Second Life Avatar Featured in Legendary Opera House

On The Continued Cultural Reach of the Virtual World

Cao Fei Vienna Opera House China Tracy Second Life

In case you missed it over the holidays, the New York Times’ story on the use of contemporary art displayed in major opera houses casually mentions that “the Chinese-born multimedia artist Cao Fei is showing a female avatar — a dystopian, pale-white head so imposing that signs have been put up all over the [Vienna] opera house to alert spectators to its presence.”

That avatar is actually China Tracy from Second Life — she still has an active account in SL, look her up! — who’s been showing up in Cao Fei’s art projects since 2007:

In a really great early machinima (watch below):

Also in a virtual real estate sale at Art Basel in Miami.

And then a whole city in Second Life which was then depicted in several top galleries and art museums, including the New York MOMA.

Cao Fei SL art

And so on. This is another key way in which Second Life continues to be a model for the Metaverse. While say Roblox and Fortnite have much larger user bases, you will see little evidence of them in culture outside gaming. And definitely not in a top art museum or opera house.

Because in the end it’s not just about raw user numbers, but cultural reach, and what is often called “thought leadership” — a perspective that influences how the broader society thinks and engages with the concept of virtual worlds and the Metaverse in general. (And, yes, I’ll be writing much about that in my book.)

Top photo credit: Andreas Scheiblecker/Museum in Progress

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