Joana Rafael (b.1979) is an architect, researcher, lecturer and ghostwriter, currently based in Porto, Portugal, working between architecture, (issues of) ecology and visual culture. She holds a PhD (2017) in Visual Cultures and an MRes (2009) in Research Architecture from Goldsmiths, University of London, an MA (2008) from the Metropolis Graduate Programme in Architecture and Urban Culture, run by the Centre for Contemporary Culture, Barcelona and a degree (2002) in Architecture from the University of Minho, Guimarães. Joana teaches Contextual Studies and Contemporary Culture -related courses, and is a member of ID+ (Research Institute for Design, Media and Culture) and CEGOT (Center for Studies in Geography and Spatial Planning). Joana is also a certified sustainable agriculture and biological farming practitioner.
developed together with Andrea Belosi
Forthcoming by VIA INDUSTRIAE, Italy
With generous funding provided by Creative Industries NL.
Lost Zone documents a journey (circa 325 km) across Alphaworld, the first built and also the - seemingly endless - flagship world of the Active Worlds (AW) universe, and of which vast amounts are in reality virtual ghost urban clusters.
AW is one of the longest running multi-user virtual environments that is currently available online. It was for a decade the most popular user-created virtual environment using avatar figures as a means for users to interact with each other graphically immersed or present in the same simulation. It has been publicly accessible since the spring of 1995, the year The National Science Foundation Network (SFNET) was decommissioned, and restrictions on the use of the Internet to carry commercial traffic were lifted. From its start, AW allows users to open worlds, claim land and carve out customised spaces in-worlds, to socialize through chat in an alternative universe of virtual reality. It was advertised both as a platform to create anything a user can envision as well as a 3D global shopping mall: i.e. the El Dorado county of cyberspace. The early AW pioneers faced with an unstable system, dialling in over slow modem connections to access the Internet, were rewarded with the promise of a new World.
Alphaworld's shared earthly built environment is still fully downloaded to our computer machines, open for exploration. Lost Zone hopes to help rediscover it as a real place to visit as well as to help draw attention to nearly abandoned and thus almost lost virtual worlds as a form of digital heritage, especially amongst the younger generations and in terms of its cultural significance. The publication aims to contribute to the debate around and to the work of preserving geographies of social networking systems and engage with the ruins of its social fabric.