Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Freedom Project Thank You Ceremony & Exhibition Launch - Full Ceremony Transcript

Sunday the 23rd of March, saw an end, as well as a new beginning to the Freedom Project which kicked of on the 1st of September 2013. A thank you ceremony was held for all the artists, film makers and writers who participated in the project as well as an official launch of Freedom project artworks at the UWA Virtual gallery.

Thank you announcements by Dianne Elton, Gentle Heron, FreeWee Ling, Taralyn Gravois and Jay Jay Jegathesan
This unique event, organized jointly by the University of Western Australia, along with members of the Virtual Ability Group, and the Centre for ME/CFS and Other Invisible Illnesses Group in Second called for artists and filmmakers from around the globe who self identified as having a disability or chronic illness, to create an artwork or a film/machinima or in fact a personal story on the theme of ‘Freedom’, showing how virtual worlds have in some way helped them or those around them. 
40 remarkable works were received from Japan, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, the USA and Great Britain among others, along with poignant reminders of how virtual worlds have the ability to do far more than most people unfamiliar with virtual worlds, might imagine.

The SIM was packed to its set limit of 45 to ensure integrity
As follows is a transcript of how the ceremony unfolded:

Greetings everyone, and welcome to the University of Western Australia, or UWA as she is known. As is tradition at UWA, I would like to acknowledge that the University is situated on Nyoongar land and that the Nyoongar people remain the spiritual and cultural custodians of their land and continue to uphold their values, languages, beliefs and knowledge.

The Freedom Project which called on artists and film makers and writers from around the world to to show us how virtual worlds have helped numerous people from all walks of life to overcome the seemingly insurmountable challenges has truly been a remarkable event. This has been so because of all of you here today who have been so willing to share of your wonderful artistry and writing showing us all the 'Freedom' virtual worlds can bring. This event would not have come about if not for 3 amazing people, our co-organisers, Gentle Heron representing the executive team of Virtual Ability, Inc., as well as Dianne Elton for the Centre for ME/CFS and Other Invisible Illnesses and FreeWee Ling, UWA virtual arts curator.

All of us would agree though that the real stars are all of you... who have brought us 40 soulful and thought provoking works of art, machinima and stories, hailing from all across the globe, from Strasbourg, Toulouse, Dawsonville, Osaka, Greenbay, Blackpool,  Salem, Tampa Bay, Perth, Tasmania, Warwickshire, Houston, Kansan, North California, Berkeley, Milan, Northern Rivers, Dallas, Detroit, New Mexico, Tenessee, Berlin, Tampa Bay, Ohio, Den Bosch, North Georgia, the island of Kaua'i, in Hawaii and from parts unknown in Canada.

I'd like to ask Dianne Elton of the Centre for ME/CFS and Other Invisible Illnesses to say a few words:


Thank you Jayjay. I would like to begin by introducing myself to those who may not know me.

I am part of the organising committee and I represent the Centre for ME/CFS and Other Invisible Illnesses in Second Life.  M.E. is the acronym for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and the acronym for CFS is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. 

M.E. is a little understood illness, (even for those who have it).  At the Centre in SL, we provide help and support for those with ME/CFS and other invisible illness.  Members can attend guided relaxation sessions 4 times a week to help manage pain and symptoms. There is a weekly research discussion group, a weekly support/chat group, and a book group, all where people can meet in real time from the comfort of their homes, and even from the comfort of their beds and receive help and support from other sufferers. Many of these people cannot leave the house or even their beds, in real life.  The Centre also houses a resource library and a Creative Works Gallery.  If you would like to visit the centre in SL, I can give you a Landmark later. 

However, enough about me and the Centre for ME/CFS and Other invisible Illnesses. The most important part of today’s event is of course this thank you ceremony for all the contributors to the Freedom Project. I support and add to Jayjay in welcoming you all here today.  I am really glad that you have managed to attend. I sincerely congratulate you all on this truly wonderful exhibition.
For some of you, the work of putting together an entry has been quite a physical and mental effort.  I hope any of you who had a crash after putting in an entry, have made a reasonable recovery from your efforts and I hope you thoroughly enjoyed the creative process. We thank you not only for your amazing creations, but also for your honest, open and very moving and very inspiring stories. Through your creative works and your personal stories, this exhibition raises the awareness and the consciousness of those in normal health, and invites them into the worlds of those who live with illness and disability day to day.

When one has an illness or disability, it’s not uncommon to feel that the wider community, and sometimes even friends and family – and (dare I say it), even doctors sometimes do not understand what we go through. This exhibition demonstrates in a really wonderful, creative and inspirational way, that although people with illness and disabilities may be limited in real life, they are not limited in spirit, joy, determination and creative expression.

Someone said to me recently, when I told them about this project, “Why would they sit at the computer all day? They should be out in real life enjoying it.” She had no understanding that sometimes, because of illness and / or disability, the way one can operate in real life may be severely curtailed. To quote the words of a good friend of mine (Jane Olsen), “the Freedom Project transcends its virtual location, in my opinion, because of the deep artistry and emotion of the submissions.” For those of us here today, Second Life is not a game nor fantasy, but an extension of real life. It’s a place where we can be creative and expressive and socialize.

Many of us are cut off from real life because of illness. However, SL should not be seen as separate or alien from Real Life, rather, it is an extension of it, providing an opportunity for those who are otherwise isolated, to participate in a wide range of events. It also allows us to connect with others, be they healthy or challenged physically or mentally in some way on. The creative process therefore transcends Second Life ….it is Real Life.

To conclude, it is wonderful to be part of this Freedom Project. It has been a privilege to meet so many of you and to provide help to some of you with the process of presenting your entries and writing your stories. Thank you to all who have participated, to those who helped manage the Project and to those who have sponsored and supported the event.

And now I would like to invite Gentle Heron of Virtual Ability Inc. to share her thoughts:


Thank you. I’m pleased to represent the Virtual Ability community here tonight.

Dianne talked about disability; I want to talk about art! We have artists from all over the physical world, and from many different disability communities within Second Life.

Art has been an important part of human culture since our Stone Age ancestors painted the walls of the caves in which they dwelt. We use art in many ways. Art can be used for decoration of person or surroundings, declaration, instruction, warning, social commentary, religious ritual, even recording historical events. Perhaps the most important use of art is to communicate our feelings.

Both the creator and viewer of a work of art are interpreting the subject of that item. In this exhibit, numerous artists express their feelings about how being part of a virtual world has offered them the freedom to express themselves, to enjoy life, and to live more as they want to live. I invite each attendee tonight to spend time with at least one piece of artwork here, one that speaks directly to you, that moves you emotionally. Ponder it. Let it sink into your heart and brain. Feel what the artist felt when creating the work. Invite a friend to view the artwork with you, then find a quiet place to sit and talk about it.

Several academic researchers are thinking about how the affordances of virtual worlds impact people with disabilities. They need only attend this art exhibit to learn a great deal about that subject.

Thank you, JayJay and the University of Western Australia for hosting this event, and thanks to all the people who helped make it successful.

Before I hand over to FreeWee to speak about where we go from here, and also to officially launch the  exhibit, I want to officially thank all our sponsors and supporters, through whose contributions see the support for this project exceed L$670,000. I want to acknowledge co-sponsors Eliza Wierwight, who also created the beautiful poster for this event, David Doyle & Simone Flavelle of DADAA's stARTSPEAK Project, Tom Papas & Screen My Shorts Inc. (Sydney), West Australian artist, Len Zuks,  Beverley Hill of UWA's Equity & Diversity Office, Craig MacKenzie and Deborah Bolton of UniPrint,  TheDove Rhode of Peace is A Choice Gallery, Taralyn Gravois, AviewTV and LaPiscean Liberty, Eleanor Medeir and The Sim Street Journal as well as Kit Guardian and Guardian 11:11 for their multifaceted commitment towards the event as well, also iMoogi TV (imoogi.tv) and Nu Vibez Magazine (nuvibezmag.com) led by Filipa Thespian and of course Professor Ted Snell, Chairman of Visual Arts for the Australia Council and Director of UWA's Cultural precinct, who pointed us to the theme for this event.

Thanks to all of the support, we decided, rather than selecting a few of the artworks for special recognition, every single one is worthy, and as such all of you will receive L$7,500! Over to you FreeWee!

Thank you JayJay. I would first like to thank my team members, Gentle Heron and Dianne Elton, for their active participation in every step of putting this show together. The Freedom Project would not have been nearly as successful without their great work.

I also thank the many artists who have been so generous with their work and their stories. I can honestly say that I am as proud of this show as any we have ever done. And you should be proud, too.

I was not sure what to expect when we started this project, but it was clear from early on that we had some very talented people who had something to say. It also became clear that the community at large was very interested in the idea. We have had several blog posts and the Freedom Project team has been invited to do a presentation at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference next month.

In addition to the many artists we have not seen in our previous shows at UWA, I was especially gratified to have submissions by several of our veteran artists, some of the top artists in SL, about whom I had been unaware of their disabilities. I think we have clearly demonstrated that SL is an empowering and inspiring creative environment.

Your work and your stories will be published in a new edition of UWA Studies in Virtual Arts (UWA SiVA), an official university online journal. You can see previous editions at: http://uwainsl.blogspot.com/p/uwa-siva.html

And for the first time ever, we are delighted to announce that every participant in the Freedom Project will receive a nicely printed copy the journal upon publication. I am currently assembling image files and editing the text, and I hope to be able to deliver the volume to the printers within a few weeks. Please be sure we have a mailing address for you. We'll be contacting you about that soon.

Machinimist Taralyn Gravois will also be making a video documentary about the show. Right now I'd like to turn the proceedings over to Tara for a moment.

Hello, I'm Taralyn Gravois. This exhibit is beautiful..and very thought provoking. I would like to make a video that will get some of your thoughts about your artworks. For those of you that feel comfortable talking in audio I will be here next Sunday 4pm-7pm. I will just need each person for 5-7 minutes to ask them about their artworks. I can also translate for you if you want to answer in text.  So please send me an IM if you are interested.

Related to the journal, I may be asking for your help. Specifically, I will be editing the text you provided to us for your entries. This is the text in the notecards that are given at each entry when someone clicks on your name.

I will be formatting the text for the book, correcting spelling and some punctuation, and possibly correcting grammar. But I will try to remain as faithful as possible to your statements. If you want to review your stories before I start working on them, please let me know ASAP so I can wait for your revisions. I will try to let you review my edits before publishing, but you will need to approve any changes I make quickly.

Please let me know any concerns or questions you may have about this. I'm always happy to talk to artists to make sure you are happy with the process as well as the result.

A dedication was made to the Freedom Project by Aquaglo in the form of a lovely machinima titled 'I Walk Alone'.

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