artist collaboration Conceptual contemporary art Contemporary Chinese Art Lily & Honglei new media art Lily & Honglei video art net-art New Media Art Second Life Art Second Life in China

“CELEBRATION” – SL Performance Night at Eyebeam Art & Technology Center

Second Life Performance Night :: October 9, 2009; 6:30 – 8:30 pm :: Eyebeam, 540 W. 21st St., NYC.

This evening will feature three different artists/groups (including Eyebeam resident Scott Kidall), which use the online virtual world of Second Life as a medium for performance art. Alan Sondheim will present a performance using the aesthetics of the Second Life environment to create an experimental choreography; Lily & Honglei will present The Merry-go-around, a virtual installation addressing a series of environmental issues in today’s China; and Second Front has discovered a virtual crypt within Second Life and are inviting the public to witness its opening.

Together, these performances will sample some of the contemporary trends in Second Life performance art…


Lily & Honglei's presentation at Eyebeam Art & Technology Center, NYC
Lily & Honglei's presentation at Eyebeam Art & Technology Center, NYC


project link to virtual environment in Second Life:

Project Team Members:

Director: Lily & Honglei

Virtual Environment Developing: Lily & Honglei

Assistant Director/Performance Organizer: Daniel Shanks

Underwater City Performers:

Daniel Shanks (SL name: Nightingale Xuanzang)

Jade Sharkfin

Jolene Sabetha

Kai Serapis

Merry-go-around participants:

Ti Mosienko

Lili Avindar

Our gratitude to all performance participants!!

Artist Talk  – Lily & Honglei

Our works addresses a series of on-going socio-cultural issues in China, particularly those caused by globalization and social transformation. The online muti-user virtual environment in Second Life allows us to visualize those issues and share our point of view with a large audience through internet, also it creates a lot of opportunities for collaborations with artists from different cultural backgrounds through real-time interaction online. Following, we’d like to share with you our virtual installations and online performances in SL.

Installation I: Merry-go-around


We’ve been developing Second Life project since 2007. Today we just present a very small version of the work, as we’ve got limited time to clarify the implication of each part, so we are not giving a complex and lengthy statement here. First, we follow our avatar to experience a virtual installation, the merry-go-around.  We’d like to add a little background information. The piece “merry go around” is about 2008 Sichuan Earthquake in China, particularly in memory of thousands of
students died in the devastating disaster. In fact, research and investigation indicate this tragedy is not a merely natural disaster –  the poorly constructed school buildings have contributed to student death as a major factor. You can see the background image reveals the collapsed schools. Chinese netizens call them “tofu-dregs schoolhouses”, to mock both the quality and the quantity of these inferior constructions that killed so many school children. This a terribile consequence of local corruptions. Besides, experts argue the nearby hydropower dams might have triggered the earthquake. Since these inquiries are considered “politically sensitive,” the student’s death in Sichuan earthquake has become a taboo subject in Chinese media recently. We think it’s important to make artwork reflecting on the historical tragedy, and share our memory with others through Internet, so we build this piece in Second Life. You can see in the foreground, the students wearing red scarf, in typical school uniform are riding merry-go-around, in fact, they’re victims lost their lives in the earthquake. The background with school rubbles is composed with Honglei’s oil paintings based on pictures of the earthquake ruins. Ironically, if you look at the space from outside, you’ll see a structure with totally different appearance, which mimics 2008 Beijing Olympic swimming pool, called water cube. The spectacular surface works as a disguise covering huge internal problems.

Water Cube & Great Fire Wall
Water Cube & Great Fire Wall

Installation II: Great Fire Wall

Now we’re leaving the merry go around and visiting other spots following our avatar. Stepping down the ladder, we’re on the great wall. we built the great wall on fire to mock the Great Fire Wall of China, the notorious Internet censorship. Using a device called ‘teleporter’, our avatar is transporting to another spot, Underwater City.

Installation III: Underwater City

The virtual construction of Underwater City is a recreation of a historical site in Three Gorges Dam. A little bit background about the this – It becomes flooded as a result of development of Three Gorges Dam hydro-power project, which is the world’s largest hydro-power station and most controversial dam, because it results 1.2 million people displaced, many historical sites flooded or entirely submerged in Yangtze river. Since Three Gorges area is central in Chinese culture and history, the loss of cultural heritage is inestimable. Here, we look around and see several ancient Chinese characters performing here, they are actually played by our team members. Designs of these characters are inspired by Chinese folk stories and historic legends. Those individuals are very significant in terms of cultural spirit. We don’t have time to tell each individual story, but overall these characters represent individualism in Chinese culture. Their performances in underwater city convey a message about loss of cultural identity during process of development and globalization. It’s worth to mention our team members conducting the performance are not only from eastern cultural background, in fact, they are from US, Australia, UK.etc. Their engagement with reinterpretation of Chinese culture have brought the dialog between east and west to a new level.

Meng Jiang Nu
Mi Heng
Mi Heng
Ji Kang
Ji Kang
Qu Yuan
Qu Yuan

Now, we’re leaving the ghostly place, and get ready for the last part of the performance – the fireworks – just mimic the routine of major celebrations in China.


Artistic practice in virtual world

1. Speaking of artistic practice in Second Life, I think it’s important to highlight the characteristics of this type of art. As Second Life art is based on the Internet, it shares the same natures of Internet art – it’s highly accessible, one can experience SL art from computers with broadband connection; it allows real-time interaction between artworks and audience; it creates a lot opportunities for artist collaborations. We have been working in painting, installation and video for years, never seriously considered collaborating with others until we started working in Second Life. This because the nature of virtual world art demands you work together with people to carry out certain tasks. Compared with other media, virtual world art has reached a new level in term of interactions, either between artists or with audience.

2. Virtual world art becomes a solution for nostalgia, diaspora. As we have left China for years, and the conditions don’t allow us to going back quite often. We found it’s necessary to use art to deal with this kind of cultural displacement, to reconnect with our cultural origin. In 2007, we began to build a Chinese garden in Second Life, which was quite similar to our living environment in Beijing. Then we met some new friends in Second Life and invited them to visit the garden. We had quite inspirational conversations and discussions in the virtual space, and started planning a series of performance reinterpreting Chinese folkloric traditions. Those activities effectively reconnect ourselves with Chinese culture. The virtual garden became another home in where we can visually and mentally immerse in it, meditate and develop new perspectives regarding cultural traditions and current society. In this sense, the virtual world art helps to overcome geographic barriers, and therefore we can reach a more integral life.

3. Second Life is good art recreating real social, cultural or environmental situations, so that arouse further intellectual inquires on these issues. In the multi-user virtual environment, the virtual architectures and performance work together to enable the non-linear narrative, which may comprehensively uncover the meanings of certain social situations and their relationships.

By Lily Honglei

Lily Honglei, artist collaborate from Beijing, is currently base in United States. Their creative projects integrate digital imaging technologies, such as Augmented Realty, Virtual Reality and digital animation, with traditional art mediums to comment on current global societies as well as the relationship between Asian cultural heritages and globalization. Their projects received awards and grants from Creative Capital, New York Foundation of Arts Fellowship and Fiscal Sponsorship, New York States Council on the Arts, Queens Art Council, among others.

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