Life Squared (L2) was a project carried out under the auspices of the Stanford Humanities Laboratory, with Lynn Hershman Leeson. It began as part of the “Presence Project” under the direction of Prof. Michael Shanks, in association with the Metamedia Lab in the Stanford Archaeology Center and with the How They Got Game Project, under the direction of Dr. Henry Lowood. The project was partially funded by a grant from the Daniel Langlois Foundation. The goal of the project was to re-animate the existing archive of Lynn Hershman Leeson, housed in the Department of Special Collections in the Stanford University Libraries. The work was substantially completed in early 2007 under the direction of Henrik Bennetsen, who worked closely with Hershman Leeson to build the elements of Life Squared in the virtual world, Second Life. The project “island” was called NEware. The completed project integrated selected elements from the Hershman archive in a re-created virtual site based on Hershman Leeson’s first site-specific art work set in the Dante Hotel in San Francisco in 1972.
For over three decades in performance, photography, installations, artificial intelligence agents, artifacts, web presences and in movies, Hershman Leeson's work stimulated exploration of what it is to live in a world of mediated, monitored, documented, translated, manipulated and transformed identities, bodies, and presences. Ninety boxes of what remains of this corpus are preserved in the Stanford University archives: papers, photographs, tapes, movies, and sound recordings. Their relationship as documents to Hershman Leeson's "body" of work was at the heart of Life Squared. Converting this archive into a digital format of hybrid genre, with digitized archival documentation and “virtual” installations in Second Life encouraged visitors to the site to revisit the past, while at the same time creating a new audience for this material.
In 2007, the project site – an island in Second Life -- was integrated into a physical show at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for E-art: New Technologies and Contemporary Art, with the physical installation, in turn, built back into the animated archive. The embedding of the virtual in the real and vice versa will continue as the work tours the world. Earlier, in January 2007, it was also a site for the premiere of Hershman Leeson’s film, “Strange Culture,” as part of the Sundance Film Festival, believed to be the first such premiere held in a virtual space. In 2008, the project was exhibited as part of SFMOMA’s fall 2008 exhibition, “The Art of Participation: 1950-Now.”
As part of the Preserving Virtual Worlds project funded by the National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program (NDIIPP) through the Library of Congress, Stanford is working with other universities to explore what it means to preserve Second Life. Unlike shrink wrap games, where an archivist could preserve the digital media (in addition to culturally relevant artifacts), the bits and bytes behind Second Life are much harder to capture. In addition to Second Life video capture, blog crawls, and snapshots, current preservation efforts for Second Life include the development of a tool to capture metadata about objects in Second Life to enable the reproduction of these objects elsewhere. All of the above is being done to preserve NEware, the island that is home to Life Squared, the Lynn Hershman Leeson digital archive in Second Life.