Friday, July 19, 2019

Interview with Hangars Liquides Creator: Djehan Kidd

By Bixyl Shuftan

It recently made the news that Hangar Liquides, an urban science-fiction themed area high above five sims, was in serious danger of being closed after twelve years online. The place was designed, created, and owned by Djehan Kidd. Wanting to know about how the sims came to be, and how they got into this predictament, I asked Djehan about an interview, and we met up at one of the apartments in the city. Djehan spoke fluent English in voice, but with her accent prefered the interview be done in text.

Djehan had found out about Second Life, "Long ago, in 2006, it was gaining popularity and was in the news on the TV, I thought it was a great idea, so I decided to try and never left. I forgot the name the first time I heard it on the news. That's why I only joined in 2007, when I heard the name again. I remember spending a year trying to remember because I really wanted to try."

Of her first days here, "I went to a French hub, a sort of noob place where they gave information on what you could do on SL. I thought I wanted to script and also build. Then I quickly got myself land, at Hina, and I started to build my first project which was (a) MOCA, museum of contemporary art, and then I started to texture and build and make installations in it. My first installation was called 'The Mother of All' on SL. Oh it was a lot of fun, I still have the moca group. Some people were coming over, including my SL neighbors that I still have in my friend list. Haha! It was nothing very social for me, it was really already about building stricto sensu. But I could use the tools of SL, so I had the group and made some announcements, and it was simple and fun and creative.

"After this, I first logged in during February 2007, in June 2007 I got the first sim to build a city on, and then started Hangars Liquides. I wanted to build Hangars Liquides after I saw Nexus Prime, I was always going there, hanging out with builders Slade Onizuka and Ash Garden. Slade built on HL the first months too, before he had to go out of being deployed to Iraq. HL started four months after I first logged in. ... It was smaller, only one sim. It already had a lot of convolutions in the architectural style. I tried to extend it first by rezzing a 'megaprim' sphere all around on which I stuck photos of the city on the sim arranged as a panorama. So the sphere was extending, or giving the illusion to extend because with the center of the megaprim inside the sim, the actual surfaces were far away from sim limits.

"It never looked the same over time. It has been a constant mutation all the time. For instance, now it has mesh. So it looks like it does today since mesh arrived more or less. And then I constantly tweak it and change it, I imagine real life cities are always evolving, you see cranes here and there. So I figured it was just the same here. Many towers come and go too. I think they are still the highests in the grid, in a city."

I asked about when the British newspaper, The Guardian, took a look at Hangars (video link). Djehan smiled, "Yes. It was presented as the largest cyberpunk city in the world. The city was already on 5 sims back then." When I asked if interest in the city picked up afterwards, she responded, "I don't know, I'm not sure the SLers are following the Guardian enough maybe.Haha! But it sure was good for the city to be featured there. I guess it is now part of the guardian's archives."

I then asked about roleplay groups in the city. Djehan answered,"Over time, I always saw many RPers from different roleplays come and go. Sometimes they exploded the traffic at insane numbers, well for a cyberpunk city. Sometimes it is a small team who does it privately, all sorts. I don't want to forbid any outfit or anyone, so you could get elves, aliens, furries, humans, robots, all sorts of roleplay happened like this. Sometimes some wanted me to organize, sometimes they were independent, I prefer independent projects of course, because I have to focus on building and I take no artistic direction or requests at HL. So they use the city as it is." She paused for a moment to think over her words, "I mean 'I take no artistic direction' from others, (laughter) I practice my own here, I mean. So roleplayers who need this or that, they couldn't ask me to build for them, if they wanted they commission me to build their sim."

I then brought up the real life nonprofit group Hangars Liquides. Djehan responded, "That's a very long story, Hangars Liquides is older than Second Life in fact. It started out as a record label in 1998, within the European underground hardcore electronic music scene, and it got big right away in all the illegal raves throughout the world. Hangars Liquides was producing records and signing artists from European Union and also the US. It's a grassroots landmark of underground techno culture now. I joined them in 2001, but we only started the non profit to be able to get an island on SL in 2007."

I asked if that's how the sims had been funded. "At first yes," she answered, " We went with the founder La Peste (The plague) aka Laurent Mialon, a cult composer. He coined and created Flashcore music with HL. We went to meet with many politicians and elected people delegated to the cultural affairs to pledge for the new technology that was Second Life and also for music of course. They gave us a government grant so I could pay for the installation of the first region. And also delegates to technologies, sorry I forgot to mention."

I then brought up when Linden Lab had ended the discount for nonprofits in October 2010. Djehan told me, "Yes they did this. Then I thought it was an emergency that I start a marketplace shop in order to be able to pay. I paid upfront what they asked for, and then HL was kept, and I started my MP store. Also, I sent a ticket to LL to ask them if I could rent to residents, in the city, to fundraise to pay the tier, Linden Lab told me that I was allowed to. So I also rented places." On her Marketplace page, she sells, "environments, mostly cyberpunk and dystopian with exclusive architecture. Lately I started to add a few furniture too. But I sell mostly environments like the Space Cocoon, the Cyberpunk Apartment. And right now I am about to release a new dystopian slightly futuristic one too (smile). I am finishing to paint the textures."

In 2013, Linden Lab restored it's discount for nonprofits. So all was well for a while. Then the Lab contacted her, saying the rules about qualifying for the discount had changed, "Sometime during 2017 or 2016, someone from Linden Lab contacted me inworld telling me that the TOS for non profits just got updated, and that I couldn't keep the rentals, or my shop or anything. So I stopped all these activities on the non profit sims. Then they came to verify that everything had been removed and from then on I just continued working as usual..And I always paid a lot from my own pocket anyways."

So when was the future of the sims looking doubtful? Djehan answered, "Before April, I had to pay big invoices. Nonprofits don't pay by the month, we have different payment plans through different systems. And because I was late, one of the regions got down, so I paid and everything went back up. But from that day, I realized that my work was in danger if one day I couldn't pay anymore. Like, if I was a painter, I was one before, I would rent a studio to paint in. And the day I can't pay for the rent , I couldn't take my paintings with me. And as an artist I never thought I would ever have to lose my work, because I wouldn't afford the space to host it. It is very strange.  I have all the textures and assets in my inventory. What is at stake is the composition of it all on the five regions all together linked into this giant knot that is the city."

I asked her what she was doing to make sure the five sims could stay up. She told me, "I work, I'm a professional artist and all I know is work. I need to make the money to keep up, so I work ten hours a day. I work the weekend, I handpaint, I manipulate vertex, all I know is to make 3D to sell it, and hopefully make enough money to keep the city up. Sometimes for commissions, like when I did Thinis, I worked up to 18 hours a day seven days a week, for a very little pay, I was glad Linden Lab featured me with a very nice text on their front page. But looking back it was impressive. In five weeks, I built three sims all from scratch, all handpainted textures. Some of my clients dubbed me 'the machine' when I was commissioned to build New Seattle for the Shadowrunners. All I know is work."

She then showed me a video of the Thinis sim, "after eight days of work, by the way. ... People liked it, I put all my heart in this one too. I love the post apocalyptic worlds too. Oh, and this is a video of the type of stuff I sell on MP, but filmed in VR back when SL was available with HMD. I think it is a shame LL stopped suport for the VR with HMD. Second Life in VR is so cool."

I then asked about offers of help coming in. Djehan thought some before answering, "Yes well people are kind and offer help yes. But they don't know that it is to be paid all at once. It costs around 3K USD, plus the cost of the two extra sims monthly, which are not non profit, Cell and China, around $240 USD monthly. You know I live in France, Here the median income is 1700 Euros per month, which means jhalf the population of the country lives below this. This is very far from anything in California, let alone the Bay Area. It has become too anxiogene to have to pay this.

"So right now, I really don't know what is going to happen. And since I can't have a backup to save the city on my HDD, I had an offer to get it displayed at the Fluxus Museum in Spain for instance. But they didn't want it hosted on Linden Lab's servers, so I am stuck on Second Life. And it is not for nothing that Linden Lab offers the possibility of preservation. It is exactly for this, and we are in touch with LL to preserve the city since a month, and I am just awaiting their answer. So a Linden is submitting the city to the SLPP (Second Life Preservation Program) and I am waiting. I've also been in touch with the Linden in charge of that program, and apparently a committee will come visit the city too."

I asked if there was any chance the Lab would allow her to rent out apartments and still qualify for the nonprofit discount. Djehan answered, "I don't think they can make an exception. I asked twice, and I think that Linden Lab is very monitored in their activities. Remember the casinos? Even at one time you could exchange Linden dollars with Bitcoin. I think that they get this imposed on them. I might be wrong but this is my opinion. I think that if they could allow me to rent they would of course allow me.

So when would the commitee drop by? He wasn't sure, "I am waiting for the answers with the tickets and by email, so far I didn't get a no or a yes, all I know is that a commitee will visit and decide."

I then asked what would she be doing after it was known whether Hangars would be saved or not. DJehan answered, "I will continue to work no matter what. If having it preserved allows me to keep updating it I will. If not I wont. The most important is not to destroy the art work. But then I will just go deploy on Sansar , High Fidelity, continue to release environments on the MP, work in Augmented Reality in Italy, also in VR for the Venice Biennale. I have many projects and ongoing projects. I work on many things. But yes of course preserving my work from destruction too is a big priority."

I asked about her VR work in Venice, if it was her largest current project. She answered, "In terms of organisation behind the scenes yes, the Venice biennale requires that you are represented by an institution, the city of Venice was supporting me, surrounded by my Italian Team, first of which my Curator, the urbanist in chief of the city of Venice, the UNESCO, the sponsors. My work on SL in my permanent exhibition, my portfolio, it is a very large piece , a composition. The last Venice Biennale in which I was selected in 2013 was for Augmented Reality.

" All in all, it is all very big projects. The Venice one like I described it, and on Second Life it is simply a big project because it is the largest cyberpunk city on the grid. It was accepted by the direction of the Biennale after being  personally selected by the curator in chief of that edition of the Biennale. For the 2021 Biennale, I will work on Virtual Reality. It is much simpler for me than Augmented Reality, because I know the subject very well. And Augmented Reality tech, based on GPS is still not really - how can I say, AR still requires much research for it to work smoothly, with GPS. Because the elements tend to shiver when displayed on devices due to the constant update of the position of the devices in real space. The GPS constantly updates the position of a moving human that is watching the content, and it is not ready. But there are other ways to display AR, without having it shiver (smile)."

At one point, she talked a little about being able to express herself as an artist, "You know, being able for every citizen, in my country France, but also the USA, is a constitutionnal right. It gives us the right to associate in between people, with another aim than making money. Because we humans are an intelligent species. We create arts, we also organize charities, and all this falls within the nonprofit organizations. And it is essential to protect this. It is not a constitutionnal right for nothing. It is extremely important. Well humans, intelligent in our own particular way, let's say, because I love all species. But humans have their own particular traits. We make arts for instance. When we were living in caves, one of us started to paint the walls, in Lascaux grotto (smile) ..  And we wonder why we started to draw like this, because it has no purpose. Experts even today are having troubles to explain why. Contemplation? Or maybe because they were locked in it and they missed watching outside? We don't know."

We chatted a little more before we eventually parted. A few days after the interview, Djehan had announced that she was going with a crowdfunding campaign to try to save Hangars Liquides. "I launched a crowndfunding thing," she would tell someone over the HR group, "That's the only way, instead of rental boxes. Then everyone who gave can come and stay around basically." When someone asked about the 6000 Euros/$6743 dollars, she answered, "That's the cost for the five sims. And non profits don't pay monthly, we have to pay yearly. So next due invoice is August1st. So hence the deadline for the fundraiser."

Hopefully Djehan Kidd succeeds in saving her cyberpunk city that's been in Second Life of twelve years. But even if she doesn't, she has no plans on stopping what she does.

Bixyl Shuftan

1 comment:

  1. Bixyl, great article. I don't get a chance to get into SL anymore but every now and again I hover in the wings. I recently found some old pictures of my avatar and some builds and got nostalgic. I decided to google the old avatar was surprised to see any recent results!

    Also shout out to Djehan Kidd. I hope things turn around and HL can continue functioning!