[iDC] The Bizarre Case of Value and Second Front

Patrick Lichty voyd at voyd.com
Fri Jul 10 01:10:30 UTC 2009

Trebor asked me to talk a little about the performance art group Second 
Front and the idea of labor and value.   As one of the people who tends to 
write most about it, I'll cime in.

First, the disclaimer: Second Front as such has a sort of agreement to leave 
the theories and ideologies about it up to the individuals. This leaves it 
as a bit of a semi-Dadaist entity with its main ideology to not speak of its 
ideology as a whole, but locally as individuals.  This is because some of us 
have a theoretical tack, some more personal, some more aesthetic.

That being said, here's my angle.

Trebor asked me whether Second Front ads value to SL, subverts value, 
contributes "playbor" to SL, all of this.  It's quite complex.

Here is the situation.  Second Front is a "Mixed reality" group, rather than 
a solely Second Life group.  There are elements of physical labor and brick 
and mortar institutions, real dollars (though not that many), and the 
creation of cultural value while subverting the Linden ideology.  

I believe there are three strains of thought that are embedded intot he 
formation of Second Front:
1: The curiosity of the obvious engagement of the public with virtual 
worlds.  A more snide tack would be to ask why the hell are people doing 
_this_?  It's so strange...
2: A real interest in the affective nature of performance in virtual worlds.  
Virtual or Physical, it's still a reality.  From instances where audience 
members have virtually fled Second Front performances in shock when we have 
done things like worn 20m walls and gyrated around, creating jarring apaces,  
obviously something is going on.
3: To think differently about the interactions with and aesthetics in 
virtual worlds, placing them in various contexts in the physical world. (art 
historical, ethnographic, formal, etc)  This often means adopting an anti-
aesthetic, coming to the border of the "grief" (intentional experience 
disruption), and generally abandoning the disco/cocktail party etiquette of 

This has some concurrent, and possibly contradictory functions.

We _do_ add value to SL by virtue of our recognition, and our fan base. Yes, 
we actually have a fan club, and we did not pay them, although that was a 
proposed piece (paying fans and critics).  We thank them for their 
appreciation, but question them for their poor taste.  I think that the line 
about clubs by Groucho Marx is applicable here.

On the other hand, we do a lot of the things that you're not supposed to do. 
We can be intransigent, fun, we take control of your avatar, we'll throw 
paint cans at you, we'll make things that look like "real" art, let the 
ground give way under you, even perform by just lying around for hours or 
telling you the wrong headlines.  

As James Morgan once said, Second Front equals bad neighbors.  We tend to be 
the loud frat party that you wish would let you sleep, but you wake up with 
a hangover.  At least that's our mythology.

The paradox _is_ that of labor, legitimacy, and subversion.  We have 
apparently contributed a bit to the building of a virtual art scene, with 
30+ performances.  On the other hand, many of them have had some 
inappropriate sexual content, violence, anti-aesthetics, intrusive 
interactions, or other skirting of the Linden Terms of Service.  In that 
way, we detract from those not appreciative of contemporary art historical 
audiences or members that adhere to the polite technotopia of SL.

But in regards to labor, this is split.  It's a virtual environment for the 
making of art really intended for a physical audience (most times).  So is 
it intended as virtual "playbor" or is it actual labor by contemporary 
artists?  The answer is - probably.  The balance might vary a lot - 30/70, 
50/50, 60/40 - it depends.

The reasons are defined above why we do it (in my opinion). 
I agree a lot with Stephanie about the intentions of others in virtual 
worlds as well.  
As one of Scott's workers, I did it in support, knowing that he was paying 
me "X" amount that represented "Y" labor, which was of course, quite low.  

I'd add another aspect in saying that I think that there is a psychological 
eggect to a devalued currency on the valuation of labor.  The worker tends 
to operate on the numbers of the devalued currency as if it were their 
physical currency, and not the native value.  

For example, one of my colleagues at Columbia College winced at the 
proposition of giving L$2000 (About $8) for a contest. "OMG, that's so 
expensive!", she said.  Many do not put the "/250" algorithm in their head 
when dealing with Linden currency.  

But then, I also know people in Asia for whom the devalued currency starts 
to match the value of their native currency 1/1, and this is perhaps an 
interesting conversation.

For Second Front in a Marxist perspective, SL is a tremendous loss-leader.  
it has a terrible labor/profit/loss ROI, but it is fairly good in regards to 
a cultural capital perspective.  However, I think that the workers that 
Stephanie are researching are a spot-on subject.

More information about the iDC mailing list