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Site Specifics: Chris Marker and Second Life

By Jesse P. Finnegan

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The case of the grinning cat gets pixelated

There’s just no other way to say this: Chris Marker has built a museum in the sky of Second Life. That’s right, Second Life—the vast virtual realm, which since 2003 has enabled users to build, explore, and interact via avatars within a tabula rasa of cyber-geography. It’s not just for weird virtual sex anymore: now it has a touch of Old Media class. At the coordinates 187, 61, 39, on some far-off shimmering shores of “the grid,” lies the island of Ouvroir (which is actually an archipelago). This digital Xanadu is strewn with cat-shaped coves, roving humpbacks, a castle keep, and a downed 747; a massive red orb hovers in the pixelated cerulean firmament above . . . Le Musée de Marker! If you manage to land your avatar on the narrow skywalk that provides entry to the museum (registering for Second Life is free, if somewhat annoying) three floors of strangeness await you. Within this sphere Marker and co-designer Max Moswitzer have rendered cavernous galleries of the Left Banker’s startling photography and recent video work, and secreted hidden goodies in the nooks and crannies: animated loops, ironically re-imagined silent-era film posters, and a snapshot of Marker’s feline alter ego, Guillaume, visiting an SL version of Lenin’s tomb.

The lowest level is a true wonder, recalling a 2-D version of Marker’s installation Zapping Zone. Haphazardly piled on the floor, monolithic screens stream belts of images—surreal collages of iconic paintings infiltrated by technological absurdity. The attendees of Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe idly channel surf, while Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is intruded upon by a surface-to-air missile. Marker’s career has long anticipated the age of new media, the fraying infinities of images composing and confounding the visible world and our status within it. His recent installations and the database work Immemory relied on the agency and interaction of a spectator beset by vying narratives and images. With the navigable space of SL, Ouvroir goes one step further by embodying the spectator within the spectacle—your avatar becomes a flaneur of the air, carving an irreproducible path through the island. Or maybe just gliding off to have weird virtual sex.

Go to secondlife.com

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