Reflexive Architecture (in Second Life)

Topic: Art Subtopic: General

Case Study

of an Exhibit

by Nina Simon

Published on February 16, 2008, Modified on November 23, 2013

  • Museum: The Tech Museum of Innovation Focus: Science

  • Collaborating Organization(s): Keystone Bouchard

  • My role: Managing the virtual museum, liaison with artist, creator of related public programming

  • Description and goals

    I’ve been involved in several temporary exhibits, but this was the most unique installation I’ve ever managed. I approached an artist, made a proposal, and three weeks later he was installing exhibits at our institution for free. Not only that, but he gives away the materials used to make his exhibits so that others at our institution can make their own derivative (and in the artist’s mind, hopefully superlative) works. Two days after the opening, the artist blogged about one of these secondary creations by a visitor to the exhibit, sharing THAT person’s materials to inspire others… The exhibit will be up as long as we want, at no cost, and the free materials are being distributed every day.

    How is this possible? It’s happening in Second Life.

    Since December 2007, I’ve been leading The Tech’s virtual exhibit design workshop, which uses Second Life to allow people from all over the world to design virtual interactive exhibits (the best of which we are then implementing as real exhibits for The Tech). As part of this process, I’ve been inviting well-known Second Life-based artists to exhibit their work at The Tech in Second Life, to serve as inspiration for our own designs and to help elucidate some of the questions about the relationship between real and virtual.

    Keystone Bouchard, the artist in question for this exhibition, is an architect in real life. He manages an innovative project called Wikitecture, in which architects and planners can collaborate to solve design problems (mostly 3rd world structure needs). And he is the creator of the Gallery of Reflexive Architecture in Second Life, a place where every piece of art moves, changes shape, or otherwise beautifully and dramatically reacts to the actions of each visitor.

    I asked Keystone to exhibit his work at The Tech because a. it’s beautiful and b. it hits the core of what the best interactive exhibits do—respond delightfully to and with visitors. Sure, walls that disappear as you approach them may be impossible to implement in real life, but some of the core concepts Keystone explores, using sensor scripts and simple virtual blocks, can be tied to visitor-pleasers like human-sized pin walls and reactive projections.

    And frankly, what makes this exhibit special has very little to do with the art. It’s the community spirit, the ability and orientation towards sharing and experimentation in Second Life that makes every visitor a natural creator. Visitors walk through the exhibit, think “I wish I could do that,” and by the end, they can. We give them the tools (scripts, classes) and the space to create, and they respond enthusiastically. It’s the opposite of a traditional art installation in many ways—art that moves, art you can touch, but most of all, art you can remake in your own image.

    When I first started doing this work in Second Life, I was deeply skeptical about its utility as an exhibit design platform. Now, I’ve been converted—not because the tools are super-simple to use, but because it’s a place where the walls between designer and visitor blend effortlessly. We talk about democratizing the museum. This little exhibit is a start.

Latest Comments (1)

Thanks for Sharing

by Jim Spadaccini - February 18, 2008

Thanks for sharing this. It is great to see Second Life being used as an “exhibit design platform.” I will continue to check in and see how things developed at the virtual Tech.


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