>BLUPEARL > a cabinet of curiosities... 


Ole Worm's cabinet of curiosities (1655),
a private collection that was eventually transferred to the Danish royal cabinet, Copenhagen.
During the European Renaissance, extensive world travel and Colonialism provided an opportunity for Western travelers to gain access to objects from many different cultures. The creation of Cabinets of Curiosities’or ‘Wunderkammer’ became popular. Like a small private museum, these collections of exotic objects would often be organised, categorized and staged for public viewing.

Digital culture has created a whole set of new avenues for people to create such Cabinets of Curiosities for their collections of digital images. File sharing websites like Flickr have thousands of images added to their virtual collection daily!

AW's world Blupearl in many ways represents a kind of virtual collection in which representations of cultural and art objects from all across the world are displayed in a virtual 3D environment for our viewing pleasure—past and present, nature and culture, high art and low art come together like in a Disney-esque virtual hallucination.

In our walk through Blupearl we consider a virtual world as a Cabinet of Curiosities in which historically rooted objects come unhinged from their histories, their connections to real time and space to take on entirely different meanings in the staged context of a virtual display.

0N 6W


If you have not yet teleported to Blupearl -
follow these steps:

  • Open the AW plug-in (click the shortcut icon
    on your desktop - to start up the program)
  • Log in by entering a user name and your email address.
  • Teleport to Blupearl
    Select Teleport from the AW plug-in window.
    Enter the AW coordinates listed in the box on the left.
The Blupearl Directory is your teleport hub
The default male avatar in Blupearl
The default female avatar in Blupearl

This is Blupearl's welcome to its visitors:

Blupearl welcomes you to a world of fantasies.
Use your imagination and daydreams to drift gently on a pleasing but visionary notion. Dazzle in the colors and architectural design. Explore on your own or with friends,


In this walk we will use the Blupearl Directory as our navigation point.

To return to this directory at any time during this walk – use the back arrow button at the top of your AW plugin window.


Choose the ‘chase camera’ or ‘front camera’ settings to take a look at the default appearance of your avatar. Toggle between male & female avatars (through top menu >avatar.).

  • Do the appearance and body gestures of this 'default' avatar reflect the intent of Blupearl's virtual environment?

  • How does a virtual space deal with elements like time of day (day or night)? Does it function like a 'lighting effect' to stage a mood or is it a simulation of a real-life environment, or both? Why?

  • What role does race play in virtual worlds?
    How about gender?
  • Do virtual worlds reinforce common stereotypes in terms of race and gender? Why or why not?
Approaching the Egypt exhibit in Blupearl
Inside the pyramid structure


World: blupearl
Coordinates: 23S 16E

Teleport to the Egypt exhibit by clicking on its link on the Blupearl Directory board.

Upon arrival, have a look around – how is ‘Egypt’ simulated or staged here?

Walk straight ahead into the pyramid structure...
watch out for that Cobra crossing the path!

  • What do you see?
    Where do these objects come from?
    Have you seen these images before?
    What do they mean to you?
  • What do you think about the absence of information tying these representations to objects as they exist in the ‘real’ world?

These virtual 'objects' exist as 2D images in a 3D spatial simulation – if you move around the 'objects,' the image continues to face you.

The Greek Ruins...
Ruined contexts?

World: blupearl
Coordinates: 7S 8E

Exit the Egypt exhibit through the main entrance (where you entered the pyramid).

Cross the bridge and follow the path towards the Greek exhibit – have a look at all the sculptures scattered around in this park-like setting.

  • Do you think that the histories of these objects are lost when they are displayed as a collection of lawn ornaments?

REAL OBJECTS WITH REAL HISTORIES...Click on any of these links to find out more about the names and histories of some of the 'real' objects represented in the Egypt Exhibit:

Teleport back to Blupearl Directory board
by clicking on the back button.


A language can have many different forms. It doesn't just take shape in words & sentences, but also in symbols, pictures, hand gestures, body language, sound signals, colour codes etc.

Semiotics is a field of study that looks how meaning is constructed and communicated through language systems. A language is made up of signs. A sign consists of the signifier (the visible or audible symbol) and the signified (the "concept or object that appears in our mind when we see or hear the signifier). The main conclusion linguists have come to is that meaning is not fixed. Words and symbols likely mean different things to me than they do to you. This idea is captured in the notion of floating signifiers.

Literary critic N. Katherine Hayles contextualized the idea of floating signifiers in terms of computer language and word processing. In her article "Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers, she writes:

The immateriality of the text, deriving from a translation of mechanical leverage into informational patterns, allows transformations to take place that would be unthinkable if matter or energy were the primary basis for the systemic exchanges. This textual fluidity, which the user learns in her body as she interacts with the system, implies that signifiers flicker rather than float. (183)

> Read "Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers"

In the context of Blupearl, we could say that removing the representation– a digital image of a sculpture or object– from any connection to "matter" or its material existence in time and space, indeed allows "transformations [of meaning] to take place that would be unthinkable" (Hayles) in non-digital environments.

In this sense we can look at virtual worlds like Blupearl as 'Empires of Flickering Signifiers'.

Blupearl's SPACE exhibit
'Mainstream' fantasy characters as lawn displays

To enter the virtual environment itself is like being able to walk through one’s TV or computer, through the vanishing point or vortex and into a three-dimensional field of symbols

Quote from Margaret Morse's 1998 book titled
"Virtualities: Television, Media Art, and Cyberculture" (p. 181)

World: blupearl
Coordinates: 16S1E

From the Blupearl Directory board – teleport to Space. Walk around to have a look at the display.

Here, signifiers of more 'lifelike' NASA spacecraft coexist with representations of fantasy figures from mainstream North-American sci-fi and animation films (e.g. Starwars or TOY Story).

The separations between the 'real world' and 'fantasy worlds' blur as you move your avatar through this space.

  • Do you see parallels between theatre/movie sets
    and virtual spaces?
  • Do you see parallels between the PAV (personal avatar) and Celebrity Culture? What are some similarities? Differences?
Blupearl's awards exhibit

World: blupearl
Coordinates: 1N 7W

Blupearl has received several awards for its virtual environment.

  • What kind of awards did Blupearl receive?

  • Blupearl seeks to provide entertainment to its visitors.
  • What other intents do you see for virtual environments?

To read more about using AW virtual spaces for education, click here.

Our final destination in Blupearl is the LOVE AND PEACE STAGE- use the arrow button to return to the Blupearl Directory. Teleport to the LOVE AND PEACE STAGE

Love and Peace stage... where's the crowd?

Existing in the nonmaterial space of computer simulation, cyberspace defines a perimeter within which pattern is the essence of reality, presence an optical illusion.

Quote from N. Katherine Hayles' article "Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers"

World: blupearl
Coordinates: 7N 17W

As you watch the dancing flowers and bask in the rainbow colored lights of Blupearl’s Love and Peace stage… take a moment to think about some of your virtual experiences-

  • Were you the only one present in Blupearl? Did you meet 'people' in the worlds you visited? How is this experience different from your life in 'the real world'?
  • What are reasons people create their own worlds?
  • Is a virtual space political? Why?
  • What is your opiniont about the general absence of suffering in virtual spaces (e.g. hunger / poverty / disability)
    Do you find this problematic?
    Why or why not?
"Embodiment can be destroyed but it cannot be replicated. Once the specific form constituting it is gone, no amount of massaging data will bring it back. This observation is as true of the planet as it is of an individual life-form. As we rush to explore the new vistas that cyberspace has made available for colonization, let us also remember the fragility of a material world that cannot be replaced. "

Quote taken from "Virtual Bodies, Flickering Signifiers" by N. Katherine Hayles.
> Read article

> email helma
> visit website

I hope you enjoyed your virtual walk through ActiveWorlds!
Do share your experiences and ideas on the DATA TRAVELER BLOG!


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