flew off in helicopters, freeing the loot from the sky in the process.

In this performance, members of the Second Front started off with their usual virtual identities, and then changed their avatars to impersonate the members of the panel, before embarking on the bank heist.

Related image


Prior to the interview, I had a few questions prepared and one of them was this:

“How real is Second Life? If you were to perform the same content on a physical stage, would it feel any more or less real, compared to doing it in the virtual world?”

One of them mentioned that performing on a virtual stage merely takes the physical body out of performance art – the important things like emotions and the narrative stays, and therefore it is real. Furthermore, Second Front’s works mostly consists of large scale settings, quirky props and silly actions, all of which can be seamlessly reproduced in Second Life but not in the physical world. (Or would require lots of manpower and money to carry out) Second Life, or any other virtual platform, is perhaps the best medium in which viewers can immerse in and feel the ‘real-ness’ of their performances.

Technical testing with Hannah

Testing 1 (Hannah’s phone, Joan’s laptop)

The first test run was still pretty laggy despite the change of location especially during the first half of the video. It might be due to weak internet near the toilet and fetching of the live video through OBS was very slow. Despite the interrupted connection, the live footage from the phone was very smooth. We then decided to exchange the devices and conduct another test.

Joan’s laptop:

Technical test

Posted by Joan Li on Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Hannah’s phone:

Technical test for assignment

Posted by Hannah Kwah on Tuesday, 19 September 2017


Testing 2 (Joan phone, Hannah computer)

Both the phone and computer were streamed from the same location. The second test was slightly smoother probably due to newer devices and stronger internet connection. We figured that we have to decide on a new location for the phone user for smoother broadcast.

Joan’s phone:

Technical test 2

Posted by Joan Li on Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Hannah’s laptop:

Technical testing 2 for assignment

Posted by Hannah Kwah on Tuesday, 19 September 2017


Research Critique – The World’s Longest Collaborative Sentence

Douglas Davis is a new media artist known for his satellite video performances and interactive websites. He experimented extensively with advanced and traditional technology, linking people (mostly in the 80s & 90s, with little access to the internet) to the third space. Some of his most notable works include The Last Nine Minutes, where he attempts to physically interact from the third space to the second space where the audiences are, and the World’s Longest Collaborative Sentence.

The Sentence

“The Sentence has no end. Sometimes I think it had no beginning. Now I salute its authors, which means all of us. You have made a wild, precious, awful, delicious, lovable, tragic, vulgar, fearsome, divine thing.”
—Douglas Davis, 2000

The World’s Longest Collaborative Sentence by Douglas Davis is an internet art based solely on participation, consisting of massive collaborations from all around the world. Users can contribute to the never-ending sentence and write anything in any language, but without periods. The concept behind the work is to connect people in the third space through the contribution of their thoughts.

The content is entirely made up of these inputs by people from everywhere, and without these contribution, there would be no content. The original sentence attracted more than 200,000 contributions from 1994 to 200 from all around the world. The sentence not only connected people from different geographical locations, but from different time periods as well. As one of the earliest forms of iconic Internet art, this work perhaps served as a historical archive of our relationships with the third space throughout the years – with the increasing accessibility to the internet, increasing collaborations, interactions and sharing. The sentence compels people to contribute their piece and let their voices be heard, encourages energetic participation and intensive interactive within a single sentence.

We have sentences written in CAPS or bold, phrases in large point sizes, personal thoughts, short stories blending into one another, and even people trying to communicate with those messages in the same page. This creates a waterfall effect as participants often react to those before them even though all messages are anonymous. The sentences seem to grow increasingly animated with the restricted use of periods, as everyone’s emotions melded together in one single sentence.

The Sentence is a massive collaboration that is never-ending, with the potential to be kept alive forever – but in the case, has crashed due to poor conservation. Some of these included shifting of the work between servers, improperly formatted text and corrupted characters, causing the sentence to be essentially obsolete.

 “For instance, when a Web-based work becomes technologically obsolete, does updated software simply restore it? Or is the piece fundamentally changed?”
– Melena Ryzik, The New York Times

While I do agree that the work is fundamentally changed by the updated technology, I feel that it is not necessarily a negative thing. It’s true meaning is not lost, as the concept and functionality still remains. As technology advances and changes a little every day, the software should be kept updated to provide an easily accessible platform to people. In this way, the flow of activities can be optimised and the most authentic third space interactions can be recorded through decades to form an ever-growing collective narrative.


Research Critique – Bold3RRR by Jon Cates

The beginning of the video was rather calm and understandable, as Jon Cates talks about what he wishes to achieve through his desktop mise-en-scene.

“I want to reflect on real-time. I want to reflect on real-time renderings across international time zones, in fragments, errors and overlaps. I want to play with recursivities. These feedback loops merge personal data and swim in associative form, from Chicago to Taipei to Boulder and back again.”

Jon Cates

He experiments with fragmented visuals of his desktop, switched between several tabs and programmes, and produced audio feedback. Past the 4:30 mark, however, the white noise and visual glitches get increasingly intense. On the first watch, it felt random and chaotic, and I didn’t fully understand its artistic qualities.

After reading Randall Packer’s interview with Jon Cates, I could better appreciate the glitch art that was presented in the video. I found Jon Cates’ take on glitches very refreshing and unique, as compared to the conventional perspectives. We often get annoyed when encountering lags and errors (faulty screens, poor internet connection, choppy displays, etc), and have never seen glitch in a positive light. We take all advancements in technology for granted as we send emails, stream videos and browse the net everyday. Jon Cates, however, is the exact opposite. He brings attention to all the complication that goes on behind our technology and breaks them apart.

Screen grab from BOLD3RRR – Audio remixing by Jon Cates

While a giant mix of everyday desktop activities is what makes up BOLD3RRR, it is certainly not the main point. The difference between this and conventional desktop streaming (games, vlogs, etc) is that it is a real-time performance art that seeks imperfection, the push and pull between human and machine language. It pulls us away from our endless pursuit of perfect technology, and instead questions us on the processes that goes behind glitches.

What kind of mixing and rendering technology did Cates use? How did he transit seamlessly from one glitch to other while streaming live? To me, it appears Cates produced imperfection, perfectly.

Screen grab from BOLD3RRR – Streetview and overlaying text

It was interesting that Jon Cates’ responses in the interview was also full of glitches, even in textual form. ‘d1Ɍ+y̶ ̶N̶3WWW_M3DI∆’ had strange symbols, along with errors like ‘faxxx’, ‘exxxperience’ and ‘&&’. While I personally found it quite difficult to read, it did connote the sense of playfulness and informality that glitches encompass.

“they are not sterile, they’re imperfect, they are not clean, b/c they exist in the world, which is also imperfect.
+ so, i do believe that d1Ɍ+y̶ ̶N̶3WWW_M3DI∆ as a way of lyfe + as an approach to artmaking is a way of foregrounding these faxxx, these realities, of our lived exxxperiences, + acknowledging how situated we all are w/ all of these systems, + artifacts that we have made, unmade && remade together.”

Jon Cates

Wherever there is technology, there is glitch. Glitch shows that nothing is of perfection, no matter how much we seek it. It is all around us and perhaps we should learn to appreciate it at times, just like how Jon Cates take advantage of these opportunities to make art.


Adobe Connect – Experience

Having a class through Adobe Connect was definitely a unique and enjoyable experience that felt surprisingly different from physical lessons. While we were physically situated in different locations, we were still very much connected through the little windows that is our webcams.

It was interesting how it was both private and exposed at the same time. When our webcams were switched off, the only way of interaction was through the chat box. It did feel a little disconnected at times as we could not see each other (perhaps only a few of my classmates’ faces), and have no idea what everyone is actually doing. It felt especially so when my internet connection broke down a few times. However, it was definitely a fun and engaging experience when all of us turned our webcams on. Unlike a physical class, we formed a real-time collage of all our faces and interacted through the windows despite being alone in the physical world. It was comfortable because we could decide what will be seen and what won’t, but uncomfortable because we would never know who or when someone is watching us.

Research Critique – A Hole in Space (1980)

A Hole in Space (1980) by Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz consists of two large projection screens, one at the Century City in Los Angeles and the other at the Lincoln Center in New York City, both screening real-time footage of people from the other city. As such technology was rather advanced at the time, most people were foreign to the idea of real-time video communication. Without any signage or description, this work came as a surprise to the public. It was interesting how the public responded to the work over the three days – first with confusion, then with amazement, and finally immersing fully in the communication experience.

“Who are we talking to? Are they actors?” – 0:40 of the video

Communication between the two sides of the screen erupted as soon as they realized the truth. The gradual realization and build-up of excitement from everyone formed a collective narrative for this piece. In this case, the participant is also the artist. Every unfiltered human interaction (cheering with beer bottles, flirting, ecstatic family greetings) and personalities contributed to the art work’s narrative. The traditional distinction between the artist and his/her viewer is now blurred, as neither party has full control over the outcome of this work. It is unique and unpredictable, similar to the collective body of photographs we did last week.


Screens from two groups of people placed side by side, forming an interactive narrative.

Interaction between two sides was made immediate, enhanced by the incredible bandwidth and transmission speed used by the setup. This effectively collapsed the distance between the two states, connecting two groups of distant people onto one space.

“Where am I going? I’m staying right here with you!” – 1:48 of the video

It is evident that a collective third space has already been established in the participants’ minds.


“If there is one word that defines Electronic Café, it is integration: integration of technology into our social fabric; integration of distinct cultures and communities, the arts, and the general public; and integration of art forms.”

From “Welcome to Electronic Café International” (1992)

Much like other works by Galloway and Rabinowitz, A Hole in Space served not only as an art form, but also as a communicative tool that involves societies on an international, multicultural scale. It is a convenience for people living in different geographical locations who want to connect and socialise virtually without the trouble of travelling physically. While Skype and FaceTime are not considered art forms, this was perhaps the earliest forms of such technology. However, one difference between the past and the present is perhaps the aspect of honesty. With easy access to advanced technology today, people often exhibit only the best sides of themselves on social media. People in the past (without access to live video feed), however, are awed and focus on the communicative aspects of works like Hole in the Space and Electronic Café. Hence, the interaction found in these works are truly genuine and shows the most authentic sides of people.

These interactions may not be as “real” as face to face conversations, but are the closest alternatives in remote communication. The emotional effects, however, are just as real. People act as they normally would in their physical space (1st & 2nd space) and naturally expect an emotional feedback from the other party, and live video streaming is able to translate just that. Furthermore, people tend to be braver and more experimental in third space interactions as the virtual world is just an extension of themselves, shielded from any form of physical harm.

Perhaps these works have slowly translated into online dating and social networking of today, where social media acts as a tool that widens our reach and connect with like-minded people whom we might never encounter in the physical world.



Here Come the Videofreex

In the documentary film “Here Come the Videofreex”, many things said felt strangely relatable and applicable even to the social broadcasting situation of today. There is a striking similarity in the way the Videofreex were running about with portapaks in hand and us, almost 50 years later, with our smartphones today. The desire for personalized content (video tapes of happenings in the past vs social media today) and stigma of manipulative television from main TV networks remain.

David Cort shooting ‘Mayday Realtime’

One of the scenes in the video featured an informal interview with Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Black Panther Party, where he discussed about the corruption in the government and expressed his desire to educate and lead the people. He was murdered by the police shortly after, but the tape remained in existence even up till today, as proof of his character despite the political situation at the time. Their work served not only as entertainment for the people in the past, but as historical archives documenting bits and pieces of protests and strikes, from their unique perspectives and participants that would never have been shown on mainstream TV. They gave a voice to the ordinary people of the community and the chance for their opinions (be it towards the government or about mundane everyday things) to be heard. As opposed to TV networks featuring reporters reading off scripts in specific locations, the footage recorded by the Videofreex were raw and showed nothing but the truth. 

Their work opened up new perspectives and unfiltered channels in which people can have access to a different side of the story. Their relentless search for content and broadcasting means, and eventual success in building their own pirated TV network was a huge step towards the future of broadcasting.

Videofreex and their neighbours at Lanesville gerneral store

Instead of the traditional one-to-many broadcasting, Videofreex was one of the first collectives to open doors to two(or more)-way communication in broadcasting. It appears the birth of the third space was in Lanesville, 1972. During their tv broadcasts in Lanesville, people could call in through the radio and provide feedback about the broadcast in real time, and further interaction is encouraged through it. With this addition channel for interaction, there is an increased level of engagement in the broadcasted content, and perhaps build and stronger trust in the tight-knit community of Lanesville. The establishment of remote two-way communication through television and radio at that time was indeed a huge achievement, sharing similarities with the comment and ‘like’ functions of Instagram and Facebook Live of today.