77 Million Paintings is an evolving digital artwork by Brian Eno, consisting of a seemingly never-ending stream of unique ambient music and video, described by Eno as “visual music” (Lumen London, 2011a). It was released as software and on DVD, and first went on show to the public in March 2006 (Lumen London, 2011b). It is the private view hosted by The Long Now Foundation in July 2007 that I would like to focus on here.
The private view took place simultaneously in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and online in the virtual world of Second Life (The Long Now Foundation, 2011). The virtual attendees could view the artwork hanging on the wall of a specially constructed gallery in Second Life, and were able to see and communicate with the real-life attendees through a computer based at the gallery in San Francisco. Eno’s talk to the attendees in San Francisco was streamed into Second Life and he also briefly attended the virtual event as an avatar (Rikomatic, 2007).
The audience for this event were members of the Long Now Foundation who were invited by email to attend either in real life or in Second Life. Unlike the other projects I will be covering, this was not widely publicised or aimed at a mass market.
For members who didn’t live near San Francisco, attending the private view was a challenge: they had to join Second Life if they were not already members. Second Life was relatively new (Wikipedia, 2011), and was described as “clunky and difficult to navigate”* for the uninitiated. There was also the issue of the time difference – UK attendees had to log on at 3am. This probably deterred many international members from attending, not to mention those who were not adept with technology.
The design of the event meant that it was not accessible to all, but it was not intended as such, and many of the design flaws within Second Life were due to the technological limitations of the time. This was a pioneering project – my interviewee told me that it took a year to devise the technology to make it possible at all*. In spite of the problem of alienating some of the audience, I think that the design met most of the audience’s expectations, since they were aware that it was all new. I think that the ambitious design was appropriate to the creative content.
At the time, it was not possible to extend this project across other digital platforms such as social networks, simply because they were not available. Eno’s 2009 generative music project Bloom shows how 77 Million Paintings could have been made more interactive and rolled out across mobile platforms if it were created today (Opal Limited, 2009).
The private view is not transmedia by The Producers Guild of America or Gomez’s definitions because it only uses two platforms, but these definitions were written after this event, and with much more technology available. I believe that it is a good example of transmedia in its time because it fits Jenkins’ wider definition by allowing content to be distributed across different platforms.
* Interview conducted on 25 October 2011 with Trevor Hilder, who attended the event in Second Life.