The Monuments of Virtual Passaic

PASSAIC, NJ, 1967 — For most of my life I have been aware of, and perhaps existed in an uneasy resonance with, Robert Smithson’s 1967 Artforum essay “The Monuments of Passaic,” aka “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey.”

In his legendary essay touring his hometown and contemplating its sites of future ruin, he offers a powerful meditation on entropy.

As a believer in the Strong Anthropic Principle, a believer in Strong AI, and, for that matter, a believer in Strong Avatar Identity, Smithson’s vision of a life (and a universe) ruled by entropy has always been the harshest of slaps in my face.

I ran into Josie Blue again. Check out Josie's cool "Josie" pendant!

What of evolution? What of all its glorious creations? What of intelligence in the universe and it’s ability to terraform virtually any and every thing?

Still, while I have railed against Smithson’s simple scenic tour, and created artworks in response to it, I also see and feel it every day. As someone no longer in her thirties, I note the gradual replacement of my teeth with bits of metal. I look at my remarkably shiny new car and cannot help but see the marks of my driven-forever old car… each site of pristine newness announcing itself not so much as the location of freshness but as the location of future decay.

And so I come to The Monuments of Blue Mars.

Here is CEO Jim Sink’s message from yesterday announcing the end of Blue Mars development for the PC and their restructuring as an iOS company. In the last paragraph he lays off, effective immediately, an unspecified number of employees, including himself.

Blue Mars Twitter stream:!/bluemarsonline

Here’s some reportage on it by Tateru Nino:

And from Metaverse Journal:

Here’s Tateru Nino’s analysis:

And Botgirl’s:

And all these posts offer lots of interesting comments as well.

Rachael Karlfeldt told me about Blue Mars' new camera controls.
So I tried them on her cool heels - definitely much more camera control than before!

Ironyca-lee, it took me 3 months to finally post a report on our Field Trip to Blue Mars, and once I did, they commit ritual suicide only 5 days later.

Even though PC development is now stopped, as I noted in the Field Trip Report, Avatar Reality has, in the months since our field trip, released reportedly significant upgrades to both Client & Server.

Despite the spectacle of a sinking ship, despite the eerie, Black-Swan-recesses-of-your-mind, I felt I none-the-less had to try this updated experience. I felt I had to once more walk the ground of this now seemingly doomed world.

To see everything as it was, so pristine and perfect, is to take a Smithson-like tour of Passaic, envisioning all the future ruin as you view the city. Unlike the physical world where monuments do turn to visible ruin, the Blue Mars servers will either be on or off. If it exists at all, the lost world will be as if preserved in amber. Reminiscent in it’s way of Smithson’s Monuments, but also of Dr. Maxwell Frey’s discovery of the lost Friendster Civilization:

As for the geopolitical implications of losing Blue Mars and of Second Life losing viable competition, I leave that to the many more capable VW blogs and their insightful readers/commenters. For me there indeed is sadness and loss and an eerie haunting from the-grave-I-have-not-yet-set-foot-in as I move about this living dead world. Or… dead living world?

VBCO/Multiverse currently has a performance scheduled for Blue Mars:

VB27 – Terra:Form
Saturday, 21 May 2011, 7-9pm GMT
a performance on the Blue Mars grid

If Blue Mars still exists by May, we will do our best to perform there. Presumably the current PC software will still function at it’s current level… or perhaps we’ll dig up iPads…

When I look at all the comments and criticisms of BM, SL etc, from really smart peeps, and even from me, it sure seems like “we” understand how to do it so much better than “they” do. Still, I’m reminded of Wynton Marsalis trip to Cuba. They made amazing music and friends there for days. Then at a press conference he totally dodged a question about Cuban-American relations. Later he explained “sure I have an opinion on it,” but I’m not the one responsible for solving it. It’s easy to critique a basketball player when you’re sitting in a chair with a beer. But what have you got? Could you really do better? Self-mockingly, he concluded,

We’ve seen you play!

Even admonished, I can’t help but feel as Tizzy, Botgirl, and others do, that UGC, “Power to the People,” and giving everyone creative tools is essential. Blue Mars does look better than Second Life. But it’s boring. Maybe all the gambling that was thrown out and the sex that was ghettoized should have been let stay. They are, after all, an awful lot of what the human race chooses to do with it’s time on earth. The conceptual visions of self-proclaimed lofty artists will never receive more than a marginal share of attention.

Josie Blue and Jam Tuner

In his new book The Master Switch, The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, Tim Wu

talks about, well, the rise and fall of empires… but also of an open/closed pendulum. He thinks that new technologies… like radio… like the internet… are disruptive and produce openness. He found an old quotation about how radio was so easy and affordable, “Every boy can have his own radio station.”

Is there anything sadder than a bikini shop with only empty hangers? 🙁

But then, says Wu, some charismatic mogul comes along and promises a golden age… AND delivers it! No more of that crappy, low quality, amateurish UGC, high production values! Look at Hollywood today, inconceivable, extraordinary visual effects. In one sense it’s a true pinnacle of visual power and professionalism. Of course the diversity of 3.5 million Wikipedia articles isn’t exactly represented by Hollywood.

Oh well, at least I have a really sexy walk. (it almost makes up for the horrific teeth they gave me! 😛

I am not these days a fan of the Burning Man Organization. Still. That famous Philip insight, that people in a barren place are urged to create, seems right. Some pretty talented people create in Black Rock city. And a lot of crap too. And a lot of naked hippies. And is it about the “result”? Or the experience? You don’t find much work from Burning Man in the museums of the world… yet the people who’ve experienced it probably had a more profound life experience than most of us do on a museum trip…

Am I part of the cure?
Or am I part of the disease?


As a virtual public artist my work invites avatar communities to express their identity, explore their culture, and demand their civil rights.

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