Mixed realism in a future city. Archive footage and virtual world meet across time in urban space.
In this machinima, I recorded some of Cica Ghost’s latest installation in Second Life, Future, and overlaid it with The City, a film from the FDR Presidential Archive on the future of the American city made in 1939. The background music and voices are remixed with the work of a contemporary artist, The Fucked Up Beat, who themselves incorporate found audio in their work.
This work continues my previous themes of mixing material, which for me is what virtual worlds are about. Virtual worlds are created out of the imagination, but they are not imaginary. They include material, textures, ideas, and preconceptions that are imported from the ‘real’ world. They are virtual spaces we navigate as embodied human beings, within them as avatars and from outside through our senses, and the controls we use.
Timothy J Welsh, in his recent book, Mixed Realism, claims that the virtual and the real are not opposed, but fold into each other. This idea fits well with how I work and the relationship with virtual worlds. Mixed realism joins together the fictional, to the material and the cultural. The discrepancies and gaps are not flaws, but are important markers in making us aware of how the virtual mediates the real, and locates them against our experiences. We do not have, and cannot have, direct experience of the virtual without some of the real.
And likewise, in the 21st century, when the digital is all pervasive, we constantly move from the real into the virtual without even noticing it. There are obviously things that are digital if you think about it, such as Google Maps or WhatsApp. But older technologies such as film has been digitised, and television is now transmitted through digital means. Even books are now written, printed and published with at least a digital element in the mechanics. And how we read them, Kindle, pdf or paperback, are alternative means of engaging with the digital.
The implication is then that complete immersivity is a fallacy, There will always be gaps where other worlds show through. That really is not a problem, as we never really leave one world for another. Films and books and virtual worlds are all immersive and virtual, in that they can never be complete, and they rely on our imagination to build our own stories alongside theirs.
The book you can’t put down, the film that haunts us. Those are media that leave their mark not just because they draw us in while we read or view them, but because we extend them in our minds for hours, days, weeks or more through our daily lives. The irony is that the desire for perfect immersion denies the place of the virtual, and that imagination productively changes our lives. And, in the end, that is the whole point of art.
But books, films, virtual worlds cannot be categorised as either entirely real or virtual. For pure realism is not what we seek in entertainment, because humans aren’t so easily fooled and reality is often mundane. While escapism is great, we can never completely leave our pasts, our relationships, and our experiences. We may not consciously be aware of them but they influence our perceptions and reactions – they are the very things that make us human. Life-like is close enough. And we are always in need of some distorting stylisation, a distance that gives us the space to think and imagine, to prompt us into seeing the world in a different way.
Location: Future by Cica Ghost in Second Life.
Music: Hunted in the Capitalist Steppes/ Zero History by The Fucked Up Beat on Free Music Archive. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution – Non-Commercial – Share-Alike License. This link no longer works, but it can now be found on Bandcamp.