By Stina Gustafsson
In 2003, the online platform Second Life was released. It allowed for people to create avatars and to have a second life, just as implied in its name, online. Naturally, things we had in real life were recreated on this platform, and quickly we saw galleries, museums and other art displays popping up. Fast forward to modern days, and it seems like what was started in Second Life, has now spread to the other metaverses that are currently being developed. NFTs and digital art have found a natural place within them, and you still see galleries, museums, and other art displays everywhere when walking around. You can spend days in the metaverse and still not see all the art that is currently on display, and the abundance can seem overwhelming even for someone who is accustomed to the digital sphere.
But how has the modern metaverse changed the way we are viewing digital art and what do we need to think about as we move forward with these new places to display art?
Digital Art, NFTs and Traditional Displays
The traditional approach when it comes to displaying art, something we currently see in most metaverses, is a way of normalising these new spaces and potentially allowing for wider adoption of the metaverse. Though it can be tempting to push the boundaries when displaying digital art online, it is sometimes more beneficial to keep it rather straightforward with cube-like structures and rooms with walls. During Portion’s Twitter Space The Future of the Metaverse on January 7th, artist and metaverse-expert Michelle Cortese discussed the reason why it is good to use proxemics in the metaverse. In the book Ethics in Design and Communication: Critical Perspectives, she further explores this concept...
“Proxemics can be viewed as four distinct categories: intimate, personal, social, and public. The boundaries of these zones help us understand appropriacy at various distances. In the real world, each zone has an established code of conduct that offers explicit rules for what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable. We can use these zones to help people understand what behavior is appropriate at specific times and locations.”
- (Cortese, M., and Zeller, A., 2020)
This approach, with a slightly more traditional spatial design, can be seen as a way of easing new participants into a setting that will most likely be more integrated with society in the future. By implying that this is like any other society or space we move in, we also set social norms in terms of how you should behave in this new space. This might also streamline the onboarding when it comes to people who aren’t digital natives in the same way the crypto and NFT audience are considered to be.
Though traditional displays and settings are something we commonly see right now when it comes to art in the metaverse, it is likely that we will see a more experimental approach in the future.
Interactive Elements and the Metaverse
Traditionally, the natural fit for showcasing digital art has majority of the time been screens. Immersive experience has also seen a rise within the last years. Though it is not a new phenomenon, it reached a wider audience when artists such as the collective Team Lab publicly presented big interactive multimedia installations which allowed for more than just looking at the digital art. It almost seems that to reach a wider public, interaction might be key as we move forward. Experiences beyond just viewing seem to create a deeper connection and interest, and a result might draw a bigger and more general audience.
Interactive elements and the interactive possibilities in the metaverse are something that applies really well to digital 3d pieces and installations. Though they might feel slightly removed if viewed on a screen and not through VR glasses, the metaverse might be able to offer something beyond just observing digital 3d art pieces as it offers the viewer a way of being and existing with art on the viewers’ own terms. Moving avatars and sculptures you can walk through and interact with opens up new perspectives on what it might mean to live with digital art in the modern age and in the future. Might it be that the digital pieces we will own will be more than images on a phone or a screen in the near future? A walk through a sculpture garden in the metaverse might offer a similar experience as what artists such as TeamLab are offering with their IRL interactive installation - a way of being with, sharing the space with and interacting with digital art.
Metaverse Art Spaces with the Community at Heart
As we move forward in the development of the metaverse, it is important to remember that these new spaces are being built and thought up as we speak. It is on us to reflect upon the old values we want to bring forward and the ones we want and need to stay behind with the old structures. Reflection is more important than ever, as sometimes blind innovation without consideration ends up offering nothing new, but simply the recreation of old systems and values, but in new places. As the community is at the core of our industry, the support for the development of communities should also be considered in the metaverse. How do we create a place, with art, in the metaverse that serves more than private landowners and offers a genuine place where the community can grow and flourish around?
Ideas and notions around topics such as public art and its importance when it comes to placemaking might be routes worthy to explore as we move forward. Placemaking, a practice within public art and planning of public spaces is -
“[...] both an overarching idea and a hands-on approach for improving a neighbourhood, city, or region, [as] placemaking inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community.”
The creation of community is something that crypto and web3 are actively working with in spaces such as Twitter and Discord, but it might be time for us to bring this forward, into the metaverse and create spaces where not only the private landowner has a say but the community does as well. It would be a way of gathering around art projects driven and realised by and for the communities that are shaping in the metaverse.
“Strengthening the connection between people and the places they share, placemaking refers to a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value.”
Placemaking and public art are not new ideas and have both been important when it comes to shaping communities around art and public space in the societies that we live in today. Theories and ideas like this can potentially guide us when thinking about the spaces we create around art in the metaverse, as sometimes history is the right guidance when creating the future.
The possibilities of viewing art in the metaverse have certainly changed the approach to how modern digital art can be displayed. Though being a medium that has been celebrated for a long time, it has reached a wider audience in the last few years. As we move forward it seems like it will continue to grow. More adaptable settings in the metaverse that are more tailored for certain types of digital art can help the audience experience digital art in new ways. As the metaverses continue to grow, we will see new public places, and perhaps, communities that will flourish around public digital pieces.