March 20, 2008
Anne Friedberg (USC), “Immaterials: Glass, Transparency & Architectures of the Metaverse”

Additional support for this event came from ARTHEMIS and the Joint Doctoral Programme in Communication Studies.

Abstract: The cinema screen has an element in immaterial architecture. Light could carry images, light could draw in space. As computers screens and TVs have become flatter the dimensionality of architectural space has transformed. This talk explored the tension between the materials of glass, screens, walls, and the immaterial(s) of the metaverse. No longer reliant on properties of the physical universe, the metaverse resembles buildings, cities, and much of our familiar built environment.  But it is also reliant on new paradigms of representation, new spatialities and temporalities of an ever-more virtual world.

Event report: In her analysis of Second Life, Anne Friedberg pondered the relationship between material reality and the symbolic “materials” we use to construct virtual environments and avatars. The popularity of virtual glass in Second Life, for example, can be read as a semiotic mirror of a trend in real-world architecture towards immateriality and “leakiness,” encouraging the inter-penetrability of light, sound, and scent. Friedberg also asked how the materiality of screens relates to our experience of “immaterial,” two-dimensional moving images and stories. Friedberg investigated the implications for spectatorship of emerging screen technologies, including touch screens, holography, and screen-less 3D projection. While the clash between the flat screen and the deep space of the “metaverse” is envisaged in novels, including Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland, and Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, the Second Life interface makes the metaphor potently literal, prompting fascinating questions about the real and symbolic lives of our bodies and our material environments.