Second Home, or We’ll Start By Killing “Anna” and “Joe”

I was excited when I first heard about Second Home, a recreation of a turn-of-the-last-century anarchist community (Home, WA) in Second Life, which was being built by Red76 and CADRE. Rubaiyat Shatner excitedly showed me around the tiny village several months ago, and the project has stuck in my mind ever since.

So, when I heard this evening that the project had been abandoned in an unfinished state, I was disappointed. Disappointed, but since Rubaiyat pointed out, “[…] that means it can be taken over if there is an interest from the community,” I was interested enough to go back and check it out again.

It’s difficult to critique a piece in an unfinished (more like, “never-to-be-finished”) state, because you don’t really know which of your concerns would have been addressed, or not, by the artist’s very next move. But here is at least a description of the project.

You arrive in what appears to be the American Northwest, and are greeted by “Anna Falkoff,” wearing period clothes and sitting on her porch. She says, “Hello. It’s nice to meet you…. Just returned from Tacoma. I was arrested for nude bathing. Myself and a few others. Quite proud of that. … Have you read Jay’s article in The Agitator? “The Nudes and the Prudes,” he titled it. I think it’s quite good. I’ve heard he’s around. You should go up to the printshop and speak with him about it.”
secondhome_001

Her folksy (and oddly informative) introduction alludes to an actual event that occurred in 1911 in the real-life Home. Several members of the community were arrested for nude bathing; editor Jay (Fox) wrote an article for their local paper in support of the skinny-dippers, and eventually found himself arrested for encouraging lawlessness.

This moment in the short history of Home happens right towards the end of their story. By 1919, eight years later, the community was officially over, with its various residents going their various ways. And so, “Anna’s” strange little introduction goes pretty far in terms of positioning you at a pretty concise moment of time in the lifecycle of the group.

It seems pretty clear that I’m being firmly nudged in the direction of the Printshop to find Jay, so off I go. As I walk around, I notice empty, identical cabins lined up in a neat row suburbia-style, except that several of the cabins are upside down. (It strikes me as odd that I’ve never seen an upside down house in SL, but as far as I’m remembering, this is the first.) It’s hard to know what was to be moved into these cabins, if anything, so I don’t linger long at them.

secondhome_002

I head back to what I assume is the Printshop, but looks more like the office to a suburban VFW or something – vaguely “optimistic,” “patriotic” posters hang on the wall (they are suspiciously contemporary); there are desks and ugly plastic-y chairs. Ok probably not the Printshop.

So, I head over to the treehouse, which appears to be the last completed part of the installation. Climbing up the rope, I’m presented with a modest home not all that different from other treehouses in SL. Except that this one has “Joe Kopelle” who nearly assaults you with information.

Joe Kopelle: When I first came to Home I was amazed by the natural beauty of the land around me, and I hoped to build a shelter that sat harmoniously with my surroundings. With my imagination as my guide, I have built a liveable shelter here in the branches of a tree. Truly,even our homes and shelters can be a glowing example of the free thinking individuals who occupy this colony. Persons fromall over the world have been drawn here in the inspired home that their creative minds, and deep-rooted beliefs in freedom of speech and thought for all will find a fertile land in which to flourish.

secondhome_005

I get it, Joe! You’re really fucking enthusiastic about living here at Home, to the point of being unbearable. “Joe” of course is functioning much like “Anna” did, and the way that annoying, pesky little tag-along characters in video games all tend to function. As an alternative to simply handing the player a laundry list of things to do, not do, look out for, try, etc., characters come forward to tell you what you need to know via a one-sided “conversation.” Thus, “Joe” and “Anna” are of the same ilk as the character in a more conventional video game that reminds you to not leave the forest without the princess or so on.

I bring this up because “Joe” and “Anna” annoy the hell out of me. In the best possible scenario, their heavy-handed chit-chat perhaps replaces the stereotype of the anarchist as a mohawked teenager with a Molotov cocktail in hand, with the stereotype of anarchists as a group of desperately lonely middle-aged folks living in the forest and talking about ‘revolution’ in the most boring terms possible. I’m not sure this is the best trade-off. But having said that, I’m not really sure how else the artist could have chosen to deliver the information to you, and I’m assuming that he was invested in the idea of conveying the history of this place. I guess the most I could wish for was some punchier dialog from the robotic greeters to at least make the people living there seem lively, interesting, and the kind of people you’d want to at least get to know.

As I was standing there being annoyed by “Joe,” I realized – wow, that’s it. That’s as far as the creator(s) got; the rest of the build is unfinished. For a moment, I thought of the unfinished work by Christoph Büchel shown at MassMOCA without the artist’s permission… was I really supposed to be allowed to see the space like this, as so unfinished? I hope that it’s ok that I am. I know nothing about what caused the split between Red76 and CADRE, so I just assume that the two parted with no harm done (in the absence of any other information, I don’t see how I can assume otherwise), and that the artist is fine with the piece being shown as-is and even tampered with by other artists (as Rubaiyat implied to me in his message about opening the space up to the community).

But assuming all this is true, what should be done with the space? If someone wanted to take on this project, what should they build?

I think it would be really nice to continue with the same idea that’s already been started but then carry it out further. I will say that – as dorky as it sounds – because of this installation, I learned more about Home, WA than I ever knew before; the work definitely has tremendous potential as a teaching tool for the maligned ideology that is anarchism. And if SL provides the opportunity for the otherwise white toast, boring people to experiment with – oh, I don’t know – being a bisexual half-animal, half-robot creature who likes to have sex with other half-something creatures – it might be cool to extend that experimental spirit towards things like alternative ways of governing.

Anarchy lives or dies on questions like, Who will sweep the streets? (it’s actually a stupid question, but I’ve heard it win arguments before), questions which really have no practical place in SL. It would be impossible for Second Home to really recreate what living in a commune free of outside rules and laws, after all. The closest Second Home can really come to that is something similar to the sense of living in Wyoming or something – no one really cares what those ranchers way out there are up to unless it’s something assumed to be epically bad. Second Home is, in that way, more like living in a Libertarian’s dream rather than an anarchist’s.

Ok, so it will never be really accurate. But maybe it can raise some questions in player’s heads about the potential of such a space. That alone, I think, would be provocative and worthy and, perhaps with some tweaking, this rebranding of anarchists as down-home folks could actually make a good impression. I don’t know. I just really think that abandoning this piece the way it is seems like a waste and I’d love to see someone take up the cause and finish it.

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~ by amyfreelunch on November 23, 2008.

3 Responses to “Second Home, or We’ll Start By Killing “Anna” and “Joe””

  1. It’s a shame this was abandoned, it sounds like a highly original project for SL and that’s always of interest. I can’t imagine anyone taking it over though, unless you have the same knowledge and passion for the subject it would be almost impossible to follow the original creators’ concept. But like you pointed out, could it ever really be plausible to evoke what it set out to do, probably not by the nature of the medium, so perhaps it is quite fitting that it remains unrealised.

  2. Hi,

    My name is Sam Gould. I am with Red76 and one of the people who helped create the Second Home project.

    Just so you are aware, Second Home wasn’t abandoned at all. It is there for anyone to use and take over as they see fit. If people want to “buy” into it, great. If not, that’s okay too. It’s there for use. So, all of your ideas are totally viable. Don’t wait for permission and feel that it isn’t available in some way. Morph it to your own desires.

  3. Wow, thank you so much for clarifying. “Abandoned” was the exact word given to me by Rubaiyat (who works with CADRE), so I went for that… but it good to hear the other side. I should note that the sim, as far as I can tell, is fully modifiable – unlike most SL environments, anyone can add to, take away, edit, etc., what’s there. I don’t know what CADRE will have to say about all this, if it is their policy to then return the piece to the way it is now or not, but the changes can at least be made temporarily.

    So this sounds like a terrific opportunity for someone. Thank you, Sam, for your response.

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